Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that his country is “becoming the voice of the Global South,” and that this voice would be heard at the upcoming Group of 20 meetings in New Delhi.
At the BRICS summit in August, current chair South Africa stated that its purpose was to “advance the agenda of the Global South.” And, ahead of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies summit in Hiroshima this May, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized that the guest nations he had invited highlighted the importance of the Global South.
The United Nations, the World Bank, and US Vice President Joe Biden all seem to be discussing the Global South these days. But what is it exactly?
What exactly is the Global South?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a geographical phrase. Many countries in the Global South are in the northern hemisphere, including India, China, and the whole northern half of Africa. Australia and New Zealand, both in the southern hemisphere, are not considered to be part of the Global South.
The so-called Brandt Line, a squiggle across the globe extending from the north of Mexico, across the top of Africa and the Middle East, looping around India and China before dropping down to embrace much of East Asia but bypassing Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, is most commonly cited as the border. Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt proposed the line in the 1980s as a visual representation of the north-south divide based on per-capita GDP.
“The Global South is a geographical, geopolitical, historical, and developmental concept, all at the same time — with exceptions,” explains Happymon Jacob, founder of the Council for Strategic and Defense Research in New Delhi.
What nations comprise the Global South?
It’s tricky, and it often relies on who’s saying it.
Most typically, the term refers to the countries that comprise the United Nations Group of 77, which, confusingly, is now a coalition of 134 countries. They are primarily considered underdeveloped countries, but they also include China – a point of contention — and some affluent Gulf states.
Although the G77 is a United Nations group, the U.N. does not use that as its own definition, according to Rolf Traeger of the U.N.’s trade and development office.
According to Traeger, the United Nations uses the term “Global South” to refer to developing countries in general. According to him, the United Nations presently designates 181 jurisdictions as developing countries or territories and 67 jurisdictions as developed.
In January, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted a virtual “Voice of the Global South Summit.” However, it only featured 125 countries, with India’s regional competitors China and Pakistan noteworthy omissions.
Some employ various criteria, such as if a country has already been colonized or if its per-capita GDP is greater than $15,000.
There is also a Global North, albeit the term is less commonly used. That is characterized as not being from the Global South.
Should the term “Global South” be used?
The term “Global South” initially arose in the 1960s, but it took some time to catch on.
Following the Cold War’s end, the labels First World, Second World, and Third World began to lose favor, partly because the Second World ceased to exist with the fall of the Soviet Union, and partly because the use of Third World came to be considered as disparaging.
No matter how you define it, the Global South encompasses such a large proportion of the world’s people and territory that some think that the name is both impossible and misleading.
How can countries like China and India, each with approximately 1.4 billion people and GDPs of approximately $18 trillion and $3.4 trillion, be lumped together with the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, with a population of slightly more than 300,000 and a GDP of $984 million, or Zambia, with 19 million people and a GDP of $30 billion?
Some are also concerned that China, which is aggressively striving to expand its global influence, may use the organization to advance its own agenda while claiming to speak for the rest of the globe.
It has been claimed that this was behind the G7 nations’ decision in May to avoid from using the term “Global South” in their final summit communique, despite Kishida’s preference for it.
“There is every danger that the Global South will end up becoming a weapon in the hands of revisionist states like China, who would want to use the Global South’s voice to promote their great power interests,” Happymon Jacob warns.
For his part, Modi has emphasized the shared nature of many crises confronting the Global South, including as the COVID-19 epidemic, mounting debt, and food and energy security.
According to Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund and director of its Brussels office, most concern with the word originates from countries in the Global North, and the term “Global South” is extensively used by the countries that comprise it.
Even though the Global South is not a monolithic group with widespread consistency, he believes it is crucial that it reflects how the group sees itself.
“There is a notion embedded in it that not all strategies need to be made in the West,” Lesser added.
“For some this is simply a way to assert a degree of historic independence and distance on key issues … … it is influencing how Europe and the United States think about foreign policy, as well as the idea that we must live in a world where not everyone will agree with us on every topic.”