The term "neocolonialism" is used by some to describe how countries still seek to maintain a policy of influencing others to serve their own interests. Others see a more sinister purpose for neocolonialism, seeing it as an oppressive and unjust expression of power. This paper will explore the idea of neocolonialism as it has become manifest in the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The reader will glean a better understanding of the parameters of this area of study as well as its attributes, both positive and negative, as it relates to the current international climate.
Keywords Colonialism; Imperialism; Iron Curtain; North American Treaty Organization (NATO); Nation-state; Neocolonialism; Tolerant colonialism
Global Stratification: Neocolonialism
In 1899, governance over the Philippines was transferred from Spain to the United States following US victory in the Spanish-American War. Unfortunately, this period of colonial rule was not a tranquil one. The Filipino army launched a counter-resistance campaign against US rule, a war that would last three years and cost the lives of 4,200 soldiers. Still, another battle existed while violence continued — the campaign for the hearts and minds of civilian Filipinos. The US clearly seemed to be winning this part of the war, building roads and schools and providing inoculations for civilians. Later, the US granted the Philippines a much greater degree of autonomy than any other colony in Asia. The nationalist opposition leader, Manuel Quezon, grew frustrated with his American nemesis, and complained about the positive contributions the US provided to Filipino life: "Damn the Americans!" he said. "Why don't they tyrannize us more?" (Anecdotage.com, 2008).
A Brief of History of Colonialism
Throughout world history, powerful nations, empires, and nation-states have expanded their influences and protected their political and economic interests by adding other regions to their purviews but by giving them at least a nominal sense of autonomy. Virtually every continent contained a region that was in fact governed by a European power until World War II. According to most historians, the colonial era, as it is known, largely came to an end at the end of the Second World War. Even so, the practice of colonialism in some ways has not disappeared entirely. Rather, an increasing number of political scientists are exploring the notion that colonialism is not dead, but has instead given rise to neocolonialism.
This paper will explore the idea of neocolonialism, particularly as it has become manifest in the latter twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The reader will glean a better understanding of the parameters of this area of study as well as its attributes, both positive and negative, as it relates to the current international climate.
Human history is filled with examples of cultures, societies, and nations (and later, nation-states) taking control of territories and societies that exist beyond their borders. Colonialism, which entails this practice, is a practice that has existed for centuries, from Viking conquests and influence-spreading in the tenth century CE, to the first British colony in Ireland in the twelfth century, to the colonization of the New World in the seventeenth century, to the European powers' influence in Africa, south Asia, and southeast Asia.
One of the most prominent advocates of colonialism was the nineteenth-century philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill. Mill asserted that there is a myriad of benefits of colonization, not just for the two countries involved in the expansion of influence, but for the international community in general. "To appreciate the benefits of colonization," he states, "it should be considered in its relation, not to a single country, but to the collective economical interests of the human race" (Mill, 1848/1998, par. 2). Indeed, Mill may have lived in an era long before the realization of a global community, but his views of the usefulness of colonization echoed many of those today — that by reaching beyond borders to societies and nations to add "less civilized" territories to their own purview, colonial powers were helping these cultures to become more developed, stable, and prosperous.
Still, Mill saw reason for concern about the path such colonization would follow. If the goal of colonialism is to bring progress and civilization to the colonies, the downside of such nation-building activity is that the dominant power could become corrupt and overly domineering. Such abuses of power could lead to violence against the subordinated nation and, thereby, foster rebellious behavior by the indigenous subordinate against the dominant power. Such violence, Mill argued, can render ineffectual the utilitarian benefits inherent in colonialism (Smits, 2008).
Mill's brand of tolerant colonialism would later become that which he found loath. Egalitarian rule would not be visible in many of the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, India, and southeast Asia, and in most of these cases, violence (either toward the dominating colonial power or of a sectarian nature) and poverty did not stop when the colonial power departed but instead continued until the latter twentieth or into the early twenty-first century.
The practice of colonization, which involves a state that claims governance over another territory or society, largely ceased at the end of World War II. A major reason for the end of this extremely long trend is that so many empires fell as a result of that conflict and at the same time, so many new nation-states were born. Then again, while colonization has waned, colonialism has, according to many scholars, simply evolved into the concept known as neocolonialism.
The Rise of Neocolonialism
Even after the European colonial powers relinquished their holdings in Africa, south Asia, and southeast Asia, it has been difficult for many scholars and observers to believe that the spirit of colonialism was at the same time extinguished. In fact, some operate from the notion that colonialism (which is often interchanged with the term imperialism), with its theoretical framework focusing entirely on a society formally occupying and controlling another, is far too rigid in its definition.
For others, the imperialist occupation of another state or nation, which often involves military intervention as well as other practices of forced annexation, has simply given way to a less overt but nonetheless significant modification of imperialism. Neocolonialism has, in this regard, filled this description.
The term neocolonialism is used by some to describe how countries still seek to maintain a policy of influencing others to serve their own interests. Others see a more sinister purpose for neocolonialism, seeing it as an oppressive and unjust expression of power. Kwame Nkrumah, the first post-independence president of Ghana, offered his thoughts about neocolonialism, suggesting that the sovereignty awarded to his nation after the colonial powers withdrew their occupying elements were at best token and inconsequential, and that neocolonialism helps perpetuate continued, if understated, subjugation:
Neo-colonialism is… the worst form of imperialism. For those who practise it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old-fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad. In the colony those who served the ruling imperial power could at least look to its protection against any violent move by their opponents. With neo-colonialism neither is the case (cited in Leong, 2002, par. 2).
Nkrumah is by no means alone in his concerns about a new form of colonialism, and a considerable amount of evidence in the post–World War II era would appear to justify such concerns. The most egregious example of this neocolonialism was connected to a similar example of colonialism as well. The birth of the Soviet Union entailed (in many cases) the physical annexation of Russia's neighbors, but many of the nations behind what Winston Churchill termed the Iron Curtain, such as Poland and...
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