Neocolonialism is defined as “the control of less-developed countries by developed countries through indirect means”. Initially, the term was used in the post-World War II era to refer to European policies that maintained control of former colonies in foreign nations, particularly in Africa. One of the first recognized neocolonial acts occurred at the 1957 Paris Summit in which European heads of government, specifically Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, included their overseas territories within the European Economic Community. This inclusion of colonial territories in trade arrangements represented a new form of economic domination that was less direct but just as controlling as prior forms of colonial control.
Neocolonialism has since expanded to include coordinated efforts by former colonial powers, other developed countries, and even corporations to produce and perpetuate colonial forms of exploitation. This broadened definition is largely associated with Cold War era policies, notably the Truman Doctrine, in which the United States government extended its sphere of influence by offering governments sums of money to accept U.S. protection from communism. Other more threatening acts have also been used by the United States to extend neocolonialism, including overthrowing numerous Central American governments through secret military coup d’états in order to institute pro-American regimes.
On a fundamental level, neocolonialism represents exploitation without redress and allows nations to ignore social and political issues by exporting social conflicts. Though evident in many forms and instances, this is perhaps most apparent in immigration policy – specifically through border externalization, in which nations engage with third countries with the explicit aim of preventing and interdicting migrants by creating a buffer-zone through the engaged nation’s external borders. Essentially, border externalization seeks to prevent migrants from entering destination states or migrating entirely, and focuses on apprehending and returning migrants in transit or destination states, even those with a valid legal basis for international protection.
While border externalization is usually discussed in the context of the European Union and African and Middle Eastern migrants, it is also occurring in North America in the United States with Central American migration. Through policies such as the Mérida Initiative and Programa Frontera Sur, the United States has exported its immigration responsibilities by working with Mexico to create an immigration policy that has militarized southern Mexico and the Mexico-Guatemala border in order to prevent Central American migrants from ever reaching the U.S.-Mexico border. Just as with historical forms of neocolonialism, such as supposed protection from communism, border externalization works under the guise of human rights. Although Programa Frontera Sur’s stated goal was “to overcome common challenges related to migration and the respect for human rights”, and “to establish a more modern, efficient, prosperous, and secure border”, the reality has only been a vast increase in deportations enacted by the Mexican government, and a dire effect on the human rights of migrants.
Through neocolonial acts of border externalization, the United States has also negated Mexico’s control over territory, sovereignty, and jurisdiction. For the United States, border externalization has clearly expanded the virtual territory under U.S. control. As such, the United States has been able to increase its jurisdiction and sovereignty by using its power to increase the power it holds over Mexican government initiatives. Even though the United States has virtually no control over the enforcement of such initiatives, this provides its government with a justifiable reason as to why such initiatives fail. While Mexico has not experienced a change in the territory it maintains, the Mexican government has lost both jurisdiction and sovereignty, as by accepting border externalization it must now act in the best interest of the United States.
It is through this lens that border externalization’s true neocolonial form is evident – Programa Frontera Sur allows wealthy and powerful nations like the United States to hand immigration responsibilities to other nations. Not only does doing so provide nations with a political excuse for the failure of immigration control, but it also allows such nations to cultivate and maintain power over their neighbors through the practice of controlling migration. Through the externalization of borders and immigration control, states are able to establish a neocolonial extension of their power.
In a way, the use of neocolonial border externalization by the United States to curb Central American migration is ironic as it was neocolonialism that created the very conditions that such migrants seek to escape. By overthrowing numerous Central American governments, the United States and its secret military coup d’états have had terrible unintended consequences as entire populations have been submerged into grinding poverty and are vulnerable to dictatorship, military rule, and gang violence. Such conditions and experiences are only exacerbated by neocolonial externalization policies that seek to prevent migrants from pursuing a better life.
Recognizing border externalization as neocolonialism is important for two reasons – both to acknowledge the roles of nations in continuing the legacies of colonialism, and to discuss potential solutions. Writing about and discussing such complex and contentious topics is essential towards ending actions that have allowed wealthy and powerful nations to unjustly cultivate and maintain power over their neighbors.
Regarding solutions, rather than continuing border externalization, states must secure their legacies as important political players in the international community by focusing on migrant human rights and securing conditions in origin states. Until such actions are taken, neocolonial immigration policies of border externalization will perpetrate asymmetrical relationships between states that will destabilize nations and fail to protect the millions of migrants in most need of aid.
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 Sandra Halperin. “Neocolonialism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. March 23, 2016.
 “NATO Update – 1957.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). November 6, 2001.
 Halperin, “Neocolonialism.”
 Stephen Kinzer. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York, NY: Times Books, 2006.
 Nkrumah, Kwame. Neo-colonialism: the last stage of imperialism. London: Panaf, 2004.
 Jennifer Podkul and Ian Kysel. “Interdiction, Border Externalization, and the Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, October 22, 2015.
 Presidencia de la República. “Pone En Marcha el Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto el Programa Frontera Sur.” Gob.mx. June 7, 2014.