The Global South: origins and significance

Context: The unwillingness of many leading countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to stand with NATO over the war in Ukraine has brought to the fore once again the term “Global South.”

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  • The term Global South appears to have been first used in 1969 by political activist Carl Oglesby. Writing in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal, Oglesby argued that the war in Vietnam was the culmination of a history of northern “dominance over the global south.”
  • The term ‘First World’ referred to the advanced capitalist nations; the ‘Second World’, to the socialist nations led by the Soviet Union; and the ‘Third World’, to developing nations, many at the time still under the colonial yoke.
  • The term ‘Global South’ is not geographical. In fact, the Global South’s two largest countries – China and India – lie entirely in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Countries in the Global South were mostly at the receiving end of imperialism and colonial rule, with African countries as perhaps the most visible example of this.
  • However there is an increase in economic might of the countries in global south as it is estimated by 2030 it is projected that three of the four largest economies will be from the Global South — with the order being China, India, the U.S. and Indonesia. Already the GDP in terms of purchasing power of the Global South-dominated BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — surpasses that of the Global North’s G-7 club.
  • The economic transformation has brought greater political prominence, as Global South nations assert themselves globally. For example, China brokering deals between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Brazil’s peace plan for Ukraine. This shift has sparked discussions of an “Asian Century” and a “post-Western world.”

Importance of South-South Cooperation:

  1. Driving Economic Growth: Countries in the Global South have been major contributors to more than half of the world’s economic growth in recent years. This collaboration fuels economic progress and fosters sustainable development.
  2. Increasing Trade: Intra-South trade has reached unprecedented levels, accounting for over a quarter of global trade. This trend strengthens regional economies, enhances market access, and promotes economic integration.
  3. Foreign Direct Investment: Outflows of foreign direct investment from the Global South represent a significant portion of global flows. This investment promotes infrastructure development, creates jobs, and encourages technological advancements.
  4. Poverty Alleviation: Remittances from migrant workers to low- and middle-income countries have played a crucial role in lifting millions of families out of poverty. South-South cooperation enables financial support and sustainable development initiatives for vulnerable communities.
  5. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals: The ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development necessitates the ideas, energy, and ingenuity of countries in the Global South. Their active participation and cooperation are indispensable for achieving these goals.


  1. Power Imbalances and Exploitation: Stronger countries in the Global South sometimes take advantage of weaker partners, undermining the principles of fairness and equitable collaboration. China, in particular, has been criticized for such practices.
  2. Environmental Concerns and Public Health: Certain international oil companies have been accused of disregarding environmental impacts and public health concerns while extracting natural resources. Addressing these issues is crucial for sustainable cooperation.
  3. Misuse of Financial Assistance: Some countries exploit the principle of lack of conditionality by diverting financial assistance intended for socially impactful projects to other purposes. This undermines trust and hampers genuine development efforts.
  4. Non-Interference Limitations: The principle of non-interference can hinder the resolution of local conflicts, as countries like India and China prioritize economic interests over intervention. Balancing economic cooperation and addressing internal conflicts is crucial.
  5. Lacks institutional and Financial Capacity: Global South is not a coherent group and does not have a single shared agenda and the collective institutions created to voice concerns of Global South such as Non-Aligned Movement and New International Economic Order have been largely rendered dysfunctional, this has led to strong regional competition and opposition among countries of global south. Further there is also lack of financial capacity among countries of Global South.
  1. North Dominated Mindset: North-oriented mindset and traditional vertical links with metropoles and the world still dominated by US hegemony.

Mains Practice Question:

The need to address the common challenges with the developing world prompted India to voice the issues of Global South. In this context, highlight the potential challenges that may limit India’s ability to emerge as a champion of Global South. (Answer in 150 words)

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