There was colonialism. Then came neocolonialism. Now… post-neocolonialism? An Australian think tank embarrassed its government by releasing a report warning of state failure in Papua New Guinea while the Aussie foreign minister was visiting the nearby island nation.

PNG is one of the most undeveloped nations on earth. Many of its citizens have never heard of their country (or any other country); the interior has changed only a little in the past few thousand years. The new report (intro here) warns that criminals will effectively take over and the economy, such as it is, will collapse. Their recommendations are not the classic prescriptions of neocolonialism, but rather something new (or perhaps very old).

[BBC] The Australian Strategic Policy Institute called for a radical increase in aid for PNG and said Canberra should take over some aspects of government.

PNG's Foreign Minister Sir Rabbie Namliu told local media the report was "sensationalist" and inaccurate..."There is not even the slightest amount of evidence available to support the ASPI's claim that the economy could collapse and politics and the economy could be dominated by criminals."

Australia has already begun a more hands-on approach, placing 210 police and 64 bureaucrats in governmental positions in PNG. They serve, of course, at the pleasure of PNG's government, but the latter's freedom of self-determination is effectively curtailed by its utteral dependence on Aussie aid.

The term "post-neocolonialism" has been coined before, to denominate the tendancy of new regional powers to project power on their neighbors and even as the dominance of Western cultural motifs. Neither of these is at all new, however. Strong countries have always dominated weak ones; in-vogue cultures always send ripples around the world. What is new (at least on this scale) is the handover of basic government functions to another government. Post-neocolonialism goes beyond out-sourcing security, which is just a form of mercenaryism, to an unprecedented relinquishment of decision-making to foreign governments (not just foreign experts).

While the Australian intrusion into PNG is, I believe, a prototype of much more to come, it is certainly not the only current example of post-neocolonialism. Obvious examples include U.S. security and reconstruction elements in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our troops in Japan and South Korea and the use of the dollar as a de facto currency in much of Latin America signal the globalization of post-neocolonialism. Russia projects as much influence as it is allowed on the internal workings of its former possessions; alleged KGB intrigues in Ukraine must be seen in the context of a tacit welcome from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Elsewhere, many small countries cling to colonialism: Mayotte Island wants desparately to be French rather than Comoran, Puerto Rico can't make up its mind to leave the largess of American control, and Djibouti remains a colony in all but name. Independence movements in colonies are virtually non-existant. Westerners are just too good at running things.

Individually, most interventions are difficult to argue against. Should PNG be abandoned to pirates? Should Comoros be allowed to annex Mayotte when it cannot govern the three islands it currently consists of? Is it justifiable for Western aid workers to give policymaking positions to less-qualified nationals? These are very difficult questions, and I don't believe any overarching answer can be found.

More poignant, perhaps, are the questions we Westerners should ask ourselves. Are we comfortable setting monetary policy for the whole world without taking their needs into account? Where do we draw the line in the tradeoff between giving charity and teaching responsibility (most often through the School of Hard Knocks)? Can we secure ourselves if the whole world is not secure? Can we afford to secure the whole world? Can non-democratic political solutions be optimal?

These questions will have to be answered by the policymakers of the 21st century. Increasingly, supporting human rights will mean trespassing on self-determination and the heretofore consistent worldview of our founding fathers may be rendered irreparably asunder.

Posted by Chops at December 14, 2004 5:23 PM