Beginning in the 16th century, numerous European nations had gained control over overseas territories in regions such as Africa, the Americas, and Asia, among others. These colonial empires involved Europeans ruling over large populations of non-Europeans, an arrangement that Europeans justified on the basis of the notion of racial superiority. The many native peoples of Africa, the Americas, and Asia, to one degree or another, recognized the injustice of being ruled by foreigners who claimed to be superior on the basis of racial differences. The outcome of World War II provided both motives and circumstances that resulted in the end of European colonial empires.
The victorious Allies, particularly the United States, had claimed they were fighting for freedom against the injustice of dictatorship. Such an argument fatally undermined the justification for Europeans ruling over non-Europeans. If Nazi Germany was wrong to rule over non-Germans, such as the Czechs, the Poles, and the Russians, on the basis of the racial superiority of the German people, then how could it be right for Europeans to rule over non-Europeans on the basis of the racial superiority of Europeans? In short, the argument that Europeans had used to justify their right to rule over non-Europeans could no longer be relied upon. This was recognized, to one degree or another, by both Europeans and non-Europeans alike. Significantly, for their own reasons, both of the two superpowers that dominated world affairs after the end of World War II - the United States and the Soviet Union - were opposed to European colonial empires.
The circumstances that favored the peoples living in European colonial empires gaining their independence after the conclusion of World War II was the weakness of many European nations. Belgium, France, and the Netherlands (Holland) had been occupied by Nazi Germany and, during their liberation, had suffered tremendous death and destruction. Although Great Britain had prevented German conquest, the country had also suffered enormous death and destruction and, in fighting the war, Britain had used up much of her resources. Therefore, in the years after World War II, these countries did not have the military and financial strength to suppress rebellions in their overseas colonies. Some European nations recognized this fact and chose to let go of their overseas colonies; others did not.
Both Belgium and Greta Britain chose to withdraw from their overseas empire. The British colony of India was given its independence in 1947, while Belgium withdrew from the Congo much later, in 1960. While both acts of de-colonization involved the peaceful handover of power, neither examples resulted in peace. Both the British colony of India and the Belgian Congo contained many different peoples with different identities - such as different religions, customs, and languages - occupying different locations within their respective colonies. These different peoples were not necessarily willing to live within a single, newly independent country.
A majority of the Muslims of the British Colony of India chose to establish their own, separate nation-state, known as Pakistan (including today's Pakistan and Bangladesh). This provoked animosity between Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the British colony of India that resulted in terrible riots in which thousands of people were killed. Within the British colony of India there were a number of 'Princely States' where native rulers loyal to Great Britain ruled over their own territories. The rulers of these Princely States had to decide whether or not their territories should become part of independent India or part of the newly independent nation of Pakistan. The Princely State of Kashmir in particular has been the source of conflict ever since the end of British colonial rule. Pakistan claimed that, because the majority of the people living in Kashmir were Muslim, this Princely State should be part of Pakistan. But the ruler of Kashmir chose to make his territory part of India. With both nations claiming the right to rule over Kashmir, it's not surprising that Pakistan and India have gone to war with one another more than once.
By contrast, both France and the Netherlands (Holland) looked to their overseas colonies as a source of wealth that would help them to rebuild after the destruction of World War II and, therefore, refused to give their colonies their independence. The native peoples of both the French colony of Indochina (today Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) and the Dutch colony of Indonesia formed armed organizations dedicated to fighting for their independence. The Vietnamese Communist independence movement fought a long and bloody war against the French armed forces until the government of France finally came to recognize that they could not achieve victory. The Dutch faced the same situation when they fought against the Indonesian independence movements. In both cases, the European nations were forced to negotiate with their opponents, negotiations that resulted in the independence of these European colonies.
By the 1960s, some two decades after the end of World War II, nearly all of the European overseas colonies had achieved their independence, either through a peaceful transfer of power or through costly wars of independence. With few exceptions, European nations no longer controlled territories beyond the shores of Europe. Virtually all of Africa and Asia was now composed of independent nation-states. Tragically, this did not result in peace, as newly independent nations in Africa and Asia experienced armed opposition from within and clashed over disputed borders.