The status-quo nature of global geopolitics got disrupted following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent Ukraine War that is now in its second year.
These crises not just shook global geopolitics but also paved the way for new challenges to the nature of global geopolitics. These include supply securitisation of food and energy, technology transfer, energy transition, and climate change issues and their impact on the global community.
Along with some of these critical issues, the other important challenge in global geopolitics is in the form of the need for “genuine multilateralism” of the institutions of global governance, which will provide an equitable voice to all the countries. Some of these issues are giving new sort of challenges as well as opportunities to the countries of the Global South. Hence, a new narrative for Global South in global geopolitics is needed. The most interesting aspect of Global South is that it is no more functioning in the ideological framework of non-alignment where the emphasis was laid on neutrality in the realms of Cold War politics. Rathher, it is emerging as a cohesive bloc, thus emphasising equity in the decision-making process at the global level.
Similarly, the membership of Global South countries in the multilateral blocs like the G-20 is giving new discourses to global geopolitics. However, it needs to be underlined here that the cohesiveness of the Global South is being disrupted by China, which is trying to promote its geopolitical agenda. This, in turn, poses a systemic challenge to the epistemological normative framework of the Global South.
The challenges before Global South
Thus the challenges to the Global South are manifold. At the same time, there is a need to critically examine how to provide critical teething to the framework of the Global South in global geopolitics. Here comes the role of India, which over the years played a catalytic role in reshaping the vision of the Global South.
Three critical structural elements need to be examined while looking at the geopolitical visions of the Global South. These are:
1) The great power rivalries impacting the decision-making process at the global level. For instance, the Ukraine war significantly affected the decision-making process at the recently-concluded G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Summit
2) The second issue is the need to carry out a reform in the multilateral decision-making processes.
3) The third issue which requires attention is the need to reinterpret normative idioms in global politics. The Global North is continuing its hegemonic practice of imposing normative idioms, thus disrupting the functioning and cohesiveness of the Global South. A good example is the lack of consensus between Global North and Global South over the question of democracy, Responsibility to Protect, and agenda for climate governance. What is needed is the need to evolve a consensus over some of these issues, which to a great extent, democratises the nature of international relations.
The two most significant factors that disrupted the nature of international relations are the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Ukraine War. While the pandemic disrupted the supply chain of vaccines and caused a challenge to the global community and the present, the Ukraine War is posing a challenge to the supplies of food, fertilizer, and energy. In both cases, the Global South is at the receiving end of the problems.
A November 2022 FAO study titled Responding to the Ukrainian Crisis: Leveraging Social Protection for Food Security and Nutrition stated: “If the conflict persists, the global number of undernourished people could increase by 8 to 13 million people in 2022/23, with the most pronounced increases taking place in Asia-Pacific, followed sub-Saharan Africa, and the Near East and North Africa.”
This demonstrates that the countries of the Global South are the most vulnerable to Ukraine crisis. Along with the food crisis, the rise in energy costs and fertilizer prices also pose a substantial challenge to the Global South. Hence there is a need to relook at how essential commodities can reach the Global South and there is a need for securitisation of the supply chain for the Global South is paramount.
Need for equitable global energy order
Along with the need to securitize food, fertilizers, and vaccines, what Global South requires more urgently is an adequate energy supply at an affordable price. The Ukraine war proved how the rise in prices disrupts the energy supply to the Global South. This is happening because European countries are purchasing energy from the world market to tide over supply disruption from Russia, hence there is a natural spike in energy prices.
In 2022, the price of a barrel of oil crossed over $100, resulting in the hardest hit countries being from the Global South. The depletion of energy supply to the Global South countries affects other sectors of the economy. In this context, there is a need to ensure an adequate and uninterrupted supply of energy to the Global South, as analysts are of the opinion that Ukraine War is showing no sign of ending and the crisis for energy will continue further in 2023. This may aggravate the woes of the Global South in terms of access to energy. Hence, there is a need to reframe a new form of energy security agreement globally where energy flow can be ensured uninterruptedly.
The second most important problem confronting the Global South in the context of energy security is ensuring a sustainable energy transition. Since energy transition is a costly affair involving technology and finance, the countries of the Global South are the hardest hit in this regard. The Global South is facing a difficult situation in this regard. The need of the hour is to ensure a sustainable energy transition which can bring overall socio-economic development to the countries of the Global South. At the same time, mitigating the adversarial effect of climate change and limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degree celsius as envisaged by Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) requires adopting urgent measures.
It is a fact that the countries of the Global South are facing the adversarial consequences of climate change largely due to the historical polluters of the Global North. Hence there is a need to look at the process of climate change repercussions on the Global South from a broader perspective. The focal point of analysis for the Global South is to reduce the societal vulnerability primarily due to the lack of access to energy security and disrupting climate change. This aspect needs a critical look from a Global South perspective.
Reformed multilateral institutionalism and Global South
Another critical issue that needs greater attention from the Global South's perspective is the need to reform the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) along with other multilateral bodies to ensure equitable representation from the Global South.
The need to reform multilateral bodies arises because of new challenges emerging from different parts of the world. The countries of the Global South have new aspirations and challenges. In this context, the Global South perspective has assumed importance. A classic case is a need to need to reform UNSC by giving representation to rising powers like India, Japan, South Africa, and Brazil. Thus broadening the membership of the UNSC is an important step towards democratising international relations. The crisis of multilateralism came to the fore when the Covid-19 Pandemic struck the global community.
Similarly, the digitalisation of the global economy also offers new challenges to the Global South. The protectionist measures the Global North is pursuing despite the coming up of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is also a cause of concern for the Global South. In this regard, the existing multilateral institutions like the G-77 and G-20, where the Global South countries have fair representation, need to be revitalised to address global issues more democratically.
The concern of global multilateral bodies is to ensure equity in the global decision-making process rather than being hostage to the whims of the Global North. The impetus that the Global South movement got from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its policy of “positive neutrality” needs to be recrafted to ensure a better bargaining strategy with the Global North in the conduct of international negotiation. Thus, the core goals of the global multilateral negotiation process should be aimed at ensuring equity and democratizing the decision-making process in the conduct of international relations.
Need for an alternative approach to global normative order
Another contentious issue that the Global South is confronting with in the global arena is the dialectic approach to normative issues like democracy, human rights, and the Responsibility to Protect. In this context, it can be observed that the Global North uses these normative idioms as a matrix to ensure its dominance over the Global South.
It has been observed that though there are certain common principles which can be the basis of democracy but the usage of “democracy promotion” by the Global North has been a geopolitical tool. The same can be evident from the Colour Revolution which shook the countries of the post-Soviet space along with the Arab Spring in West Asia and North Africa. As studies suggest in both cases, Western-sponsored NGOs having ulterior goals played a pivotal role in ousting existing political elites. What one observes is political chaos in these geopolitical spaces. This paves the way for subsequent external intervention.
In this regard, one can highlight that one of the causes of Ukraine War can be traced back to the pro-Western regime change in 2004 and the subsequent political chaos, including the Crimean crisis of 2014. Hence the notion of democracy though has a universal appeal but has to be contextualised in socio-cultural and historical processes. The Global North’s double standard in promoting and practicing democratic values has been subject to criticism. Like the concept of democracy, there is a need to look at the concepts of Human Rights and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
Along with democracy, these two normative terms are viewed quite skeptically in the Global South. It has been observed that using R2P as a pretext, the Global North intervenes in different countries to achieve its narrower geopolitical goal. The Libyan crisis, along with the recent Ukrainian crisis, is a classic example of this. The preponderance of the Western Liberal order in world politics and the subsequent weakening of the United Nations in the decision-making domain has given primacy to R2P. Hence, reinterpreting the notion of R2P instead of looking at it from narrower Western prisms is the need of the hour.
The complexity of global geopolitics, along with the lack of consensus on normative norms at the global level, calls for dialogue between Global North and Global South. This can be a step towards bringing out resiliency in global geopolitics. In this regard, India can play a significant role in evolving consensus and acting as a bridge between the two blocs.
India’s approach to Global South
India’s rich history as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and its economic and geopolitical clout in global politics are propelling New Delhi to play a greater role in global geopolitics. Assuming the position of G-20 Presidency in 2022-23 is a testimony to this.
At the same time, being the leader of the Global South, India provides a voice to the Global South Movement. Whether on the question of climate change, energy transition, taking a stand on normative issues or protecting the Global South's interest, India played a proactive role in international forums over the years. The rise of India, as both scholars and policymakers argue, “disrupted” the status-quo nature of international relations, especially in the aftermath of the post-1991. By giving voice to the Global South countries, India helped in bringing out an alternative narrative to global geopolitics.
In this context, India is the forerunner in global and sustainable energy transitions. At various climate Summits, India resisted the onslaught from the Global North and protected the interest of the Global South be it on the question of climate financing, limiting the emission norms, or highlighting the Global North’s responsibility as the historical polluter.
The issue of ensuring equity and climate justice along with access to technology, to also democratising energy governance in the global arena, have been some of the core concerns of India over the years. In this regard, it is worth highlighting that India has been the key player in the global energy transition discourses over the years. Some of the significant contributions to the arena of energy transition framework are International Solar Alliance and the push to hydrogen-based fuel. Over the years, India provided technical assistance to the countries of the Global South in harnessing solar energy and hydrogen-based fuel.
India’s approach to global energy security as well as energy transition was aptly highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G-20 Summit in Bali in November 2022 where he underlined the need for “stability in the energy market”. He further highlighted the need for “time-bound and affordable finance and sustainable supply of technology to developing countries is essential for inclusive energy transition”. The observation is aptly relevant for Global South as it is confronting multiple challenges in the context of the energy transition.
Similarly, India’s approach to democratising international relations and reforming the United Nations has been consistent with the demand of the Global South over the years. Reforming the United Nations and broadening the UN Security Council’s permanent membership are some of the constant demands India has raised over the years.
India’s approach to reforming United Nations and democratising multilateralism was outlined in Norms: New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System, a policy paper published by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2022. The paper outlined the need to reform multilateral forums and stated that reformed multilateralism “is a must for the post-Covid-19 era”. The same paper further outlined five key pillars of India’s approach to reform the multilateral forums. These pillars are "(1) Samman (Respect); (2) Sambvad (Dialogue); (3) Sahyog (Cooperation); (4) Shanti (Peace) (5) Samriddhi (Prosperity)."
Some of these policy prescriptions outlined by India to reform the multilateral forums are in sync with the ethos which the Global South Movement consistently advocates. Democratising the international institutions, as well as the five pillars of democracy as enunciated in the above-mentioned policy paper, reflects in the normative ethos of G-20 under India’s presidency. The mottos of G-20, which India is chairing, is based on “One Earth, One Family, One Future” — rooted in the Indian ethos of “vasudhaiva kutumbakam”— and “Sustainable Peace”. Hence India’s approach provides a guiding light to the Global South movement.
Similarly, on normative issues like democracy and human rights, as well as on the subject of R2P, India consistently espouses a position which provides an alternative narrative to the existing Global North’s approach. India’s perspective on democracy will address the crisis the Global South countries are confronting over the years at the hands of Global North.
India is the largest and oldest democracy in the world, often called the “mother of democracy”. The tradition of Sabha and Samiti as part of the ancient Panchayat System of governance is an apt reflection of the democratic traditions of India rooted in history. As part of democracy promotion activities, India over the years has been providing technical assistance to countries of the Global South for conducting successful elections.
Similarly, India rejects the imposition of democracy from above as the Euro-Atlantic system pursues. On the other hand, India strongly emphasizes the socio, economic-cultural context, and institutional dimensions in the functioning of democracy. As Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar stated: “As a full-blooded member of the Global South, as a system that intersects so much with the West and as a polity with a flavour that is uniquely its own, India's trajectory will surely influence the global journey.”
Jaishankar’s statement is an apt reflection of the true spirit of India’s democracy and its relevance for the Global South. Similarly, India strongly opposes the concept of R2P. It has been argued that over the years, R2P has been a tool the Euro-Atlantic powers employ to ensure their hegemonic control over Global South. In this regard, it can be stated that India rejects intervention in the domestic affairs of a country by external powers in the name of promoting human rights. India’s principled position about the R2P was highlighted by Syed Akbaruddin, the former Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He said, “We believe that the protection of civilians is primarily a national responsibility. Hence, contribution to national capacity-building rather than intervention mechanisms should be the priority.”
From the Syrian crisis to the current Ukrainian crisis, India supported the policy of non-intervention in domestic affairs of a country by external powers. India consistently advocates that the Ukrainian crisis can be resolved through dialogue between Russia and Ukraine rather than through third-party intervention.
Global South is currently facing a major identity crisis. The crisis mainly emanates from historical experiences, Cold War legacies, and issues relating to supply chain securitisation. The post-Covid world order and the Ukraine war further aggravated the problem for Global South.
The Global South is facing issues like energy and food crises and the impact of the recession on the global economy. Elucidating India’s approach to the Global South, Prime Minister Modi in his address to the opening session of Voice of Global South Summit 2023 said, “India has always shared its developmental experience with our brothers of the Global South…People of Global South should no longer be excluded from the fruits of development. Together we must attempt to redesign global political and financial governance. This can remove inequities, enlarge opportunities, support growth and spread progress and prosperity.”
In this context, India can provide the necessary leadership to the Global South and a new narrative to global geopolitics. This can certainly add new momentum to the existing global order.
(Nalin Kumar Mohapatra is Assistant Professor at Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are personal to the author.)