Neo-imperialism refers to the dominance of some nations over others by means of unequal conditions of economic exchange. In other words, neo-imperialism exists when one nation is dependent upon another because the weaker nation is unable to survive economically in the modern world without the aid of the stronger nation.

Neo-imperialism, unlike earlier methods of imperialism (i.e., the old empire system), is not founded upon the direct imposition of political power by one society upon another. Instead, neo-imperialism uses the power of money in the modern world as a way for richer countries to keep poorer countries from stepping outside of the roles that richer countries have defined for them.

Neo-imperialism exists in the world in many degrees today. The most obvious and straightforward example of neo-imperialism today is the relationship between industrialized societies and the Third World. Third World nations are largely dependent upon the industrialized world for money with which to purchase food, shelter, and other essentials. Industrialized nations are willing to give this in terms of aid; in return, however, the Third World nations often have to go along with the foreign policies of the nations that aided them or face the prospect of the elimination of aid.

Other, less obvious examples of neo-imperialism exist all over the globe. Any time an aid package is given from one nation to another, it could be considered an example of neo-imperialism. Any time an intrusive foreign policy is allowed by a foreign entity, it could be considered an example of neo-imperialism. Neo-imperialism, as a general concept, throws a large shadow over modern economic and diplomatic policy in all nations because of the strongly global aspect of modern international dealings.

It is the belief in the idea of neo-imperialism, particularly in the sense that it is merely an updated form of the old imperialistic system, that has caused many nations to openly dislike and oppose the United States; it is often apparent that the United States is the leader in developing neo-imperialistic relationships with other nations. Many nations believe that this neo-imperialistic attitude that the United States often takes through strong foreign aid packages and an intrusive foreign policy add up to just a modern form of the old British Empire that many of them fought for years to throw off.

This begs the question of whether or not neo-imperialism is morally right. On the one hand, without the large aid packages, the already-low standard of living in many Third World nations would be much worse than it already is. On the other hand, however, it does give industrialized nations such as the United States a great deal of influence and power over these nations when it comes to foreign policy. It is a question that will have to be resolved in order for the modern world to be at peace.

Cultural neo-imperialism is also a threat. When stronger nations give aid to weaker nations, quite often the culture of the stronger nation is accepted along with the aid. The result of this is often a strong cultural clash, as can be exhibited when we see people in Third World nations receiving aid and demonstrating symbols of the cultures of the industrialized world. This can often result in the alteration of and destruction of cultures, another strong danger of neo-imperialism.

Neo-imperialism is a very general way to view many of the new issues that are developing and will develop as our world grows smaller due to more effective communication and contact between foreign nations. In this new world, we all need to be very careful that we do not fall into the traps of the past and instead build new bridges into the future.

"Wars are the inevitable accompaniment of imperialism".

Georgi Dimitrov, Comintern Secretary-General, 1939

Vladimir Lenin saw imperialism as the highest form of capitalism. His interpretation of imperialism was the export of capital overseas. This was what Lenin called "imperialism".

There were many reasons why the imperialistic West wanted to seek overseas colonies. The example I am most familiar with is that of the French occupation of Indochina, so we shall consider this.

The three things a colony can provide its master with are -

  • Natural resources
  • Cheap labour to expoloit these resources with and to work in other industry
  • New markets for the master's goods

There is a primary economic reason why labour is so much cheaper in Asia and Africa, and it's a matter of supply and demand. In countries which are mostly based on agriculture at a subsistence level, most workers in the country are engaged in this farming. They are usually very poor1 and have no alternative to this way of life. Until foreign business arrives.

Why are Nike able to pay their workers a fraction of what an equivalent worker in the West would recieve? Because the supply of jobs is low and demand is high2. Nike know that the opportunity cost for their workers of taking the job is not being able to work in subsistence farming - if the jobs end up more profitable overall for the worker, even at such a low wage, then Nike can retain the worker at a very small cost.

France subdued Indochina by force. Western businesses opened up in the cities and the French used forced labour to improve local infrastructure and work in heavy industry. This relationship was, in general, good for the French and bad for the Indochinese3. Eventually, Vietnam declared itself independent and fought long and hard to achieve that dream.

That was imperialism. What in the name of Marx is neo-imperialism? After World War II, there was an upsurge of liberation movements throughout the World, and the West began to lose or cede control of its colonies. Those who use the term neo-imperialism are accusing the West of trying to retain shady control of their old colonies through economic or political manipulation.

Neo-imperialism can take forms such as -

  • Foreign aid. It is undeniable that foreign aid is a tool of international relations, there to serve some purpose to the country giving the aid. This purpose, it is claimed by those accusing the West of neo-imperialism, is to retain a sphere of influence over foreign countries by making them dependent on our support. What's that, North Korea, you're developing nuclear weapons? Not if you want aid you're not!
  • Cultural imperialism. When foreign aid is given, or companies set up abroad, they often take the culture of their homeland with them. This, it is claimed, destroys the heterogenous nature of the world and is in some undefinable way "evil". Accusations of cultural imperialism range from American products being on sale in the United Kingdom to other countries adopting Western legal and government practices.
  • Western companies setting up abroad. While economic to the businesses for the reasons above, many advocates of the redistribution of wealth think that the foreign businesses should pay their African and Asian workers a lot more for moral reasons. This is a moral and economic minefield, and by any measure isn't likely to happen soon.
Whatever your interpretation of neo-imperialism, most are thankful to say that the time when we travelled the globe subduing "savages" by force and making them thralls to our interests are past.


1. Confucian society actually valued farmers very highly, with a proverb saying "If you don't have farmers, you have nothing else." This meant farmers were not always poor - but they usually were.

2. It's also because the countries in which they operate lack minimum wage laws or the ability to enforce them. Alfimp rightly notes that these countries often have very restrictive laws on unionisation.

3. Not to mention the United States of America, which fought the Vietnam War because of it.

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