Countries in the Global South are becoming increasingly important actors on the global stage. While the term is vague – and some have argued for abolishing it – it is used here to mean the larger and richer developing nations.
The demands made by the Global South have created political and economic shifts that the West will need to adapt to.
These nations have become more powerful due to their economic growth.
With respect to GDP in purchasing power parity-adjusted terms, India is the third largest economy globally, while Indonesia is seventh and Brazil is eighth.
Meanwhile, the G7’s share of global GDP has fallen from 65% to 44% over the last 50 years due in part to China’s rise but also to the rise of the Global South.
Now, it is using its power in economic and political affairs.
One manifestation is the call for ‘active non-alignment’ between the United States and China. This is not the non-alignment of the 20th century, but one that shifts depending on the issue at stake.
A recent example is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While most developing countries disapprove of the invasion, they are unwilling to participate in sanctions despite the West’s urging.
Another example is Southeast Asia balancing economic relations with China against security concerns with the US.
Yet there are obstacles to the Global South assuming a substantially greater international political role. The interests of individual countries are quite heterogeneous, varying by geographical location, size, natural resource endowment, and development level.
For instance, China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia are in quite a different situation than Latin American countries in the US sphere of influence.
Likewise, a giant like India is unlikely to share the same world outlook as a smaller Chile. Natural resource exporters have different interests than exporters of industrial goods.
There is also a lack of leadership within the Global South.
While we might assume that the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and six other recently added members – would form the leadership core, the presence of China complicates that assumption.
If the Global South seeks to locate itself between Washington and Beijing and draw resources from both, having China as part of the leadership is a contradiction.
Until an ‘indigenous’ leadership emerges, the Global South cannot effectively engage in active non-alignment.
The implications of a substantially more powerful bloc can be understood by looking at the demands that come from organizations associated with the Global South, including BRICS and the Group of 77.
Currently, the Global South is demanding a greater role in existing institutions, especially the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the UN Security Council, as well as greater equality in the division of international resources.
The issue on the international agenda at the moment is the demand for a ‘loss and damage’ fund as part of the climate negotiations.
It also seems likely that a greater role would strengthen China given its successful courtship of many Global South countries.
From the view of long-term stability, the West should support a greater role for the Global South in international financial institutions and the UN.
One step in that direction was the creation of the G20, but more permanent participation is called for.
The quid pro quo of greater participation could be an agreement on an agenda for the coming decade and rules of operation for international organizations.
The West should initiate steps on resource sharing. The creation of the loss and damage fund is such a step.
While these steps would be helpful in terms of stability, the West also has an interest in backing the Global South to boost support for democracy.
So, the West should make a serious effort to support the Global South to safeguard its political and economic interests.
Barbara Stallings is a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University in the United States and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University in China.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.