Global South’s active nonalignment reshapes global dynamics as developing nations prioritize their interests, form diplomatic coalitions, and navigate tensions between the United States and China.
According to an African saying, “when two elephants fight, the grass is the one that suffers.” Shock waves were felt across Western countries when 52 nations from the “global South” failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2021, and 82 Southern states failed to vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council in March. Southerners have deep doubts about the reliability of Western countries to uphold international standards.
Many have cited the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, which was conducted without authorization from the UN Security Council. The 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, which was carried out without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, has been highlighted as an example.
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The global South is also venting its anger at what it sees as decades of Western hegemony in areas such as global trade, global governance, and transnational migration. In order to avoid being drawn into future fights between a Pax Americana and a Pax Sinica, southern states are lobbying for a revitalized non-alignment.
The rise of active nonalignment
Taking their cue from Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are prioritizing their own interests over those of the superpowers. This new “nonalignment” differs from comparable approaches used by nations in previous decades since it is taking place at a time when developing nations are in a much stronger position than they were in the past and rising powers are forming among them.
In terms of purchasing power, the combined GDP of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (together known as BRICS) has surpassed that of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations. With their economies flourishing, nonaligned countries may now lead international efforts and form diplomatic coalitions in ways that were previously unimaginable.
The rising popularity of active non-alignment may be traced back to the growing tensions between the United States and China, which in turn have fostered the emergence of a second Cold War. Developing countries in the Global South understand the need of keeping good relations with both giants for their respective economies.
Active non-alignment, which involves actively analyzing each issue on its merits, is not the same thing as neutrality, but it does allow countries to find a middle ground between the United States and China depending on the nature of the problem at hand. It is conceivable for a country with an active nonaligned policy to take a stance closer to the United States on certain subjects, such as democracy and human rights. On other issues, such as international commerce, the country may be more inclined to stand with China.
Challenging the “rules-based international order”
Active non-alignment has been put to the test by the conflict in Ukraine, which calls for neutrality rather than backing for either Russia or NATO. Brazil isn’t the only country with this viewpoint. Several major countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have all rejected NATO membership. Importantly, India did not denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead expanded its imports of Russian oil despite its expanding connections with the US and involvement in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”).
The importance of India’s stance emphasizes a core disagreement in the modern world. It is commonly assumed that the fundamental geopolitical divide is between democracies and autocracies, but the war in Ukraine has shown that this is not the case. The major democracies of Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina have all chosen to remain neutral rather than side with NATO. Africa, Asia, and Latin America provide almost no backing for diplomatic and economic sanctions against Russia. What these countries see as a European struggle, they are desperate to keep from becoming a global one.
Having presented the conflict in Ukraine as a moral dilemma in which the future of the “rules-based international order” is at stake, Washington has been taken aback by this response. Similarly, John Foster Dulles, the U.S. secretary of state during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, called nonalignment “immoral.”
Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has been traveling all over Africa, Asia, and Latin America to boost Moscow’s resistance to sanctions in light of the burgeoning nonaligned movement. China, in turn, has stepped up its effort to expand the use of the yuan abroad, arguing that the United States use of the dollar as a weapon against Russia only underlines the risks associated with making the dollar the primary global currency.
A wind of change in unipolarity?
Unfortunately, ignoring the Global South is not an option for the United States. There is a danger that the United States measures to the conflict in Ukraine, such as economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, would further alienate the country from the rest of the world. The United States may appear to be retreating into isolation or returning to a bygone age with these policies, but in today’s more multipolar international order, this is not an effective strategy.
The United States risks a further decline in its stature and influence in the international system if it stubbornly clings to the failed unipolar ideology of the post-Cold War era. The world order is changing dramatically as countries in the Global South adopt a new foreign policy of aggressive non-alignment. Independent and self-interested, developing countries are changing the global power balance.
For this strategy to work, countries in the Global South will need to exercise finesse in their diplomacy, think strategically when making decisions, and work together. By deftly navigating the geopolitical terrain, these countries are establishing a new age of international relations that puts the well-being of its citizens and the global community ahead of the rivalries between superpowers.
To conclude, the conflict in Ukraine tests active nonalignment as the Global South opts for neutrality, challenging the assumption of a geopolitical divide between democracies and autocracies. The growing nonaligned movement strengthens Russia and China while urging the United States to reassess its approach. Ignoring the Global South is isolating the US and hindering its historic influence in the changing world order.