Politics in Minutes (2016)

Independence and self-determination

As more and more countries won independence from the old empires, they asserted their new-found freedom by establishing new nation states on their own terms – not just installing a new local leader or government, but setting up a system of government from scratch. The precedent for this right to self-determination was set by the US Declaration of Independence, closely followed by its Constitution. But this right was by no means universally recognized. In 1823, the USA issued the Monroe Doctrine, stating that any colonization or interference in its affairs (or in those of other new nations in the Americas) by European countries would be regarded as an act of aggression, effectively proclaiming its status as a sovereign state. The old imperial powers, however, hung on to their empires elsewhere and maintained influence even in some ex-colonies. Pressure for international recognition to the right of self-determination increased through the 20th century, supported by the USA and Britain, and was finally enshrined in international law after the foundation of the United Nations.


British Prime Minister Harold McMillan acknowledged the need for self-determination in his ‘Winds of Change’ speech, made during a 1960 trip to Africa.