India hosted the virtual Global South meeting on 12 and 13 January as a part of G-20 activities, which it is organising as its current President. The meeting has raised eyebrows of many observers across the world. There are two interpretations going around. One, India feels the necessity of voice of the South being heard in the global economic and political platforms. Second, New Delhi is reclaiming the space and leadership of what was once a credible and assertive group called Non-Alignment Movement (NAM).
The second version of the event is reinforced by the invitation extended to the President of Egypt to be the Chief Guest at this year’s Republic Day parade. Remember that Egypt was a co-founder of NAM along with former Yugoslavia and India. Let us examine the viability of such a strategic shift in India’s foreign policy.
Firstly, Global South has a history and perhaps a future. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar emphasised the solidarity among Global South countries in terms of their history as well as future. But empirically, the history of Global South is only a memory, which got fragmented with the passage of time.
While one cannot predict the future going by the current developments in global politics, one can clairvoyantly say that the future of such a body as a collective force is not so promising. Admittedly, articulation of the challenges faced by the countries in the Global South is a worthy step to take; and if India is doing so for the sake of equity, fairness and global justice, representing it as one of its leaders, so be it. Such initiatives will enhance India’s role in global politics.
What is Global South? Can it be defined as a bloc? Global South draws its nomenclature from what was once called the Third World. The countries belonging to this group were also called developing countries, newly industrialised countries, eastern world etc. Geographically they are located in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania (Caribbean and Pacific Islands). These countries are defined by certain common characteristics like income inequality, democracy deprived or fragile democracies, and freedom indices.
The group came into existence first in 1955 in Bandung Conference, which became NAM and then on 15 June 1964 when 77 countries were grouped into G-77 by the United Nations. Notably, India had shunned the latter. Subsequently, there were international projects undertaken on North-South Dialogue, famously known as Brandt Commission Report, “North-South: A Programme for Survival” and on South-South Cooperation.
Much water has flown down rivers Ganges and Thames since such reports were published. The status and equations of the countries belonging to the so-called South have radically changed. China, which used to be regarded as an Eastern/Third World country, is now perceived as a superpower, replacing former Soviet Union; India, Brazil and South Africa are middle-income countries, India overtaking Britain and becoming the fifth largest economy in GDP terms.
In the ongoing rivalry between China and America, security imperatives which, along with economy, currently guide foreign policies, are prompting further changes in equations and partnerships among countries. So again, the notional and ideological divide between North and South is not constant. Even some economists have argued that international free trade and untrammelled capital flows across countries could lead to a contraction in the North-South divide.
However, the issues flagged by India, especially by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 14 January in the conference are worthy of global deliberations. He declared, “We, the Global South have the largest stakes in the future. Three-fourth of humanity lives in our countries. We should have an equal voice as the eight-decade-old model of global governance slowly changes; we should try to shape the emerging order”. He struck perhaps an emotional chord when he said that the voice of the Global South was India’s voice. “Your priorities are India’s priorities”.
Modi also invoked the slogan for G-20 summit this year in India, “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. For many countries, it is certainly a new perspective drawn from India’s civilisation principles. It is although another question whether people would connect with such emotional appeal in a competitively economic and sensitively security environment as it exists across the world.
Given his fancy for slogans and acronyms, Modi laid out a global agenda on behalf of Global South as 4Rs – Respond, Recognise, Respect and Reform. He called upon the world powers to respond to the priorities of the Global South by framing an inclusive and comprehensive international agenda, recognise that the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities applied to all global challenges, respect the sovereignty of all nations, rule of law and resolution of differences and disputes in a peaceful manner, and reform international institutions including United Nations to make them more representative and relevant.
The virtual Global South meeting comprising over 100 countries was a good initiative as several such meetings are in order in the run up to the G-20 summit later this year. But if the Global South conclave was aimed at initiating a strategic shift in India’s foreign policy in reviving the old groups such as NAM and carving out a leadership role for India, it is a strategic miscalculation. As said, the concept of Global South has undergone so many changes that it would be difficult to concretely define the group and keep it coherent in the face of security and economic challenges faced by countries in the South.
Even though South-South cooperation may expand the opportunities for countries for trade, commerce and other bilateral exchanges that may not be adequate to solve their problems. Inter-country interactions in an interdependent world are indispensible across the ‘South-South unity’ or ‘South-North’ divide. The United Nations also has contributed to diminishing the divide between North and South through the Millennium Development Goalsfor shaping the 21st century which are to be achieved together by allcountries in the world.
Reviving NAM or maintaining the strategic autonomy is a subject that should be rigorously debated. Some would argue that strategic neutrality has served India well for last 30 years or so, and only on tackling China, New Delhi could make limited alliance with countries like Japan and America. I am afraid the issue is larger than that. I have maintained in this column repeatedly that NAM did not work, and strategic autonomy is unworkable. Making genuine partnerships and necessary alliances is the need of the hour in the spirit of mutual help and solidarity for the shared values.
For the people fighting for human rights, freedom and territorial integrity in countries like Myanmar, Syria and Ukraine, other countries have to step in for the sake of international laws and human security. So, while applauding the initiative for articulating the challenges faced by Global South, a word of caution on possible strategic shift is in order. –INFA