Skip to main content

Rethinking our Engagement with the Global South

The West is failing to win over the Global South and the lack of support for the Ukraine war demonstrates why it matters.
President Joe Biden speaks as he participates in the US-Africa Summit Leaders Session on partnering on the African Union's Agenda 2063 Play Podcast

About the Episode

Why is the relationship between the West and the Global South failing and what can be done? Stimson Center’s Aude Darnal challenges the dominant focus on great power competition and highlights why this approach fails to foster meaningful, mutually beneficial relations. Discover why redefining this lens is essential for the United States, the Global South, and the world. 

[Brian Hanson: INTRO: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs going beyond the headlines and critical global issues. I'm your host Brian Hanson with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Today we delve into an essential topic shedding light on the relationship between the United States and the West on one hand, and the global south on the other. Our guest today challenges the narrow lens of great power competition, through which interactions with the global south are usually framed. Instead, she explores how demanding support and cooperation on security issues and priorities defined by the West is both flawed and detrimental to fostering meaningful engagement and cooperation with the global South.

Here with me is Aude Darnal. Aude is a research associate at the Stimson Center where she is part of the re-imagining US Grand Strategy Program and where she leads the global south in the world order project. And she's also the author of a recent piece in World Politics Review, which is called, “The US is Asking the Wrong Questions about the Global South”. We'll link to that article in our show notes.

For our listeners who aren't policy wonks and maybe even for some who are, I started asking Ode to just explain what the term Global South means...]

Aude Darnal: I think there are several definitions that we hear about. but generally speaking, so the concept, the instructions in the sixteens, the seventies, to move away from the concept of third world. and it's now being used more and more often within, policy discussions as you mentioned. but generally people tend to use it as a mirror synonym for developing states. but the global south is more than that. It's not simply based on economic indicators, sort of ranking and creating a hierarchy between, you know, the good and rich countries, and then the so-called, less good and poor countries. But it refers to states that share experiences and inequalities within the international system that are rooted in the colonial era and that's are sustained by global capitalism. it allow us to question unequal power relations, imperialism, neocolonialism, and you know, all of the dynamics that we currently see within the current order, and most importantly, the marginalization of these countries from global governance.

Brian Hanson: I wanna jump in with really the heart of your argument, which is that the US and the West primarily approach the relationships with these countries of the global South, and as you've described in this incredibly diverse set of countries. Primarily through a lens of geopolitical competition and really focus on, you know, security cooperation and to get these countries to kind of sign on to the security agenda that is led by the US and the West. could you talk a little bit about what you mean by that and why is it a problem?

Aude Darnal: I think that we've really seen it, with the war in Ukraine. I mean, I think, it has really put a highlights on these dynamics where, the various responses that we saw across the global south, because again, it's not a monolith. the various response is really, told the West that, well, you know, many of those countries wouldn't merely follow their leads and I think that many Western Powers, weren't really expecting that. and the fact is that it's has been probably a shock to them that, no, those countries do want to protect their interests. they do want to continue to develop partnerships with all of their relevant partners, whether it is the United States, the EU, China, Russia. And so basically, unless, Western Powers reconcile with that fact, this idea, well, they might just lose their legitimacy as a partner, but also that just with pursuing policies that are frankly, escalatory as we're currently seeing.

Brian Hanson: Let me pick up on that cuz I had the good fortune of spending extended amount of time in South Africa recently, and here are some of the arguments I heard. and I'm curious to the extent that you see them and hear them from other parts of the world. And this has to do with the Russia war on Ukraine and their response to the moral framing of this as defending the international order, standing up for weak states who are being invaded by their neighbors standing up for democracy. And what I heard back were things like, you know, powerful states invade and try to, affect other countries all the time inside this order. And the examples were the us at Iraq, but also Russia getting involved in Syria, China. Leaning on Taiwan, right? That's not unique. Particularly we deal with this. Democracy, you guys claim that this is democracy over a authoritarianism. I love this when I got this argument, then why is the United States selling arms to 35 of the 50 dictatorships listed by, freedom House, that this is really just about your interests and that these moral claims that you're bringing to us to support it? Just don't hold water. Is that something that you hear in other places too? And, how do you think about that response?

Aude Darnal: Definitely. I think that now we are hearing more and more, perhaps before this, were not at the forefront of the debates, because once more, you know, Western powers weren't really paying attention to most of the global south countries. but now that, you know, it needs diplomatic supports now that it needs, like, it's framing. I mean, especially, I'm taking the example of the United States now. The United States is framing foreign policy in terms of countering China and encountering Russia that therefore it needs to strengthen in its, partnerships with other countries. I think more and more we are hearing that and frankly, I think it is about time to be honest about that, the can of the moral position that, uh, Western countries have taken in the past and continued to take, Is not really credible. how can the United States continue to have, you know, called partners about, sliding democracy when there has been an attack on the capitol. When, former president, Trump. continued, to refute the result of the elections. and again, when it comes to US foreign policy in terms of security sector, cooperation, as you mentioned, uh, supporting, not simply partnering, but supporting strengthening security forces that are known to commit violence against civilians. So I think that we are in a situation now where we are in a context where, leaders across the global south are speaking of, but not just them, but also, thinkers, scholars, civil society leaders, but also the people on the street. Um, I think that if we take the example of, the African continent, you know, you mentioned South Africa, and I've been discussing with some peers across, the continent, I think that the United States, because it doesn't have that colonial history with the continent, hasn't suffered as much backlash as, let's say, France for instance. And so the idea of American democracy was viewed quite positively. But at the same time, the domestic tensions within the United States are certainly, negatively impacting, the US image and more than that US foreign policy, which is so much focused on security, is not helping in that sense.

Brian Hanson: that takes me to one of the arguments that was really striking that you made in your piece, which is argue that fundamentally US and Western foreign policy can't succeed in today's world without the involvement of the global south. And that so often the conventional wisdom is that if the US relies on its European allies, particularly NATO and some allies in Asia like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, that that's what we need in order to succeed. And I think one of the points that you make very strongly is that's not enough today. Can you talk about why it's important that we now pay attention to these other countries and actually engage them so that we can succeed in doing what we wanna accomplish in the world as well?

Aude Darnal: Yes. I mean, you know, what I wanted to convey with this argument was, I really wanted to question that assumption that, you know, global south countries are mayor, age recipients, because I think that's generally how we talk about these countries. It's either, places where there are conflicts or places where you know, they need aid, they need assistance. They're not helping us. are really, you know, what frame questions when it comes to the global south and what I generally hear in Washington is, first, what are US interests in engaging with these countries? And second, why they're not following, US leadership. and to me those two questions really reflect, the lack of understanding, and consideration and, even sometime respects, for these countries. And so the reason why I argue that the United States cannot simply cooperate, with its worst in the lives, is that if we look at numbers, well, the Asian community is one of the primary trade partner, of the United States. Same for Latin America. So, you know, I think it is kind of time to reverse, the debate, reverse the discussion and highlight how much the United States, and frankly it's westernized as well, rely on the global self. I mean, if we look at the American lifestyle, So much relies on, you know, exports and imports with these countries, foreign indirect investments. The dividends of those, relations, is, an important element for US economy. And we tend to kind of overlook these facts, to simply look at global south countries again, as not so much of an important, actor on the international scene.

Brian Hanson: you know, one of the other points that you made as well is even if you look at the security issues, there are a bunch of critical regional and middle powers like Indonesia, Kenya, that are essential to the provision of security as well. And the power of this depiction that these countries are just aid takers, Puts the US then in the position of, so you should support us now. We've done all this stuff for you and you owe it to us. So let's talk a little bit about what the agenda is for countries in the global south. When they look at the US and they think about what kind of relationship they would like to have, how would this change in order to be able to. really have a better relationship and a better sense of partnership than is currently existing.

Aude Darnal: so, um, not gonna be able to give an answer for all these countries because obviously, you know, they all have their national interests, their own particular security, economic, political context. However, I think that what is clear is that at the moment, among the grievances that we hear is that, they're looking for equal partnerships. They were looking for so-called win-win partnerships, not simply, you know, let's say, partnerships, but, you know, investments in trade, corporation when it comes to global challenges that particularly affect them, you know, climate, challenges are, among the, most important ones. So I think it is about really. we're structuring this relationship first. I think it requires a change in the perception of these countries among. us thinkers, un policy makers, I mean us, just US political leaders, just as a whole, so chaining the perception of these countries. look at facts and not simply, work out of, people's wrong assumptions. and looking at, how to renew these, relationships. But I think what is the mandate at the moment is you know, a greater role in global governance. multilateral organizations are no longer working, and we need to stop just making excuses for it. We need to stop, just justifying, continuing with these institutions just because, you an alternative, would be worse. I mean this kind of feel based posture. Is not working. It is not working. I think it is also simply, hypocritical as well. the institutions that we work with in the multilateral system has been designed by the most powerful countries, whether it is the West, whether it is China, whether it is Russia. I think similar is article in Foreign Affairs put it's very well. I mean, they have used their position of power to abuse, and to just advance their interests without, considering international law, without considering, basic human rights. And so it is time to change that dynamic. and I think that's really the core of what we can hear across the global south. Whatever national interests are, In India's interests are not gonna be the same as, you know, Barbados for instance, not gonna be the same as, other countries, Latin America or in the Indo-Pacific. However, I think what is clear is that,we can't just continue with a system that just favors a few in this regards, the role and the interest of the majority.

Brian Hanson: Yeah, and I wanna unpack some of that in a little bit of specifics to give people a, texture for how this would translate into the policy world. Let me just toss out a couple. You may have better examples, but One is, you know, it gets frequently pointed out, UN Security Council has five permanent members that have vetos. So nothing can happen unless, China, Russia, the US, France, and England allow it to go forward. And folks from the global South note that they aren't represented at all in that group, and therefore that security, agenda is set for them and they don't have a very big role in it. Others point out to institutions like, the international Financial Ins. Institutions, the World Bank, uh, loans for development. The International Monetary Fund helps with currency, crises and all that. Again, the dominant, decision makers, the votes are determined or are weighed in the favor of the US and Europe so that, other countries don't have a voice. And we've seen in response to some of this, China develop independent and different institutions. Right. which also don't provide a voice, for the global south. what would it mean to bring them into a more equal partnership in kind of some of these concrete policy areas so people have a sense of what this would look like.

Aude Darnal: I mean, a great example, I'm gonna pick the UN Security, council one because I'm actually did some work on this. first, I think it is important to say how complex reforming those institutions is. not just that, but even creating new ones. I mean, you mentioned the ones that are, China are putting forward. they are still not, perfect, you know, whether it is creating new institutions, whether it is reforming them. It is a complex challenge because it requires cooperation, it requires, agreements and we're talking about almost 200, countries, right? so when it comes to the UNSC, the reform has been discussed for years. We know that the security council does not work primarily because of the veto power, then the P5 member hold. At the moment, just to give you a concrete idea of how, complex this reform case is, there are at least five different proposals for reform. So the G4, which is Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan has its own, proposal. The African Union with the consensus has one. You also have the carry come, I mean, you have different, proposals with different, ideas. some of them, simply want to, abolish the veto or extend it all new permanent members. some of them, don't, it's like all the different dynamics that are, related to that reform, are, varied from a proposal to another, but the bottom line is that for these institutions, to be more balanced, it needs More representation, that is the bottom line. Whether it is, the financial institutions, whether it is the US security, council, there needs more representation. the United Nations missions are the African continent. There is no permanent African representative within the UN Security Council. That is, I think, the most. solid example to show how, unfair these institutions are.

Brian Hanson: And one of the things that builds on that, that you point out in your piece is that there's actually very little space to even have these discussions of what's wrong with the current system and then talk through some of the, solutions and Absolutely. You, Laid out very well. It is complicated. There are a zillion different proposals with different interests. This isn't easy to do, but in order to address it at all, we at least have to open up the debate. And one of the arguments you make is that any criticism of the existing system gets lumped into an attack on everything, and that that's counterproductive to, this whole process. Can you talk a little bit about, why it's so important to be able to raise these issues and what position the US and the West should take when countries bring issues like this forward?

Aude Darnal: Yes. I mean, definitely I think, When it comes to the UN Secret Council, reform, we have debates about, I think we have been debating for so long, yet nothing moves. coming back to the question of really the so-called world order, that's where debates, are more difficult to have because I think many leaders in the US are now this position whereby if you criticize this current world order, that means, You are almost attacking, the United States and its national interests. It is as if any criticism is automatically, assumed to be negative and to be detrimental to US interests. that means that you cannot have, informs discussions, open and frank discussions about what is wrong. The reason why I wrote that piece in World Politics Review is that I was reading some arguments, defending the Korean world order because it's, presumably, has brought so much to the global south, and so therefore, the global south should not sit on the fence when it comes to, taking a stand, against Russia and the war in Ukraine. This type of arguments, again to me, Is detrimental to critically looking at the world order and what's wrong. you know, factually it is hard, to simply minimize the global inequalities. The fact that despite globalization, the dividends are, unequally distributed, the fact that, populations continue to suffer that livelihood continue to be destroyed, by conflict, by, you know, climate change, and other challenges that these countries, face, so much accurately. but again, having this discussion is important so that first we hear other perspectives from outside the west. there is a tendency to generalize and universalize, in the United States, American perception, and experience or American perception is not that of other countries. what people leave, experience on a daily basis, uh, in the global south is very different from what American live. And so, the inequalities need to be heard, like the inequalities that are being experienced elsewhere need to be heard. And that's why it is also so important to bringing people from outside the usual circles of policy to debate these issues so that they can, share their experiences, share their ideas, share their lessons, learn as well, because yes, the global south, produces knowledge. It produces valid experience. It produces expertise. and it is time to regard this countries with much more respect.

Brian Hanson: You've made a really compelling case for the inequities in the global system and the desire of the global south to play a bigger role in the decision making that affects. lives and affects their own security and economic interests. I suppose some people might respond that. Yeah, I hear those arguments, but over time and over history, great powers have always wanted and achieved a disproportionate role in decision making over security and economic issues. And I could see them being dismissive that. providing this kind of opportunity and more equitable system just isn't realistic "given how the world works", I'm sure you've heard these arguments before as well, how do you respond to criticism like that?

Aude Darnal: So, I mean, what you're describing is basically what the Biden administration, great power competition framing of foreign policy? on the lines, I would raise two points when it comes to the longer term impact of such an approach. First, the policies, that it leads to, when it comes to, for instance, countering, adversaries, by increasing security cooperation, regardless of the impact. Of that policy on human rights, on local grievances, and on really fitting in the root causes for violence and conflicts. I mean, in the longer term, those are US interests that are being, threatened by such a policy. So, you know, by, supporting, short term, Power security interests. It is the longer term ones that are being, undermines. second, it comes back to this idea that powerful nations can simply, work among themselves. And just, you know, look inwards and just rely on their own power. I think we are clearly seeing that this is not working. I mean, there is not even a need to do foresighting or look at long term consequences. I think United States has been looking inwards, both with its domestic and foreign policy when it comes to, for instance, economic, protectionism, policies, and the alikes. But, what we've seen with, the United States, attempts to rally a broader support, around Ukraine is that in terms of diplomacy, It needs partners. So, you know, just trying to accumulate, heart power through, the usual traditional security military, forces is not enough to achieve diplomatic gains. And I think, again, that is also reflective of, US traditional approach to foreign policy, which is, Security led, which is military led. But security approaches do not solve diplomatic issues. They do not solve economic issues. They do not solve climate security issues. It is only one of the various tools at the disposal of the US governments, but unfortunately there has been a tendency to focus on the military as the magic solution to all US problems, challenges, but also to advance all of us interests. And that is particularly problematic because once more it is escalatory, it does promote, tensions. and it also again has favored dynamics that have been conducting, to conflict.

Brian Hanson: Aude Darnal of the Stimson Center. I want to thank you so much for being here and really sharing with us your perspectives on the relationship between the US and the West and the global South and helping us understand how important this relationship is and how important it is to get it right.

Aude Darnal: Thank you very much, Brian.

[Brian Hanson: OUTRO: Thank you for tuning into this episode of Deep Dish!

As a reminder, we wanna hear more from you, our listeners, so send us an email, or better yet, a voice memo to You can suggest issues you'd like us to cover, guests you'd love to hear from, or you can just let us know how you think we're doing.

And if you're looking for more Deep Dish in your podcast diet, tap the follow button in your podcast app so you can get each and every episode as soon as it's released. If you think you know someone who had enjoyed today's episode, please share it with them as well.

As a reminder, the opinions you heard belong to the people express them, and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This episode is produced and edited by Kyra Dahring and Mixed by Zach McNees.

Thank you for listening. I'm Brian Hanson, and we'll be back next week with another slice of Deep Dish.]

About the Experts
Research Analyst and Project Manager, Stimson Center
Aude Darnal Headshot
Aude Darnal is a Research Associate in the Stimson Center’s Reimagining US Grand Strategy Program, which seeks to challenge US foreign policy conventional wisdom. She also leads the Global South in the World Order Project, which seeks to elevate perspectives from the Global South on international affairs and global governance.
Aude Darnal Headshot
Brian Hanson
Former Vice President, Studies
Brian Hanson headshot
Brian Hanson served as the vice president of studies at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He managed the Council's research operations and hosted the Council's weekly podcast, Deep Dish on Global Affairs.
Brian Hanson headshot

Related Content