Historically international development was conceived by US both as a strategic geopolitical, foreign policy project and as an objective process of economic progress. Arguably international cooperation for international development, in its various forms, was designed as a means of ensuring that post-colonial states in their pursuit of national development would not fall prey to the lure of communism and succumb to the model presented by the USSR.
Hence international development can be perceived not only as a model and strategy for reviving the economic growth but to also provide conditions of political stability for the neoliberal world order and a humanistic face to imperialism. That is why nongovernmental development organizations and other elements of civil society have been pressured to serve imperial interests, providing key assistance to the empire in its concern and effort to calm the blaze of revolutionary agitation on the southern periphery of the system, particularly in the regional development and social movements.
Globalization has been presented as a form of development, the best if not only way of ensuring economic growth and placing countries on the path toward a future of prosperity. But both the project of international cooperation for development and globalization appear to be masked for an entirely different project: US imperialism. Since the late 1940s, imperialism has taken the most diverse forms and at first it emerged in the form of a system designed to ensure the economic dominance of the United States and advance the economic interests of its economic enterprises. In this system the economically backward countries were given the role of exporters of raw materials needed for the industrial centre of the empire.
In the same context imperialism also took the form of international cooperation for international development, a policy created to ensure that the economically weak countries of the post-colonial world would pursue a capitalist road for their national development, sticking to a system set up to advance the economic and geopolitical interests of the United States. Soon after, around the time of 1960s, imperialism focused on integrated regional development, a policy designed as a way of reducing pressures for revolutionary change as well as creating local conditions for the penetration of US capital.
In the 1980s a new economic model was used to conduct a program of structural reforms in national policy that would create a new world in which national economies are integrated into a unique global economic system that would free the forces of economic and political liberty. The new neoliberal world order was formed to design optimum conditions for freeing the control of the nation-state on the mobility of capital – on its ability to find emerging markets and penetrate and dominate them – and therefore attain more capital. The new neoliberal order also designed conditions for several new forms of imperialism – from the imperialism of aid to the domination of trade and investment – based on a new international labour division, economic globalization, and a Washington Consensus on correct policy. Under these conditions, nation-states were reformed to better meet the new requirements of global capital and the nongovernmental organizations of civil society were used in the service of empire, to participate in the formation of a good governance policy and in this way help advance the imperial project, to make sure that the political and economic order needed for another round of economic imperialism persists.
In the 1990s the US project of world domination was in jeopardy, because of various countervailing forces and difficulties. Despite advances in its Central American backyard and increased influence in the less important Balkan states of Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia, US political and economic power throughout the 1990s was in decline in key areas of the world with a series of setbacks in other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East/Persian Gulf region, Latin America, Asia, and Europe.
Under these conditions, as well as the advance of a neoconservative counterattack, the project of the new imperialism was designed and put into motion. Arguably it is a form of imperialism that is not afraid to be named, or hide itself behind development or globalization; ready to use whatever means at its disposal: the coercive apparatus and power of military force. The UN was designed as a shield against a unilateral quest for world domination, to force any world power to act multilaterally within a system of checks and balances, with creation of an institutional mechanism for settling inter-imperialist conflicts. Nevertheless, since the emergence of the United States as a sole superpower, the self-appointed defender of the forces of freedom, the constraints of this system by and large have been superseded or ignored.
Imperialism in its various forms, from the hidden and open projection of state power, from local development to war, from the war on poverty to the war on Iraq and international terrorism, can be viewed as a multifaceted effort to escape its constraints. The multiple and heavy costs of this effort and ultimate consequences warrant a closer look and further study, as do the forces of resistance generated in the process, forces that have been called upon by diverse anti-systemic social movements, which question whether neoliberal approach is the only path to prosperity.