The New Colonialists/Imperialists or Legitimate Partners?

by Changki Bahng, , April 26, 2010

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As today's globalization has provided the opportunity for people to interact more than ever before, the amount of goods and services delivered by the new actors in the international system has increased. The reality, as Cohen, Kupcu, Khanna (2008) note, is that the services and influences of increasing numbers of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries and conflict zones often subvert local governments' function. This argument provides a quagmire perspective and delineates a critical change in how unsavory and failed countries are being affected as they are struggling with ethnic and civil conflicts; for example, in Somalia, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, NGOs have become influential actors. Who is intervening in, if not occupying, these uncertain and dysfunctional states, making them erode further from legitimacy and forcing them less able to improve their status quo as failed states?

In a foreign policy article, Cohen, Kupcu, Khanna (2008) point out that weak states are manned by a hodgepodge of international charities, aid agencies, philanthropists, and foreign advisors; as they also vehemently argue, these non-state actors, unlike traditional governmental intervention and influence in hopeless and war-riddled countries around the world, have become strong and influential internationally. One might argue that in the contemporary international system one state would not necessarily depend on technically advanced weapons and manpower in order to occupy an other state militarily; instead, the state could obscure its ostensible purpose of rescuing those failed states out of chaos and gradually and slowly occupy economically as if former colonialists and imperialists.

As Cohen, Kupcu, Khanna (2008) argue, these private actors are increasingly taking over and influencing key state functions, which were traditionally centered on a state's legitimate role, and providing all-inclusive state services, such as health care, welfare, and safety of citizens. Hence, with rational evidence provided in the article, the authors strongly argue that the international developmental groups (non-state actors), for example Oxfam; humanitarian non-governmental organizations such as Doctors Without Borders; faith-based organizations such as Mercy Corps; and mega-philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; have become the "new colonialists" of the 21st century.

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