Methods and stages
Decolonization is a political process. In extreme circumstances, there is a war of independence. More often, there is a dynamic cycle where negotiations fail, minor disturbances ensue resulting in suppression by the police and military forces, escalating into more violent revolts that lead to further negotiations until independence is granted. In rare cases, the actions of the pro-independence movements are characterized by nonviolence, with the Indian independence movement led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi being one of the most notable examples, and the violence comes as active suppression from the occupying forces or as political opposition from forces representing minority local communities who feel threatened by the prospect of independence. For example, there was a war of independence in French Indochina, while in some countries in French West Africa (excluding the Maghreb countries) decolonization resulted from a combination of insurrection and negotiation. The process is only complete when the de facto government of the newly independent country is recognized as the de jure sovereign state by the community of nations.
Independence is often difficult to achieve without the encouragement and practical support from one or more external parties. The motives for giving such aid are varied: nations of the same ethnic and/or religious stock may sympathize with the people of the country, or a strong nation may attempt to destabilize a colony as a tactical move to weaken a rival or enemy colonizing power or to create space for its own sphere of influence; examples of this include British support of the Haitian Revolution against France, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which the United States warned the European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the newly independent states of the Western Hemisphere.
As world opinion became more pro-independence following World War I, there was an institutionalized collective effort to advance the cause of decolonization through the League of Nations. Under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, a number of mandates were created. The expressed intention was to prepare these countries for self-government, but the mandates are often interpreted as a mere redistribution of control over the former colonies of the defeated powers, mainly the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire. This reassignment work continued through the United Nations, with a similar system of trust territories created to adjust control over both former colonies and mandated territories.
Comorians protest against Mayotte referendum
on becoming an overseas department of France, 2009
In referendums, some dependent territories have chosen to retain their dependent status, such as Gibraltar and French Guiana. There are even examples, such as the Falklands War, in which a geopolitical power goes to war to defend the right of a dependent territory to continue to be such. Colonial powers have sometimes promoted decolonization in order to shed the financial, military and other burdens that tend to grow in those colonies where the colonial governments have become more benign.
Decolonization is rarely achieved through a single historical act, but rather progresses through one or more stages of decolonization, each of which can be offered or fought for: these can include the introduction of elected representatives (advisory or voting; minority or majority or even exclusive), degrees of autonomy or self-rule. Thus, the final phase of decolonization may, in fact, concern little more than handing over responsibility for foreign relations and security, and soliciting de jure recognition for the new sovereignty. But, even following the recognition of statehood, a degree of continuity can be maintained through bilateral treaties between now equal governments involving practicalities such as military training, mutual protection pacts, or even a garrison and/or military bases.