It seems that the Western countries are confronting the united Southern countries. As part of the G20 presidency, India declared itself the “Voice of the Global South” and welcomed the African Union into the fold of the G20 in an extraordinary gesture.
China has long claimed to represent the interests of Southern and Western countries. The BRICS countries are developing. Starting in 2024 there will be eleven of them. They are united by the search for alternatives to the West as well as criticism of Western double standards and international organizations that no longer reflect the global balance of power. But how united are the Southern states? And what impact will it have on Western countries?
Dr. Henrik Maihack heads the Africa department at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Berlin.
Of course, the term “Global South” is a brutal generalization. The countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America are much more diverse than western industrialized countries. From the border conflict between old BRICS members China and India, to the Nile water dispute between new members Ethiopia and Egypt: there are many conflicts of interest between them.
Johannes Plagemann is a political scientist researching the Global South at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg.
Meanwhile, India and America have the same concerns about China. Along with new BRICS members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the US, India and the EU announced the creation of a “historic economic corridor” at the G20 Summit in New Delhi in early September – as an alternative to China’s Silk Road. Germany and Brazil want to jointly reform the Security Council. Therefore, there can be no question of forming a classic block.
Emancipation of the Global South
However, the concept of the Global South points to an important error in international politics. It is no coincidence that this term is used in countries with increasingly emancipatory aspirations. Because many countries there have a skeptical attitude towards Western recommendations. The majority of countries are no longer willing to simply support the principles and prescriptions of international politics designed in Western countries.
Most countries in the Global South were exploited by colonialism. The current trading regime continues to make on-site processing difficult. At the same time, there are high incentives for direct exports of raw materials. Not surprisingly, accusations of neo-colonialism are getting louder. And not just in countries like Niger, where coup leaders criticized their political leadership’s dependence on the West.
Become a counter to Western domination
For many people in the West, the 1990s are associated with the triumph of Western values and ideas of order. However, in Southern countries, this peak unipolar phase is seen more as a period of continuing dependency and crisis. What makes matters worse is that Western countries are at least partially responsible for many of these major crises.
This applies to climate change as well as the dramatic security situation in the Sahel region, which was also a consequence of NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. Warnings regarding this were ignored. It is not surprising, therefore, that most countries in the Global South are deeply hostile to Western economic and political domination and that a multipolar model seems attractive.
What is meant by multipolarity?
The concept of multipolarity troubles us in the West. It depicts a world with different centers of power – even outside the West. Depending on interest and offerings, new, unusual, and often transactional constellations emerge. The West remains an attractive partner for many countries in the Global South. But increasingly competing with others.
The West’s loss of international power may be irreversible.
Henrik Maihack and Johannes Plagemann
At the global level, neither the United States nor China can enforce their interests alone. For Western countries, this means: Building partnerships in multipolar competition is becoming increasingly complex and requires better offerings. The West’s loss of international power may be irreversible.
At the same time, international organizations, long dominated by the West, were beginning to reach the limits of their capabilities. They are increasingly unable to achieve unity. Both in Western countries and in developing countries in the Global South. The much-vaunted “rules-based international order” turns out to contain rules that not everyone is willing to obey and implement. Maybe it’s also because not everyone views themselves the same as a writer.
In the countries of the South, a multipolar world is nothing new – people have lived in it for a long time. For countries like South Africa or Bangladesh, friendly relations with Russia, China and the United States are not a contradiction, but rather foreign policy pragmatism. It is impossible to explain who you should make enemies and with whom you should maintain partnerships.
Western countries must get used to the fact that as Southern countries become increasingly important, their demands to help determine global developments and solutions to crises also increase. And that is a win. As recent initiatives show – from the African peace initiative for Ukraine to the proposals to solve the climate crisis at the first African climate summit in early September: when new actors join, new – and sometimes better – ideas emerge.
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