/ 4 October 2023

The Global South’s reshaping of world politics

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with fellow BRICS leaders President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping pose for a family photo with delegates, including six nations invited to join the BRICS group, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

In a world marked by intensified rivalries among superpowers, the global south is emerging as a player on the world stage. 

It is Russia’s war in Ukraine that has fuelled the global south’s awakening. This group exhibits developmental trajectories challenging the conventional Western narrative of global dominance. Several trends highlight the growing influence of the global south in reshaping dynamics of global politics. 

Despite facing difficulties such as the financial crisis in 2008 or the devastating Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, these nations have not only overcome adversity but also made significant progress. According to data from the International Monetary Fund based on purchasing power parity, there has been a shift in the economic landscape.

In 2008 emerging markets and developing economies took control of 51.3% of GDP from their developed counterparts. As we fast forward to 2022 the share of the developed world has shrunk by a margin while the global south is at 58.3%.

This increase of 16.5 percentage points shows the progress made by developing nations. When considering market exchange rates, the global south’s piece of the pie stands at 42.5% in 2022, an increase of 21.6 percentage points since the year 2000. 

Nations in the global south are forging their own path, asserting their independence through distinct political positions and policy proposals that diverge significantly from traditional Western narratives.

A noteworthy aspect is that many countries in the global south have expressed opposition to intervention as a solution to address the Ukraine crisis. They advocate for approaches that prioritise cooperation and dialogue over sanctions or aggressive measures. 

Unsurprisingly, with the rise of the global south, we are witnessing a competition among powers to win over these countries. As proof of this evolving landscape, during the Munich Security Conference in February this year, discussions revolved around south/north collaboration specifically recognising the role played by the global south. 

The accompanying 2023 Munich Security Report emphasised how important this region is in shaping security. Further confirming this shift, at the G7 leaders summit in Hiroshima in May emphasis was placed on strengthening ties with the global south. Several global south countries were invited as partners. 

Many developing nations around the world are facing a combination of crises; the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on economies, a global shortage of food and energy, and the relentless march of the climate emergency. These challenges manifest as droughts, fires and floods making it more difficult for countries in the global south to cope. 

It is clear that no single country among those claiming leadership in the global south can address all these issues on its own. Poverty and inequality continue to loom over many nations in the global south. Additionally, governance problems persist with corruption, weak institutions and a lack of transparency. Infrastructure deficiencies also hinder progress — from transport networks to electricity and telecommunications.

Although the global south is not a clearly demarcated entity as such, it is on a path to becoming a countervailing force. Many of these nations possess resources that are essential for the economies of their more developed counterparts.

The global south has gained importance in the ongoing shift of global power primarily because of three key factors. First, the global south emerges as a stabilising influence by maintaining equilibrium amid fierce competition for dominance. For instance, consider the dynamics of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine where nations from the global south have played a role in advocating for rational and peaceful resolutions while firmly opposing any escalation that could lead to global catastrophe. 

But this balance does not equate to neutrality. The latter approach simply involves refraining from taking sides and maintaining a distance from the power struggles of other countries. In contrast, the former approach represents a constructive foreign policy stance. It demonstrates a commitment to shaping the world order rather than just observing it passively.

Second, the global south has emerged as an influential “counterbalance” in our interconnected world with its role. In today’s world, where nations are interconnected and interdependent a country’s power and influence are measured across dimensions.

Because of limited resources on our planet, countries in the global south often leverage their advantages in areas to exert influence. For example, certain global south nations, blessed with energy reserves and critical minerals, actively strengthen their self-reliance in resource development and exports. This strategic move translates into an increased role within supply chains and industrial networks, further enhancing their importance on the global stage. 

Third, the global south also serves as an advocate for preserving the diversity of human civilisations. In today’s society we are fortunate to experience an array of different cultures and values that contribute to our global community. Many nations in the global south have a history and cultural heritage that has influenced humanity in the past. But their progress was often hindered by the colonisation efforts of nations, which temporarily halted or even reversed their cultural advancement.

Today we see a resurgence of these civilisations — a rebirth that injects energy into the global stage. This serves as a testament to the spirit of these nations and their dedication to restoring our shared heritage.

Recently we have witnessed a growth in efforts led by emerging markets and developing countries promoting cooperation among countries within the global south and strengthening their international presence. The Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) alliance has played a role in this initiative showing how unity among global south nations can shape a diverse and inclusive world.

Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. He qualified as a physician from Dow Medical University in 1991 and has a master’s degree in international relations from Karachi University.