Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Norman Girvan

First Page



The question of compensation for expropriated property takes us, in many respects, to the heart of the relationship between the developed capitalist countries and the Third World. On no other subject is the gulf between the two--in interests, perspectives and position--potentially so great, nor so pregnant with passionate and violent conflict. The rules of international law, the principles of international economics and the science of international politics can help clarify the issues involved and provide arguments for the claims of contending parties. But they cannot yield solutions which are "neutral" or are free of value judgments and philosophical assumptions which reflect and affect the interests of contending parties in different degrees.

The question is one in which realpolitik has always been a dominant--if not decisive--factor. Current standards of compensation which are "internationally accepted" derive from concepts of private property that are peculiar to the capitalist countries of the North Atlantic. In the light of notions of property characteristic of the pre-colonial cultures of Asia, Africa and Indo-America, the philosophical tenets of capitalist attitudes toward private property appear to be a special case in human society and a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. That these standards should have "internationally accepted" status only attests to Euro-American hegemony over the rest of the world. A unilateral expropriation, compensation for which is determined according to the Third World country's own internal standards rather than those made internationally, runs a high risk of being termed "theft"; and, how far it can be successfully accomplished depends on the balance of economic, political and military forces in the situation.