The importance of the Global South is growing. Why is it so difficult for the West to win over its states?
Without the countries of the Global South, an international order based on Western ideas is not possible. The war in Ukraine has made the Global South a critical and sought-after political factor. Key states such as India, Brazil, South Africa, and the Gulf monarchies are insisting on their independence. China is doing everything it can to position the BRICS against the USA. And the Russian war against Ukraine seems to act as a catalyst for parts of the Global South to position themselves against Western “hegemony.”
The war in Gaza is now leading to a hardening of positions between the “West” and the “South.” Politically, not just in humanitarian terms, the Global South is firmly pro-Palestinian. Many of these countries are traditionally hostile to Israel. Therein lies the difference from Europe.
The problem is that more and more countries in the Global South mistrust the West. A look back shows why:
I. The West Has Lost Credibility
While tolerance, freedom, and justice were established on the continent, European imperialism and colonialism—with all that these involved by way of oppression, slavery, and rejection of the other—existed at the same time.
The continuation of colonial regimes after 1918 contributed significantly to the crisis of the West’s credibility—and in many regions of the world this continues to have an impact today. As a result, in the sphere of international politics, one attribute remained decisive, namely a strained relationship between promises of equality and experiences of inequality that influenced the credibility of laws, regimes, and actors in a substantial way—and continues to do so today. (Edition 2023)
Jörn Leonhard: “In the summer of 1791, the elite of plantation owners and slaves had responded to the revolution in France and its promises of equality. The events in the Caribbean accelerated the abolition of slavery in France, which finally took place in February 1794. Its reintroduction under Napoleon provoked renewed uprisings. After a bloody civil war and repelling further British and French attempts to intervene, Haiti gained independence in 1804.” (Edition 2023)
Why is Haiti so poor compared to its neighbors like Cuba, Jamaica, or even the Dominican Republic? Following Haiti’s successful 1791 slave revolt, France demanded 150 million francs. Economists estimate that over the next century and a half, these reparations ended up costing Haiti billions of dollars, severely impairing its economic development. Haiti went from being the richest country to the poorest country in the Americas.
Pakistan – India’s twin – chose the path of dictatorship. India chose the path of democracy. Guess who was supported [by the West] during the Cold War? India, a non-aligned nation, was largely forgotten, but Pakistan was put at the forefront. As an Indian, you then ask yourself: “Seriously?” … That’s the hypocrisy in terms of political liberalism.” (Forum 2023)
II. The Failed Emancipation
The process of emancipation set in motion after World War II was a long road to disappointment for many of the former colonies.
Technology transfer was meant to make up for the colonial system which was in force when the industrial revolution took place. Not only was there no technology transfer during colonial times, but all fledgling operations that happened in the colonies were taken away. Industrialization was practically prohibited in the colonies.
All plans for technology transfer were rejected. Instead, we got TRIPS (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which makes technology transfer a lot harder through the implementation of massive patent protection that the developing countries had to accept in order to get some access to global markets. Developing countries conceded a lot of things ex ante and did not get much in return.
The international organizations that are now ailing are not creating a world where countries operate as something approximating equals. (Edition 2023)
The equality between states that has been created and postulated by law through the notion of sovereignty may well be reflected in the right to cast a vote at the UN, but not in the reality of everyday (geo-)politics which reveals a situation of absolutely stark inequality. (Edition 2023)
III. Western Hubris
We thought that, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, history had come to an end and democracy was what everyone wanted. As a result, we no longer had to take any opposition into account, but could continue to expand institutions, norms, and rules in this direction. That is arrogance. Even if we can theoretically justify why certain norms and rules should indeed be universal, we cannot implement them politically until we have negotiated them and tested them empirically.
Those who believe that there is no legitimate resistance will act accordingly. The West does not understand that its own implementation of human rights is questionable – just think of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay etc … The fact that so many countries in the Global South today do not want to side with the West in the conflict over Ukraine is precisely because of this. We have been telling these countries for 30 years: “You have to implement democracy and human rights, otherwise we will intervene. But if we misbehave, it’s none of your business.” Now we are experiencing the consequences of this. (C! Podcast)
We’ve got to open up more to the concerns of the Global South. We have to stop to some extent imposing our western templates on these countries if we want them to be part of our common order. We need to move away from our sometimes eurocentric world view. (Forum 2023)
Europe should represent its interests and values transparently and objectively. The challenge is not to come across as condescending or moralising. (C! Gespräche 2023)