Washington Needs to Strike a New Bargain with the Global South

Representatives of the G20, the world’s largest economies, have convened for their annual summit this week in Bali, Indonesia. The Ukraine crisis hangs heavily over the gathering, with participants deciding to forgo a group photo due to discomfort with Russia’s presence. While they might not approve of Vladimir Putin’s ongoing war in Ukraine, leaders of several of the G20 countries from the Global South — notably India and China — have declined to join the United States in levying punitive economic sanctions on Russia.

The Ukraine crisis has exposed the waning global influence of the United States. When it was the only superpower in the post-Soviet world, Washington could usually count on the Global South to support its international policies. But the world order has since shifted: Most of the leaders of that vast expanse once referred to collectively as the Third World are increasingly assertive and independent. They have learned the art of realpolitik and ad hoc coalition-building to secure their interests.

A pragmatic nonalignment is emerging in the Global South. Because it is based less on ideology, as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s, and more on self-interest, the new nonalignment is more durable. But the United States needs to make a greater effort in regaining and even expanding its influence in the region, as it contains sensitive geographies such as Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf and is increasingly a site of markets, supply chains and innovation.

The United States is still a global economic player, but now it has competition. Other major powers, like China, offer products and services that are increasingly a better value for money. The Global South sees no reason to hitch its wagons entirely to Washington when it could benefit by leveraging all major powers. An excellent example is Southeast Asia, whose stellar economic rise owes to a clever strategy of building deep economic ties with both China and the United States.

Read the full piece in Tribune News Service.