They used to be called “third world” nations, then “developing countries” — a term still in use, but fading compared to a newer catchall phrase: the Global South.
Like “the West,” it is an imprecise moniker. Many Global South countries are not in the Southern Hemisphere at all. India is one, Mexico another.
But as Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India announced on Saturday that the G20 had invited the African Union to become a member of the grouping — becoming the second regional bloc included, after the European Union — the Global South seems to be on the advance. Its frustrations and ideas around flaws in great-power politics, while still coalescing, are already altering global debate.
“These countries are not thinking about ‘southern solidarity’ — they are just pursuing their interests,” said Sarang Shidore, director of the Global South program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington think tank. “And as they do that, it adds up to more than the sum of their parts.”
What unifies the Global South — a term coined in 1969 by an American activist writing about the Vietnam War and now used to describe a diverse group of more than 100 countries from Saudi Arabia to Guatemala — is a sense that its own priorities have been sidelined in global discussions.
At a time when India has the world’s fifth-largest economy, when economic growth in Vietnam and Senegal is outpacing that of much of Europe, many Global South countries are asking with a louder voice: Where are our interests represented?
Seeing a multipolar world already in bloom, they have rejected a return to the Cold War model of choosing a side between capitalists (the United States) and communists (China). They have also ignored and protested U.S.-led sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine, drawing attention instead to rising food prices and to long-term problems like climate change that wealthier countries do more to cause and less to ameliorate.
In January, India hosted a virtual Voice of Global South Summit as its G20 presidency began. Last month, some of these countries gathered in South Africa for the BRICS summit, where China and India both presented themselves as Global South leaders while the United States was largely absent.
Professor Shidore said these kinds of alternative gatherings would probably grow, both challenging Western leadership and adding new policies to the global mix.
“These forums matter,” he said. “They create vehicles for like-minded countries to put forward different ideas.”