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Home > Future of Self Determination > Rupert Emerson: From Empire to Nation - The Principle of Self Determination

The Principle of Self-Determination

Rupert Emerson
in *From Empire to Nation
- The Rise to Self-Assertion of Asian and African Peoples, 1960

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"...All too often self-determination is a right to be defended in lofty terms when it is politically advantageous and to be rejected when it is not. Despite occasional surface appearances to the contrary, the issue is not one which divides East and West in any of the meanings of that geographical expression... whatever answer the statesman or the philosopher may give to this question, the working answer is presumably the same: if other peoples, no better qualified for it than we, have been allowed to clutter up the international stage, why should a new set of rules now suddenly be invoked to deny us our equal right?... Neither the skeptical sophisticate nor the perturbed statesman has had any significant bearing on the revolutionary drive of peoples to achieve their independent destiny in their own fashion..."

From Chapter XVI, pp. 295-328

"In its Wilsonian heyday self-determination seemed to many a simple and straightforward proposition consolidating under one rubric a number of nineteenth-century liberalism's most cherished propositions as to freedom and democracy and the rights of individuals and peoples. Its subsequent history has been a checkered one, both in its practical application and in the theorizing concerning it. It has tempted the sophisticate to display his wit and learning by demonstrating its inadequacies and contradictions and forced many statesmen to shake their heads in dismay at its uncouth proportions. Neither the skeptical sophisticate nor the perturbed statesman, it should immediately be added, has had any significant bearing on the revolutionary drive of peoples to achieve their independent destiny in their own fashion.

A summary glance at the experience of the world with self-determination since World War I will indicate its curious career. Brought to explicit formulation by Woodrow Wilson and the Bolsheviks in the course of the war, it became one of the fundamental principles of international society, and yet it found no place in the League Covenant. It served as a guideline for much of the reshaping of states in the peacemaking that followed close on the heels of the war, but after that process was completed the only new states to emerge on the international stage in the interwar decades were Eire in Europe and Iraq and Saudi Arabia in Asia. (The short-lived Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo may properly be ignored in this context, as may Hitler's creations in Central Europe.)

The experience of the Second World War and its aftermath is in many respects the reverse of the first. Although the Atlantic Charter paid appropriate homage to self-determination in a somewhat indirect fashion, the Allies, leaving aside the restoration of peoples overrun by the Axis, were not only divided as to the application of self-determination but had also largely lost their enthusiasm for it as anything approaching a panacea.

For the Soviet Union the aim in relation to its Western neighbors had become one of absorption or domination, and for the colonial powers self-determination meant self-destruction of empire.

Hence, although the principle of self-determination of peoples now figured among the purposes of the United Nations Charter, it played only a scanty role in such peacemaking as took place. As a sorry substitute for a peace settlement, the cold war indeed worked to produce national partitions at some of the key points on the new-style international frontier.

In Germany, Korea, and Vietnam the pleas of nations for unity were subordinated to the high strategy of international politics with the result that each had a jealously guarded barricade erected across it to demarcate the spheres of the two great opposing blocs; and China underwent a division between the mainland and Formosa. In each instance there were two bitterly opposed regimes, one Communist and the other non-Communist, each claiming to represent the national will under its own symbols.

Self-determination was still very much alive but its locus had shifted from Europe to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, with the anti-colonial powers tending to insist that it was for practical purposes an issue which had relevance only in the colonial realm.

In 1919, even though the Versailles peacemakers could frequently do little more than ratify states of fact already accomplished by the peoples directly concerned, the reordering of Central and Eastern Europe was carried on under the auspices of the victorious Allies essentially at the cost of their enemies and Russia. In 1945 and thereafter self-determination was a weapon aimed primarily at the victorious imperial powers themselves, and was under their control only in the sense that they could either fight it outright, as in Indochina and Indonesia, or yield to it with greater or less grace, as in the Philippines, India, Burma, and Ceylon.

In contrast to Iraq's lonely eminence in the interwar decades, a host of new Asian and African states were added to the international family in the years following the Second World War; and more are in process of being created out of the dwindling colonial empires.

The principle of self-determination derives from a familiar set of doctrines, whose apparent simplicity conceals a multitude of complications. The prime starting point is presumably the eighteenth-century proposition that governments must rest upon the consent of the governed, to which the nineteenth and twentieth centuries added the assumption that, since man is a national animal, the government to which he will give his consent is one representing his own nation. For full-blown self-determination to emerge it was only necessary to secure recognition of a new principle of natural law which entitles nations to possess their own states and, as the other side of the coin, renders illegitimate states with a non-national base. As Woodrow Wilson put it, the Central Empires had been forced into political bankruptcy because they dominated "alien peoples over whom they had no natural right to rule." With the aid of a little sleight of hand the original claim that individuals must consent to or contractually establish the governments ruling them is thus transmuted into the natural right of nations to determine their own statehood.

The difficulties of self-determination become most serious when the doctrine is brought down from abstraction to working reality and when an effort is made, as in the United Nations' covenants on human rights, to translate it from ethical and political precepts to binding legal norms. In the current temper of world opinion no one can in principle oppose what has come to be the almost self-evident right of peoples to dispose of their own destinies, but it is unfortunately equally impossible to formulate this right in such terms as to make it meaningfully applicable to reality. Who can say the nations nay, and yet who can say what nations are and when and how they may assert themselves?

A Right of Revolution

If the issue is put in its most drastic terms, to accept the right of self-determination in blanket fashion is to endow social entities which cannot be identified in advance with a right of revolution against the constituted authority of the state, and even to obligate the state to yield to the demands of the revolutionaries.

As for the first part of this proposition, little need be added to what has already been said about the vagrant character of our knowledge concerning what are and what are not nations. The matter becomes even more tangled when the Charter of the United Nations endorses the self-determination of peoples. Any number of questions come immediately to mind, and virtually none of them have answers which can be relied upon.

How are the people to whom the principle applies to be defined?
Is it applicable only to people constituting a majority in a certain territory, or has a minority people an equal right?
And if a majority decides one way today, may the whole or a segment of it decide differently tomorrow?
Who speaks for the people in order to set the process in motion, and under what circumstances and by what methods may they press their case?
What degree of maturity and political experience is needed to qualify a people to make an informed and responsible choice and to maintain the independence for which it may opt?

That these are not idle academic questions can be illustrated by a host of examples. In addition to the whole troubled experience of the effort to sort out the European peoples on national lines there may now be added such Asian and African examples as Palestine, the partition of India, claims to Kashmir and Pushtunistan, the Karens in Burma, separatist movements in Indonesia and the West Irian issue, the divided peoples of Nigeria and the Sudan, the claims and counterclaims of China, Formosa, and the Formosans, the racial complexities of Malaya, tribal peoples in many areas not yet brought within any national fold, and the uncertain allegiance of the Arabs.

This is one key facet of the question - that peoples and even nations are uncertain quantities which from time to time assert themselves with irresistible force but which cannot be known in advance with any assurance. Even if nations are taken for granted as given - a not unreasonable assumption since nations will at all events make themselves heard in their own good time - when they come to self-determination they are inevitably exercising a revolutionary right.

In its most extreme version the right of self-determination could mean the right of any group of disaffected people to break away at their pleasure from the state to which they presently belong and establish a new state closer to their heart's desire. As far back as 1793 in the setting of the French Revolution Carnot reported to the National Assembly that:

If . . . any community whatever had the right to proclaim its will and separate from the main body under the influence of rebels, etc., every country, every town, every village, every farmstead might declare itself independent.

Even though it is obvious that this reductio ad absurdumcould not find acceptance, the problem still remains as to whether and how the right can be incorporated in any reasonably orderly and predictable scheme of things, within an acceptable framework of law.

Self-determination constitutes formal recognition of the principle that nation and state should coincide, but the plain fact is that the state structure derived from the past only occasionally and accidentally coincided with the national make-up of the world. That is, indeed, what all the furor was about. To bring the states into line with man's new-found national aspirations required a major act of political reconstruction.

No question of sympathy with the desire of states to continue in existence in their present form need be involved in the contention that the exercise of self-determination is ordinarily an exercise of the right of revolution.

The overturn and reconstitution of states to bring them into harmony with the demands of "the changing content of natural law" may be a highly praiseworthy achievement, but this necessitates appeal to a higher law which supersedes and seeks to nullify the established legality of states and governments. The states are the creators and maintainers of law in the ordinary sense, and a challenge to their own existence must have some other basic point of reference.

At this stage there emerges a clash of rights derived from different sources: the state has an indisputable prerogative and duty to defend its own existence, and the nation comes likewise to be endowed with a right to overthrow the state.

It is, of course, conceivable that the right of self-determination should be explicitly embodied in the constitutional structure of individual states or of the international community as a whole.

There is a ring of fundamental improbability to the notion that states will in advance concede their own potential dissolution.

It may be that the Jeffersonian defense of occasional revolution is an admirable thing, but it defies constitutional formulation. The only examples of a preordained acceptance of self-determination which I have been able to find are contained in the constitutions of Burma and the Soviet Union, and for the French dependencies in the constitution of the Fifth Republic. The grant of a right of secession to the constituent republics of the U.S.S.R. can be dismissed as a piece of window dressing which lacks all political reality save its propaganda value. From Lenin on, it has been made clear that the needs of socialism override the claims of nations. Already embraced within the Communist fatherland, the peoples have achieved their summum bonum, and, by the easy logic of Communist dialectics, any recalculation of their destiny is to be undertaken by the hierarchy of the single and monolithic Party.

As W. K. Hancock adroitly put it in a dictum which has wider applicability than merely to the Soviet Union: "The apostles of secession have unfettered freedom as nationalists, but they will be shot as revolutionaries."

The case of Burma is a slightly more realistic one. Under the constitution of 1947 the states representing the minority peoples within the Union of Burma, with the exception of the Kachins and by later constitutional amendment the Karens, were given the right to secede after an interval of ten years from the time the constitution came into force, and, in contrast to the Soviet model, the processes by which this might be accomplished were spelled out in some detail. Although it is unlikely to be put to the test, this is a unique model of a constitutional provision establishing self-determination as an operative constitutional right.

On the international stage the most significant earlier effort to institutionalize self-determination was that of Colonel House and Woodrow Wilson in preliminary drafts of the League Covenant. What was essentially involved in their proposal was an effort to square a continuing right of self-determination with the Covenant s guarantee of the territorial integrity and political independence of the League's members. In brief, it provided that, subject to League approval, territorial readjustments might be undertaken to meet "changes in present racial conditions and aspirations, pursuant to the principle of self-determination."

After going through several drafting stages the proposal was dropped under a variety of understandable pressures, and the guarantees of the famous Article X were allowed to stand without impairment by what the President had earlier called "the sacred right of self-determination." As might easily have been expected, this meant simply that the territorial integrity of states took priority over the potential aspirations of nations.

The United Nations

Considering its intrinsic importance, it is surprising how little attention the framers of the United Nations appear to have devoted to the loose language in which self-determination was incorporated in the Charter. The earlier Dumbarton Oaks version of the Charter made no mention of it, but at San Francisco the four sponsoring governments introduced it as amendments to existing articles, at the suggestion, it has been stated, of the Soviet Union. This clause moved tranquilly on its way and ultimately made its appearance in both Articles 1(1) and 55 as "respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."

That at least one of the basic problems involved was not wholly ignored is evident from a Committee report which affirmed that the principle of self-determination was desired by peoples everywhere and should be clearly enunciated in the Charter, but held that "the principle conformed to the purposes of the Charter only insofar as it implied the right of self-government of peoples and not the right of secession."

To those who had their doubts it must have been consoling to have secession thus ruled out (even though it was not specified whether the break-away of a colony constituted secession) as it was also consoling to have self-determination recognized only as a principle to be respected and not as a right. The harsh reality remained that self-determination very often involved secession and that what was labeled as a principle was sure to be asserted as a right. Nor could much reliance be placed on the denial in Article 7 of the right of the United Nations to intervene in matters of domestic jurisdiction. Put to the working test of UN practice, this supposed bulwark of state's rights was soon found to have as many holes in it as the majority in the organ concerned was prepared to open up.

Since San Francisco the concern of the United Nations with problems of self-determination has been continuous and many-faceted. In very considerable part it has focused on one or another aspect of colonialism, including involvement in specific cases such as that of Indonesia, Algeria, or Cyprus, but the debates swirling around the effort to draft Covenants on Human Rights have also provoked much searching discussion of more general considerations. Even when the latter has been the actual or nominal intent, however, the problems of colonialism are so evidently the central issue that they habitually intrude themselves.

This was apparent when the General Assembly in 1952 decided to include in the Covenant on Human Rights an article which should read, "All peoples shall have the right of self-determination," and stipulated that, in particular, states having responsibility for non-self-governing territories should promote the realization of the right in relation to such territories. A little later in the year the Commission on Human Rights obeyed by elaborating the proposed article in the following fashion:

"All peoples and all nations shall have the right of self-determination, namely, the right freely to determine their political, economic, social and cultural status."

To this the Commission added both a special injunction in relation to non-self-governing and trust territories, and a Chilean proposal which broadened self-determination to include permanent sovereignty over natural wealth and resources. Not satisfied with these actions, the Commission recommended a further resolution, to the profound pain of the colonial powers, which not only specified that the demand for colonial self-government should be ascertained through a plebiscite held under UN auspices, but also roundly declared that "slavery exists where an alien people hold power over the destiny of a people."

There is no occasion to pursue in detail here all the ramifications of the ensuing battles over self-determination, colonialism, and the proposed Covenants. Generally the Western powers and their friends, normally including the United States, took an increasingly dim view of the entire matter, while the Asian-African and Soviet blocs, aided by some of the Latin Americans, pressed their case as vigorously as possible. The charge of slavery was eliminated and other terms were softened, as, for example, in the decision of the Assembly in December 1952, that the administering powers should facilitate the exercise of the right of self-determination by colonial peoples, "the wishes of the people being ascertained through plebiscites or other recognized democratic means, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations."

The majority, however, continued to back the main lines which had been worked out. As the debate wore on, it became increasingly clear that Covenants including the disputed self-determination provisions were exceedingly unlikely to secure the adherence of the Western powers. To add to the already ample array of problems, from the Human Rights Commission and other sources came proposals to establish some type of organ which would be empowered to look into, and perhaps act upon, allegations of a denial of the right of self-determination.

One of the difficulties in the situation is that, although the United Nations might help to make it so, self-determination is not a right which finds any place in international law. The leading case on the subject, a singularly clear-cut one, has not lost its validity. Immediately after World War I Sweden laid claim to the Aaland Islands which, together with Finland, it had lost to Russia early in the nineteenth century. When Finland achieved independence in the course of the Russian Revolution the islands continued to form a part of Finnish territory.

It was not seriously disputed that over 95 per cent of their inhabitants were "altogether Swedish in origin, in habits, in language, and in culture," and informal plebiscites as well as other evidence confirmed their desire for incorporation in Sweden. The Swedish claim was considered by the League of Nations in its earliest days, just after the adoption of self-determination by the peacemakers as a major principle in the reshaping of Europe.

Despite the unassailable case that had been presented as far as self-determination for the islanders was concerned, the claims of peoples to disrupt states were flatly rejected.

Two key passages may be cited from the League's documents dealing with the matter. In 1920 a Committee of Jurists, appointed by the Council, reported that national self-determination was not recognized by positive international law; "In the absence of express provisions in international treaties, the right of disposing of national territory is essentially an attribute of the sovereignty of every State."

A Commission of Rapporteurs gave a similar verdict to the Council in 1921, even though it conceded that the islanders feared Finnish even more than Russian domination. Asking whether it were possible to have a general rule that a minority can separate to join another state or become independent, it stated:

"The answer can only be in the negative. To concede to minorities either of language or religion, or to any fractions of a population, the right of withdrawing from the community to which they belong, because it is their wish or their good pleasure, would be to destroy order and stability within States and to inaugurate anarchy in international life; it would be to uphold a theory incompatible with the very idea of the State as a territorial and political entity."

These are not novel considerations - nor are they in the least persuasive to those who deliberately seek to overturn the stability of the present order in the name of what they assert as a higher principle. It is the normal and expected procedure that the state authorities should proclaim their right to maintain things as they are whenever a segment of the people seeks to secede or to overturn the existing state. As the Pope protested French incorporation of Avignon in the Revolution, so Metternich held that for the powers to recognize the inclinations and repugnances of provinces within states would be to introduce a new and limitless confusion, bringing the social body to the point of an overpowering anarchy.

In similar language Abraham Lincoln, confronted with the threatened secession of the South, laid it down in his first Inaugural: "Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy." Stressing the rightness of the principle of majority rule, he warned that government must cease if the minority refuses to acquiesce, and that the new confederacy would itself be threatened by arbitrary secessions.

To make it clear that the hesitations as to self-determination are not confined solely to the Western world, let me add a single example from India. The Indian nation had successfully asserted its right of self-determination as against British rule, but at the cost of a further secession in Pakistan which pointed to dangers like those of which Lincoln had warned. The demand in India for a redrawing of the map of the country on the basis of linguistic states has, since independence, had to yield priority to the prime need of maintaining unbroken national unity.

The 1955 report of the States Re-organization Commission stated firmly that, so far as the component parts of the Indian Union were concerned, there could be no question of a right of self-determination regardless of other factors and circumstances. The Commission held that if self-determination were the governing principle, the possible demand for separate States would be unlimited. "Every linguistic or other minority group might demand a State for itself, and the wishes of the people could be swayed by purely temporary considerations."

An outspoken champion of self-determination on the international stage, India's devotion to it breaks down, and very sensibly so, when it comes to its application within India itself. Nehru's handling of the question of Kashmir has been equivocal, and to the untutored eye India's suppression of the risings of the Naga tribesmen was not easy to distinguish from the colonial method of dealing with such problems. That other Asian and African states would in the normal course of events act in the same fashion seems not open to question, even though the Bandung Conference of 1955 gave its full support to the principle of self-determination as basic to all fundamental human rights.

In his memoirs former President Truman, referring to the nationalist movements in Asia and Africa, affirmed that the American people have always accepted without "ifs" the right of a people to determine its own destiny. This was an admirably forthright position, but it has the fatal defect of not coinciding with the facts for either President Truman or his predecessors who have hedged in the right with considerable care.

The United States has moved beyond the days when President Coolidge could defend his veto of a bill calling for a Philippine plebiscite with the contention that it would be trifling with the sacred feelings innate in humankind to ask the Filipinos with which state they wished to be associated, but the American position is still a cautious one.

The standard form has come to be something approximating the Pacific Charter appended to the SEATO agreement: self-determination is to be promoted for countries "whose people desire it and are able to undertake its responsibilities"; or the joint Eisenhower-Eden declaration of February 1, 1956, that they had dedicated themselves "to the goal of self-government and independence of all countries whose people desire and are capable of sustaining an independent existence."

Not, in other words, self-determination for all who may seek it, but for those who are regarded as qualified for it. Even in the latter category it would not be difficult to demonstrate that the United States, like all other states, has inserted "ifs" where other political considerations appeared to make them desirable. The wishes of the people of Okinawa will be given less than full credence where they run counter to the American estimate of military needs.

All too often self-determination is a right to be defended in lofty terms when it is politically advantageous and to be rejected when it is not. Despite occasional surface appearances to the contrary, the issue is not one which divides East and West in any of the meanings of that geographical expression. Pakistan is as enthusiastic for free self-determination for Kashmir as is Afghanistan for Pushtunistan; and neither Nationalist nor Communist Chinese give evidence of profound concern over the self-determination of the Formosans, nor is the United States prepared to acquiesce in the choice of the form of government made by the mainland Chinese. The Soviet Union finds it an excellent right for use against the West and its colonies as the West holds it eminently applicable to the peoples of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites.

The Communists are, however, more frankly selective in their use of self-determination than is the rest of the world. Lenin and Stalin made it clear that self-determination was good where it involved a breach in the imperialist structure and intolerable where it involved separation from the Communist fatherland. In the days before he was read out of the brotherhood Trotsky defended the Soviet take-over of Georgia with the active participation of the Red Army and went on to state the general principle under which he and his colleagues acted:

We do not only recognize but we give full support to the principle of self-determination, wherever it is directed against feudal, capitalist and imperialist states. But wherever the fiction of self-determination, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, becomes a weapon directed against the proletarian revolution, we have no occasion to treat this fiction differently from the other "principles" of democracy perverted by capitalism.

In brief, the Soviet Union gives all-out backing to the right of self-determination except where it threatens to impair Communist interests. No right of self-determination was invoked on behalf of the people of the Kuriles and southern Sakhalin, taken over from Japan after World War II, although it is to be applied to everyone else's "salt-water" dependencies.

It is no accident that self-determination, as a new tenet of natural law attacking the existing state structure, should be associated in its practical manifestations with wars and the aftermath of wars. In rare instances it has been accepted in wholly peaceful fashion, as in the separation of Norway and Sweden, the attainment of independence by the Philippines, or Britain's readiness to speed some of her colonies to independence after 1945, but the great run of cases are linked to violence or to such fundamental changes in power relationships as occur most notably as a result of wars.

The wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon started it on its way in Europe; the unification of Germany and Italy required war; Central and Eastern Europe were reconstructed as a consequence of the first World War; and the Second World War opened the door to self-determination for Asia and Africa. It has often been argued, though with dubious validity, that the full-scale application of self-determination will bring peace, but it would be impossible to argue that self-determination itself has normally been achieved by peaceful means or in generally peaceful situations. An added threat to peace and friendly relations among nations appears wherever third parties intervene to back the claim of a people to break away from the state to which they are presently attached.

The right of self-determination has as yet found no stable place in the international legal structure nor has it been accepted by states as a policy to be applied consistently and across the board.

Indeed, I would suggest that it is essentially miscast in the role of a legal right which can be made an operative part of either domestic or international systems. It is a force of incalculable importance which has already brought immense changes and will presumably continue its triumphant sweep as long as nations born and unborn feel their destiny incomplete.

To recognize it as one of the basic forces shaping the modern world is, however, by no means to say that it can be tamed and brought within the limits of a constitution, treaty, or covenant. It is distantly conceivable that under the United Nations or otherwise the states of the world might give it working legal and political status, but it is much more probable that its revolutionary implications will keep it outside the constitutional framework.

It must be regarded as a clear gain for mankind whenever legal and orderly procedures of peaceful change are substituted for the violence of war and revolution, but it is folly to think that any such gain has been achieved by the mere issuance of loose pronouncements of the "all peoples" variety. If the right of self-determination is to be made meaningful, it must be sharply delimited. The more strictly the peoples to whom it is to be applied are defined, the more possible it becomes to make something of it as a right which can be stated with reasonable precision and given institutional expression.

Non Self Governing Territories

For present purposes, in the light of the actual concerns of the United Nations, the most significant illustration of this possibility involves the non-self-governing territories which have so largely monopolized UN attention. Although there may be arguments at the fringes, as in relation to the incorporated overseas territories of France or Portugal, the colonies constitute relatively fixed and identifiable bodies of people. Here certainly it would be possible, although still politically difficult enough, not only to legislate into existence a formal declaration of the right of colonial peoples to self-determination under specified conditions but also to establish procedures through which the international community would decide by whom and when and how the right would be exercised, and the rights and obligations of third parties.

There has in fact already been a substantial movement in this direction in the United Nations, building on the two basic principles that non-self-governing territories are an international responsibility for which the administering authorities are to be held accountable and that their proper goal is self-government or independence, even though the Charter mentions independence only for the Trust territories. The Mandates System constituted recognition that the extension of colonialism on the old terms was no longer acceptable, and the United Nations, in addition to tightening up some of the provisions of that system, took the bolder step of bringing all non-self-governing territories within the sphere of international concern. Under the pressure of the anti-colonialists in the General Assembly the Trusteeship System has come to be seen increasingly as a vehicle for the realization of self-determination by the peoples embraced in it, who should in the interval be given ever greater responsibility in democratically constituted governments.

Reaching well beyond the limited language of Chapter XI of the Charter, the Assembly has attempted to apply essentially the same principles to all the dependencies as have been applied to the Trusteeships. Even though the Assembly's formal powers to act in this broader sphere are scanty and uncertain, it has among other things affirmed the right of non-self-governing territories to self-determination, recommended the setting of target dates as in the model of the ten year trusteeship established for Italian Somaliland, asserted a claim to decide whether self-government has been achieved, and explored in detail the factors to be taken into account in reaching such a decision.

Secretary-General Trygve Lie said of the Trusteeship System that its success would afford "a reassuring demonstration that there is a peaceful and orderly means of achieving the difficult transition from backward and subject status to self-government or independence." Such peaceful and orderly means, however, have not yet been devised for the colonial peoples in general. Their drive to achieve self-determination has reached a stage beyond that of merely having the sympathetic approval of the world at large, but it has not reached the status of international acceptance of a right fortified by established procedures, nor do the conditions attached to the amendment of the Charter make it likely that that desirable goal will be achieved in any foreseeable future.

The steps which the United Nations has taken have met with the vehement objection of several of the colonial powers. Among the counterclaims is that of the Belgians who have attempted to meet the attack of the anti-colonialists by undertaking an offensive of their own.

The so-called Belgian thesis, repudiating the notion that all colonial regimes automatically deserve condemnation as evil, claims to find non-self-governing peoples scattered widely over the earth's surface, and by no means only in what are customarily accepted as colonies. It attacks the "salt-water fallacy" according to which rule over an alien people separated from the mother country by open sea is intolerable and subject to international control whereas similar rule over an alien people on an unbroken stretch of dry land is neither suspect nor a matter for international concern.

It is further contended that colonialism, far from being inherently bad, is in fact frequently freer, more enlightened, and more progressive than some of the regimes imposed on peoples embraced within the territory of sovereign states. In illustration of this theme a number of familiar cases are cited, such as the position of the Indians in several Latin American countries, of the Africans in the Liberian hinterland, and, on a grand scale, of the non-Russian peoples within the Soviet Union. For all of these and others like them, it is argued, international attention is at least as pressing a need as it is for any colonial people. On this basis the Belgians have protested their full loyalty to the principle of self-determination, but have been insistent that they cannot go along with resolutions which single out colonialism as the only enemy worthy of attack.

To all of this ingeniously worked-out line of argument there is perhaps no wholly satisfactory answer, but it carries scant conviction to those who have set out to do battle on the colonial front. Without a shadow of a doubt the conditions in many non-colonial countries are worse than in many colonies and as deserving of international attention, including the application of self-determination, but it is idle to think that the well-established category of colonies, or, in UN terms, of non-self-governing territories, can be merged with the other comparable evils of mankind.

The argument almost wholly fails to meet political realities. The anti colonialists rightly fear that the net effect of an acceptance of the Belgian thesis would be to divert public interest from the colonial question, and to introduce so many additional confusions and obstacles as to make it virtually certain that nothing would be done about any of them. The United Nations has good reason to attempt to deal with the problems of oppressed and underprivileged peoples in independent states through programs of minority protection and other devices. The issues of colonialism, however, deserve consideration separately and in their own right.

A few illustrative cases

Some of the major ways in which the path to self-determination is blocked or obscured may be illustrated by a glance at a few recent examples of the application or non application of the principle in relation to Asia and Africa.

In the Arab world self-determination got off to a singularly bad start after World War I. Here the Allies demonstrated how great was the contradiction between their professed adherence to the principle and their actual readiness to ignore it when it interfered with their imperial interest. From the Arab standpoint the three principal issues involved were the partition of the Arab peoples, the subordination of some of them to British and French control, and the acceptance of Zionist ambitions in Palestine. To these actions, regarded by the Arabs as a shocking failure of the West to act in accord with its promises and its own proclaimed principles, must be attributed much of the anti-Westernism which has recently characterized the Arab world.

However one may choose to interpret the tangled record of the negotiations, documents, and conversations of the war years, every word and implication of which have been examined with microscopic care and passionate partisanship, there is an immense gap between what the Arab leaders wanted and thought they were being promised and what the Allied statesmen thought they were promising and were in fact prepared to do when it came time to pay the bill.

As far as the Arabs are concerned, all the subtleties of interpretation which have been invoked lose their significance in face of the bare fact that Arab leaders believed, not without reason, that they had been promised an independent Arab state in Asia, with only minor geographic limitations. Instead of such a state they were presented with the carving up of vital parts of the Arab territories in accord with secret wartime agreements and the imposition of French or British colonial rule upon some of the resulting entities. It was cold comfort to the Arabs that the colonialism which was substituted for the independence they had expected was dressed in the guise of the new-style Mandates System.

At no point in the proceedings were even the minimum decencies of self-determination observed. Whether the Arabs could have overcome fhe divisions in their own ranks to the extent of setting up and maintaining a single Arab state is highly debatable, but certainly they were given no chance at it nor, alternatively, to shape their own multiple state system. What actually happened was as clear a process of imperial dividing and ruling as has been seen. The mandatories who, with the League's blessing, appointed themselves to guide the Arabs to a surer footing in the modern world were by no means those the peoples would have chosen for themselves, and, in the case of the French in Syria and Lebanon, were rejected with vehemence.

Furthermore, the Arabs promptly claimed that they were quite as well fitted to govern themselves independently as were the Balkan peoples when the latter achieved their independence from Ottoman rule: if full independence in one case, why not in the other? To this contention there was added the reverse peculiarity that a status of tutelage was imposed upon precisely those Arabs who had the most intimate and long-continued contact with the West and hence might be regarded as best able to stand by themselves, while the less "advanced" Arabs of the peninsula, still largely nomadic and unacquainted with the modern world, were acknowledged to possess sovereign independence. At a later date, after World War II, exactly the same kind of question was being asked in connection with other Arab territories; if the former Mandates could have independence, and, particularly, if Libya could be made an independent state by formal international action, what excuse could there be for holding Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria?

These were unanswerable questions which the Arabs in due course answered in their own fashion by rising against alien domination. Here as elsewhere Western imperialism worked to produce its own antibodies.


The acceptance of Zionist aspirations in Palestine was, however, a very different matter. Instead of working to correct itself, it grew always worse and more threatening from the standpoint of the Arabs who had from the outset lacked faith in the solemn assurance that their rights and position would not suffer. The conception of creating a Jewish national home in Palestine could not possibly be squared with the principle of self-determination, or, for that matter, of democracy, on the basis of any of the generally accepted criteria.

Aside from the fact that many Jews wanted to establish themselves there, the only claim which had any conceivable status was that Palestine had been the ancient Jewish homeland many centuries ago; but to accept the legitimacy of claims to self-determination whose basis is possession broken off two thousand years earlier would be to stir up such a host of conflicting and unrealizable demands as totally to discredit the principle. It is, of course, true that some small number of Jews had continued to live in Palestine or had at some point returned there, but at the time of the Balfour Declaration and the introduction of the Mandate the Jewish community in Palestine was vastly outnumbered by the Arabs whose occupancy dated back to the remote past.

If self-determination were to be applied in the customary fashion of seeking out what the people of the country wanted, there could be no doubt where the overwhelming majority lay nor of the rejection by that majority of both Balfour Declaration and Mandate. The Zionist program could be carried through as a decision of policy only if someone were prepared to enforce it in the face of bitter opposition.

The Arabs were neither slow nor bashful in bringing these and similar points to the world's attention, and as early as August 1919, they received neutral support from the King-Crane Commission sent by President Wilson to ascertain the state of affairs in Syria and Palestine. Asserting that the Zionists looked to practically complete dispossession of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, this Commission found nearly nine-tenths of the population to be non-Jewish and emphatically opposed to the entire Zionist program. With specific reference to the Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the Commission held:

To subject,a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people's rights, though it be kept within the forms of law.

As the Jews saw it, what now happened was not only the opening to them of a haven of refuge, but also their rightful return to an ancient homeland to which they had never surrendered title. To the Arabs it was a prolonged and tragically successful invasion of an Arab country by an alien people under Western imperialist auspices, ending in the expulsion of most of the people whose country it was. No suggestion of a plebiscite accompanied the General Assembly's proposal that Palestine be partitioned. Since the establishment of Israel and the reduction of the Arab population to some 10 per cent of the whole, the Arab states have insisted that Israel is a totally illegitimate creation, overriding the natural right of the Palestinian Arabs to their own country, and that it has no existence which they are prepared to tolerate and recognize.


In the same part of the world another imperial denial of self-determination which has attracted global attention in recent years concerns the island of Cyprus. Here the basic circumstances were not unlike those of the Aaland Islands, at least in the sense that the great bulk of the population was of one ethnic stock and sought union with its national country. Four-fifths of the half million Inhabitants of the island were Greek and were claimed as devoted adherents of union with Greece, which country with increasing insistence demanded the island's cession; but the remaining fifth was Turkish and hostile to such a merger.

On the basis of a count of heads the verdict of self-determination was clear, but geography, history, and high strategy all combined to confuse the issue. Geographically, the island lay only some forty miles off the Turkish coast, and ten or more times that distance from Greece. On the score of history it was Britain's pleasure to insist that Cyprus had been Egyptian, Persian, Roman, Genoese, and Turkish, but never Greek except for a short period in the fourth century B.C. It fell into British hands as the result of an Anglo-Turkish treaty of 1878 whose avowed purpose was the defense of Turkish possessions against Russian aggression, and this cession was reconfirmed by the 1923 treaty of Lausanne to which Greece was also a party.

Strategically, the loss of Palestine and the Suez base left Cyprus as the only base from which the British could defend their still considerable Middle Eastern interests and commitments. To counter the argument as to the precariousness of a base located in the midst of a hostile population, and the consequent moral that the demand for self-determination should be granted, the British pointed unhappily to what self-determination had done to their holdings in Egypt and elsewhere. The Turks, who also had an obvious strategic and political concern, protested that history and geography made it clear that, if the island were to change hands again, its prior owner had claims which could not be ignored.

The issue was one of relatively old standing. In 1931 the Cypriot demand for union with Greece took a sufficiently violent form to lead the British authorities to suspend the legislature and govern from that time forward through the Governor aided by an Executive Council. Later British efforts to secure acceptance of more liberal constitutions were rebuffed by leaders who would take no substitute for union.20 When Greece raised the issue in the United Nations in i 954 Britain promptly pleaded domestic jurisdiction in an effort to keep it off the Assembly's agenda, with the lack of success which has customarily attended such efforts.

Although it presumably carried little conviction save to those already converted, there was more substance to Britain's protest that the endorsement of the Greek attempt to interest the United Nations in its claims would undermine international stability by encouraging states to seek the incorporation of related peoples beyond their frontiers even though those frontiers had been accepted by treaty.

This was an authentic echo of the classic objection to self-determination, but it was harder to take seriously the British contention, backed by the Turks, that self-determination was not really involved because what the Cypriots wanted was a merger with Greece and not independence. On the basis of this contention, however, several states shifted their support from enosisto independence for Cyprus. The final solution of the controversy which the British, Greek, and Turkish governments agreed upon in 1959, ruled out both partition and union with Greece, called for the establishment of a Republic of Cyprus organized about the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, and safeguarded British control of military bases and installations.

The Cypriot claims, backed by terrorism as well as by political action, raised a complex series of questions not lightly to be brushed aside. Do history, geography, and economics play a role, or is the popular majority the sole determinant? What are the rights and duties of minorities and of the third states which are the national states of those minorities? One further issue may be mentioned which never came quite clearly to the fore in the Cyprus case although the British tried to put it there in claiming the base as necessary for the fulfillment of Britain's free world commitments against Communism: At what point, if any, does a genuine international interest supersede the right of a nation to determine itself and its territory in any fashion that it may choose? This was an issue which was also laid squarely on the table in Colonel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company in 1956.

British Guiana

In British Guiana in 1953 there appeared another aspect of the impairment of self-determination in a colonial setting, and one whose shadows reached far afield. The essential question at stake was: how large is the freedom of an advanced colonial people to choose for itself the kind of institutions which it wants? What if such a people selects a political and economic system which the administering power regards as a betrayal of the real interests of the people for whom it still has responsibility?

When the crisis erupted, British Guiana, despite poverty, illiteracy, economic imbalance and racial diversity, appeared to be moving successfully ahead through the stages on the road to self-government which were becoming standard for British colonial policy. On the basis of the Waddington Commission report of 1951 and to meet growing political agitation, a new constitution had been granted which created a bicameral legislature composed of an appointive second chamber and a House of Assembly of twenty-four members elected by universal adult suffrage plus three official members - the Chief Secretary, the Attorney-General, and the Financial Secretary. In the Executive Council, presided over by the Governor, sat the three official members of the Assembly, six ministers elected by the Assembly and placed in charge of departments of government, and one minister without portfolio elected by the second chamber.

The political effect of this reform was to place a very large measure of control in the hands of the elected majority. In April 1953, the first elections were held under this new instrument, resulting in a substantial sweep by the People's Progressive Party, headed by Cheddi Jagan, which won eighteen of the twenty-four elective seats in the Assembly. With this victory, which incidentally gave the party a larger hold in the Assembly than its share in the popular vote, the P.P.P. could count on dominating both legislature and executive.

In a few months the British authorities came to the conviction that the colony was being taken over by the Communists as represented by the P.P.P. leadership in general and Jagan in particular, and was threatened by violence and revolutionary overturn. The Governor was equipped with the reserve powers which had been so very charily exercised where elected majorities had come into power elsewhere under similar constitutions; but to draw upon them meant not only to reverse the stream of political advance but also to challenge the recently expressed will of the people. Confronted by this dilemma, the Governor took the drastic step of suspending the constitution and reintroducing authoritarian colonial rule, thus precipitating a clear-cut issue.

As Jagan presented it, that issue was not one of Communism: "It is really whether any people - colonial people - have a right to rule themselves." 22 To bolster his case he threw into the scales the Atlantic Charter's pledge to respect the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live and the assertion in the UN Declaration of Human Rights that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government."

It was beyond dispute that the expressed will of the people had been flouted, but the Commission appointed by the British government to investigate the constitutional controversy in effect came to the conclusion that the people of Guiana were not yet in a position to make political choices in a responsible fashion. Lacking the prerequisites for democracy and having neither an effective two party system nor an understanding of economic realities, the people were exposed to the likelihood of one-party rule. Because of its broader bearing as well as its specific reference to Guiana, the Commission's estimate of the political prospects might usefully be cited.

In these circumstances the alternatives seem either that rival parties of comparable strength will compete for the homogeneous popular vote by simply vying with each other in the design of programmes which will promise the voter what he wants rather than attempt a serious treatment of the country's problems; or, as events have shown, that a single party will command such support among the immature and undiscriminating electorate that having no immediate and effective rivals for office it may safely ignore the rights of minorities and, by abuse of its powers, so consolidate its position that the risk of eventual defeat by the democratic process is eliminated.

Should democracy be allowed to destroy democracy? What right has any people to determine the life of another, and if such a right exists, at what point does it cease? Where the exercise of self-determination remains for the moment in the control of the colonial power, or of organs of the international community, should it be conceded if there is good evidence that human rights and fundamental freedoms will be impaired rather than protected and advanced? These are speculative questions of great moment for self-determination, and it must be evident that they have no easy answers. The democrat may find himself torn between his acceptance of self-determination and his devotion to democracy itself.

One concrete issue with which the British were embarrassingly faced in Guiana concerned the next steps to be taken. The tight colonial control which had been re-imposed could not be maintained indefinitely, while the restoration to power of a popularly elected majority would run head on into the danger that the prior official attack on the victorious party had worked to enhance its prestige as the champion of the people against the imperialists.

With due deliberation giving time for a cooling-off period, the British introduced a new constitution which abolished the post of Chief Minister and gave the Governor power to appoint enough members of the Legislative Council to balance the elected members if this should prove necessary. Again Jagan and the P.P.P. came out on top, winning nine of the fourteen elective seats, three more of which went to a rival offshoot of the P.P.P. The Governor was presented with the choice of overriding the popular mandate or of recalling to power the man who had been the center of the earlier storm. Jagan was asked to form a government and, as leader of the majority party, assumed the position of virtual Chief Minister although his official post was that of Minister of Trade and Industry. His wife, Detroit-born Janet Rosenburg, whom he met while studying dentistry at Northwestern University, became Minister of Labor, Health, and Housing. With the Governor's substantial reserve powers in the background, Jagan promised moderation and respect for the existing constitution although he reserved the right to agitate against it through the normal democratic processes. To all outward appearance peace has reigned in this second and modified venture in constitutional progress for Guiana.

The lessons of British Guiana were widely studied elsewhere. As might be expected, they were generally taken by the anti colonialists as justification of their fear that imperial promises of self-government were not to be taken at face value: self-government would be tolerated only where it worked within patterns acceptable to the imperialists. In a different setting this fear was further substantiated in the year following the Guiana crisis when the government of Guatemala, accused of being part of the international Communist conspiracy, was overthrown by invading forces which gave every evidence of outside support while the United Nations and the Organization of American States stood amicably by in a state of some confusion. On the other side of the fence, the imperial authorities saw the events in Guiana as justifying their fear that the end of colonialism might mean a taking over by Communism. The Guiana experience was cited by the British as furnishing grounds for moving slowly in Cyprus, and it no doubt forced second thoughts about self-government for Singapore where it was an obvious risk that the main beneficiaries would be the Communists.

The two Togolands

The complexities of self-determination in a colonial setting even where the desire to maintain empire plays only an incidental role is well illustrated by the recent history of the two Togolands, later paralleled in the case of the Cameroons. The problems of the Togolands were brought to a head not by imperial intransigence but by the British decision to grant independence to the neighboring Gold Coast. Spared only the extra hazards presented by European or Asian settlers, these two Trust Territories encompassed approximately every other type of division and inner differentiation which Africa and colonialism could provide. A survey of some of the highlights of Togoland history will lend concreteness to the contention that the principle of self-determination offers no self-evident answers to the problem it is supposed to deal with.

Togoland was wholly a German colonial creation, brought into being in the last years of the nineteenth century and existing as a single political entity only until 1914. Even such scanty unity as German rule brought to the disparate peoples lumped together in a colony arbitrarily carved out from the African landscape was lost in the equally arbitrary partition between Britain and France after World War I. From that time forward the people on the two sides of the line were subject to very different influences, including education in two different European languages.

Since the two Togolands shared the typical ethnic make-up of their West African neighbors in the sense of a sharp distinction between the peoples of the northern hinterland and those of the coastal regions, both Britain and France undertook an administrative separation between the northern and the southern portions of their territories. The political consequences of this division are reflected in the comment of James S. Coleman that "until the last five years the overwhelming majority of the peoples of northern Togoland were unaware of the existence of Togoland."

A further point of differentiation arose from the fact that while French Togoland was administered as a politically distinct unit, not merged with next-door Dahomey, British Togoland was treated as an integral part of the adjoining Gold Coast, north Togoland being joined to the Gold Coast's Northern Territories and the south to the Colony. In consequence, British Togoland had virtually no independent existence of its own. French Togoland, despite its political separateness, was for all practical purposes run on the standard French colonial lines, involving the usual processes of assimilation.

In addition to these political and administrative separations and linkages, tribal groups overflowed all the European4mposed boundaries and maintained some sense of communal identity even though they had been cut off from each other by imperial surgery. The most significant and vocal group were the Ewe people of the south, numbering some 700,000, who covered an area reaching from the Gold Coast across British Togoland into the French territory.

As early as 1919 a number of the Ewe chiefs protested to Lord Milner, Secretary of State for the Colonies, against handing over part of Togoland to the French on the ground that it meant separating members of the tribe from their brethren in the Gold Coast. "The feeling of your Lordship's petitioners," they concluded, "will be more clearly understood when they are considered side by side with those of the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine at the time of their annexation to Germany in 1871." 26 But this early effort to oppose self-determination to imperial bargains proved of no avail.

In its long and tangled United Nations career the Togoland problem was subject to drastic swings of sentiment and interpretation, due in part, no doubt, to lack of knowledge as to the realities of the situation but in part also to the fact that the Togolanders were divided among themselves and changed their minds from time to time. The widening out of the circle of those who had an awareness of social, economic, and political issues led to a heightened consciousness of the distinctions which separated the Togolese from each other.

Three major types of proposals successively dominated the deliberations of the United Nations. The first was based on the assumption that the most urgent matter was Ewe unification, but the Trusteeship Council and the Assembly in the exercise of its jurisdiction over the Trusteeship System had no proper concern with the Gold Coast where a substantial portion of the Ewe lived and of which British Togoland was an integral part.

Nonetheless, in 1950 the Assembly in Resolution 441 (V) recognized "the great importance of the Ewe problem" and urged that an adequate solution be speedily found for it in full accord with the real wishes and interests of the people concerned. In the next round the Assembly moved on to a clearer linking together of the inescapably related questions of Ewe unification and of the unification of the two Togolands. By 1952, the latter issue had come to predominance, with the result that the Assembly in Resolution 652 (VII) concluded that "the unification of the two Togolands is the manifest aspiration of the majority of the population of both Trust Territories," and urged Britain and France to work toward as large a unification as possible.

Very shortly, however, it became apparent that with the approach of independence for the Gold Coast a new star was rising whose magnetic attraction could not be ignored in any future deliberations about Togoland. The matter came to a head with the British announcement in '954 that when the Gold Coast achieved independence it would be impossible for Togoland to be administered as in the past. Almost everyone could join in rejoicing that an African state was coming to independence, but this new state of affairs raised an array of problems concerning both Trusteeship and self-determination.

A strong case could obviously be made for the proposition that small and unviable Togoland, already factually integrated with the Gold Coast, should now be formally merged with the latter when it became independent. The Trusteeship purists, however, protested that such a move was in violation of the basic precepts of the System since they viewed the Trust Territories as permanently separate units whose only proper goal was full independence. Furthermore, the evidence indicated that while the northern section of British Togoland wanted to become part of the Gold Coast, the people of the south had serious reservations. In particular, the adherents of Ewe unification feared that integration would mean permanent separation from the Ewe people of French Togoland. Those who had become convinced of the desirability of the unification of the two Togolands were necessarily disaffected; and it was evident that any far-reaching move in British Togoland must have serious consequences for its French neighbor.27

Despite these varied doubts and objections the Assembly in 1955 adopted Resolution 944 (X) which provided for a plebiscite to be held in British Togoland under United Nations supervision, in which the people would be consulted as to their wishes in regard to

(a) the union of their Territory with an independent Gold Coast; or

(b) Separation of Togoland under British administration from the Gold Coast and its continuance under Trusteeship pending the ultimate determination of its future.

In May 1956, this plebiscite was held, setting a precedent for the future evolution of other Trust Territoties. From a technical standpoint it appears to have been an outstanding success, but as to its substantive bearing and interpretation there is room for some measure of skepticism. The verdict was for integration with the Gold Coast, 93,095 votes being cast for the first alternative on the ballot as against 67,492 for the much more vaguely defined proposition that British Togoland should continue under Trusteeship until some other unspecified decision should be reached by somebody.

The vote in the two major sections of the Territory diverged markedly: while 79 per cent of the northerners endorsed integration with the Gold Coast, only 45 per cent of the voters of the more populous south were for it. In a number of instances the votes in nearby wards differed so greatly as to leave little doubt that the determining influences were rather purely local considerations or the pressure of local chiefs or other leaders than a weighing of the larger issues. A further complicating factor was that some among the Ewe voted against integration in the hope that at a later stage they might be able to join with their fellow "nationals" in French Togoland and perhaps bring the entire Ewe people into Ghana. A number of others, it was asserted, would have been ready to join the Gold Coast on a federal basis but rejected submergence in the unitary state on which Nkrumah insisted, fearing Ashanti separatism.

In the earlier United Nations deliberations on the plebiscite the inescapable question had been raised as to whether the Territory should be treated as one consolidated block or should be divided in accordance with the popular vote in its different parts. Despite the disparities in opinion which the voting disclosed, both the Trusteeship Council and the Assembly came to the conclusion that the whole of British Togoland should be merged with the Gold Coast.

The principal arguments for this sensible decision were that any further partition would produce even less viable entities and that everything possible should be done to bolster the fortunes of the first sub-Saharan African colony to win independence. These arguments were unpersuasive for the southerners in general and the Ewe in particular since they claimed that the unity of British Togoland was a fiction, that they were quite distinct from and more advanced than the northerners, and that their ethnic allegiance tied them to the French territory as well as to the Gold Coast. Their plea to the Assembly later in 1956 to divide British Togoland in two along the lines which had been administratively accepted from the start made no headway, however.

As for French Togoland, the effect of these developments was to spur France on to similar actions. In the resolution which sanctioned the British plebiscite the Assembly noted the French intention to introduce political reforms and to consult the Togolese as to their wishes for the future. The Assembly hoped that this consultation might also be conducted under UN supervision. In July 1956 the French representative in the Trusteeship Council presented the outline of a new statute intended to establish an autonomous Togoland Republic within the framework of the French Union and requested the appointment of UN observers for the forthcoming referendum on the territory's status.

The Council, however, refused to associate itself with the referendum on the two major counts of uncertainty as to the statute's final form and doubts as to the adequacy of the self-government it provided. Furthermore, the voters were to be given no chance to opt for independence since they could only accept the new statute, which would involve termination of trusteeship, or continue the existing trusteeship arrangements.28 The proposal that the package to be offered the Togolese should embrace their later right to choose full independence was rejected by the French, presumably with a wary eye to the effect on Algeria and other French colonies.

Despite this rebuff by the Trusteeship Council and strong protests from some political groups in Togoland, France put its plan into effect. In September the Autonomous Republic of Togoland was officially brought into existence, equipped not only with a Premier and a Cabinet drawn from the legislature but also with an anthem and a national flag.29 A month later the promised referendum was held, but without UN supervision and in face of a boycott by some opposition elements.

Although more than 70 per cent of those who voted approved the new status, the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the referendum could leave neither the Togolese nor the United Nations wholly content with the result. Behind the infant republic lurked the same kind of difficulties as those which had come more openly to the surface in British Togoland: the unresolved problems of the Ewe and other tribal groups, the question of Togoland unification and independence, and the attractive force of a Gold Coast about to secure independence.

Fortified by the report of a Commission which visited the Territory early in the year, the General Assembly in November 1957, decided to elect a Commissioner to supervise Legislative Assembly elections in French Togoland which would, for the first time, be based on universal adult suffrage. The French announced their intention of enhancing Togoland's autonomy by transferring to local control all powers save defense, foreign affairs, and currency.

To the surprised dismay of France the voting in April 1958, went heavily in favor of the opposition parties and particularly in favor of the Cornite' de 1' Unite' Togolaise, headed by Sylvanus Olympio who had been a frequent spokesman before UN for the All-Ewe Conference. This swing toward independence and away from the pro-French party which had controlled the Togoland government from the time of the adoption of the new statute was to be attributed primarily to such factors as universal suffrage and the unprecedented readiness of French administrators, supervised by a corps of UN observers, to refrain from manipulating the electoral machinery. The outcome may also have been influenced by the action of the Accra conference of independent African states, held just before the election, in criticizing French policy in Togoland and claiming the right of self-determination for the territory.


The intricate affairs of the two Togolands throw light on a number of facets of the problems which self-determination brings with it, but still others deserve mention. Among them is the minor but potentially troublesome question of the disposition of tiny dependencies, such as the American Virgin Islands, miscellaneous Pacific islands, and the smaller African colonial holdings, which have a real measure of separate identity but for which sovereign independence seems no sensible answer.

Here a doctrinaire application of self-determination is far less in order than the use of inventive ingenuity to devise solutions fitted to the wide variety of particular circumstances.

A number of models now exist to which it is possible to turn for inspiration, not only for the smaller territories but for larger ones as well. Several former French dependencies have come to self-government as at least formally indistinguishable and integral parts of France; a new type of integration with Britain has been proposed for Malta; Puerto Rico's commonwealth status establishes a unique association with the United States; and the Dutch Antilles are similarly linked with the Netherlands. In all such cases the obvious danger must be faced that the fate of the smaller unit will in fact be determined at the pleasure of the larger, but this is a danger against which it should be possible to erect safeguards, as the General Assembly has sought to do in its deliberations on the factors involved in self-government.

Of broader importance is the fact that the application of self-determination in the colonial sphere inevitably comes to be tangled with the continuing backwardness of some of the non-self-govern mg peoples whose political inexperience makes it highly doubtful that the issues involved in self-determination can be presented to them in meaningful terms.

It is one thing for President Sukarno to assert on behalf of the Indonesian nation that it is "the law of nature . . . that West Irian will return to us, return to the fold of our Motherland," but it is quite another thing for the inhabitants of West Irian, still living in primitive isolation, to decide between the Indonesians, the Dutch, and independence, not to mention some form of trusteeship.

Can it be seriously contended that the people of Southwest Africa are in a position to make an informed and responsible choice between annexation by the Union of South Africa, the maintenance of the Mandate or the creation of a Trusteeship, or some other solution to be devised, perhaps, in the chambers of the United Nations? Despite assurances by South African leaders that the chiefs in Southwest Africa applauded the idea of merger with the Union, the UN General Assembly in its first brush with what has become a perennial problem held in Resolution 65 (I) adopted in 1946 that:

the African inhabitants of South West Africa have not yet secured political autonomy or reached a stage of political development enabling them to express a considered opinion which the Assembly could recognize on such an important question as incorporation of their territory.

Even if this were not the case and the chiefs knew what they were approving--which might be taken in substance as almost a denial of self-determination, placing them and their people within the jaws of apartheid-- a further question would immediately arise. How much credence should be given to the claim of a small dominant minority, be it the old-style chiefs or the new-style Western-trained middle class, to speak in the name of the people as a whole?

The burden of proof should certainly rest upon those who deny the capacity of a people to decide its destiny for itself - a capacity which in some cases is clearly still lacking or woefully inadequate.

It stretches a good point too far to accept the contention of a Venezuelan delegate to the United Nations that "The mere fact that a people had expressed a desire for self-government should be recognized as sufficient evidence that they were ready for it."

Where the capacity to make an effective choice is lacking it is plausible to assume also a lack of ability to maintain independence effectively without extensive outside support. The political validity of this argument is, however, seriously impaired by the fact that the anti-colonialists and nationalists backing independence for almost any people can point to others whose independence has been accepted, but whose maturity and experience are not demonstrably ahead of those whose right to self-determination is being questioned.

No survey of the states and peoples of the world could sustain the contention that independent statehood has necessarily been reserved for those who are most advanced and capable of sustaining it while colonialism has been the lot only of the most backward. It must also be asked whether the good of the world is promoted by the multiplication of weak and perhaps irresponsible states.

Whatever answer the statesman or the philosopher may give to this question, the working answer is presumably the same: if other peoples, no better qualified for it than we, have been allowed to clutter up the international stage, why should a new set of rules now suddenly be invoked to deny us our equal right?"

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