Decolonization: the final chapter of the Age of Empires


The definition of decolonization includes both active and passive resistance against the colonizer, wherein the colonized populace will acquire its freedom and autonomy. Decolonization is not simply a process of a state being granted its independence; rather, it is a nation’s determination to obtain its independence after being subjected to the psychological and economic impacts of colonization. Decolonization has functioned to heighten our understanding of the importance of sovereignty for states, the recognition of the people of that nation, and the final end to the exploitation of weaker states for their resources.

Head of School Thomas Dillow was formerly a history teacher who focused on colonial and post-colonial history, and he has a master’s degree in International Politics. Mr. Dillow argues that very few nation-states today have not been subject to colonization at some point in their history. Colonization shows how one state possesses control over the other state and exerts its influence over them. “Sadly, colonization has been part of the history of nations for centuries and centuries,” Mr. Dillow stated, “and so there are very few modern nation-states in the world that you could point to that have not been the subject of colonization at this point.” 

Furthermore, he asserted that more robust global powers outcompeting the underserved states have served as the chassis for modern-era international relations for a relatively extensive period. For example, the United States of America and other major European empires followed the Enlightenment values of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, through which their people were declared to have inalienable, natural rights that could not be encroached upon. Conversely, the peoples of colonized states in the African continent, Americas, Western Asia, and beyond were viewed as inferior, and were ethnically and racially discriminated against by their colonial oppressor and their resources were exploited for profit.

In the present day, various political alliances exist such as the Commonwealth of Nations, a free coalition of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its former dependent states, with members including the Republic of India, the Republic of Cyprus, Malta, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and so on. “The members of the British Commonwealth, for instance, have the power to choose to be self-governing if they wish; they can vote on that,” Mr. Dillow said. “It is a bit of a complicated process, I think, in their constitutions and within those Commonwealth countries, there are some also for whom the Queen or the King now is the official Head of State and others where it is not. But in all of those former colonies, members of the Commonwealth are self-governing and choose to be associated with it.” Most Commonwealth countries have maintained relatively congenial diplomatic relations with Great Britain and have the free will to participate in the Commonwealth. However, because of British colonization in these countries in the past, the Commonwealth members adjoin themselves to the alliance to gain economic benefits. Concerning the underdevelopment theory, the economies of the formerly colonized countries are very much delayed in relation to European states because of the exploitation of resources that those colonies underwent, and thus, they depend on trade with their more economically powerful counterparts to sustain their economies. 

Additionally, regarding the question of whether territories that were acquired through state affairs and treaties shall be returned to their original owner, Mr. Dillow referenced his vacation to the British overseas territory, Bermuda, where he saw the Union Jack flag flying high above St. Catherine’s fort. “When I asked the docent who worked at the fort about the prominence of the U.K. flag, it was clear that, at least for her, it was accepted as part of their identity,” he remarked. Territories such as Gibraltar, a British territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula in Spain, were legally obtained by the British Empire following the War of the Spanish Succession under the Treaty of Utrecht. Some citizens of Gibraltar do not wish to be returned to Spain, as they feel properly represented by the British government, while other Gibraltarians do not wish to be governed under the British sphere of influence any longer. 

Likewise, if the citizens of Guam sought to establish their own independent, sovereign nation, the U.S. government may be hesitant to allow that territory to become independent as the island acts as a means of allowing the U.S. to project its military strength in the Indo-Pacific and houses two of America’s strategic military establishments including the Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam. The U.S. Missile Defence Agency is also planning to implement an integrated missile defense system in Guam and is devoting $1.7 billion in funds toward success in the project. Thus, returning overseas territories to their original owner is a debated subject with two different points of view: one being that the owner sees benefits in owning that territory, whether economic, politically, or militarily, and the other view being from the citizens of that territory, if they wish to continue being governed under the current government or wish for their land to become independent or returned to their home country. 

Mr. Dillow also notes that one’s claim to territory gradually diminishes over time, and that claim to land has been a substantial and significant source of major conflicts today, such as in the Balkan states, or concerning the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Palestinians and Israelis have laid claim to the land in Israel, which has been occupied by both groups of people since biblical times. He states that the actual historical facts about territorial boundaries are often difficult to prove, so what matters the most are people’s belief that the territory belongs to them.

Therefore, decolonization is a subject matter of extensive importance as it exhibits how the systematic enslavement of less powerful states by the aggressor nation has dissipated in our societies. Albeit there are states that continue to hold onto lands that were purloined from their original state owners, and for the economic or political benefits they gain from that ownership, what we can be certain of in our societies is that the enslavement and exploitation of nations is absent.