This is global noon
When the history of the war in Ukraine is written, it seems a fair bet that the African mediation mission announced this week by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will struggle to make a footnote. Would-be mediators are two-and-a-half these days, and anyway, South Africa has marked its cards as too friendly with Moscow to be a credible negotiating partner with Ukraine.
But when the story of the rise of the post-unipolar world is written, Africa’s quixotic mediators are worth mentioning. The idea of six African heads of state crossing each other on the front lines of a European war is not only an eloquent counterpoint to Western interventions in Africa over the years, but also supports the ever-accelerating self-confidence of the countries of the “global south”. – and their feeling that their hour has finally come.
This has been seen in many arenas since the old globalized order disintegrated following the 2008 financial crisis. However, the war in Ukraine boosted it.
Many non-Western countries have watched the West’s all-out support for Ukraine, seeing hypocritical powers once again putting their own interests and concerns ahead of major global issues like health and climate change. They also perceive two major opportunities: playing off the United States and China against each other and, as they see it, the long overdue rewriting of the post-1945 world order.
Like all major would-be revolutionary coalitions, this renewed “non-aligned movement” is a group of very different and often competing interests; and some can hardly claim to be neutral. The Brics summit in Durban in August will be a cacophonous showcase of these contradictions. The group consists of two autocracies, Russia and China, two large democracies, Brazil and India (the latter extremely wary of the rise of China), and host and junior relative South Africa. Now more than a dozen countries are interested in joining, including Iran.
Not only does this threaten to unleash the world’s most depressing acronym, it also risks, especially for India and Brazil, that Brics will increasingly become China’s club rather than a non-aligned forum for developing economies.
But even so, there are clear common interests and goals: reshaping the UN Security Council to represent today’s world; rethinking the Bretton Woods institutions; tipping the dollar as a global reserve currency; the reduction of the American-led economic sanctions regime; and more.
These goals may not all be achievable, but they are much more precise than the woolly goals of the original Non-Aligned Movement at its first meeting in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. At the time, members represented a tiny fraction of the global economy; not so today.
“It was talk shop then,” says Michael Power, who has studied the rise of the global south for 30 years, most recently as a Cape Town strategist at asset manager Ninety One. “But now they are talking about whether to start trading with each other in local currencies.”
So what should the West do? Lead by example, finally commit to reforming the global order, and choose your words more carefully. A simple piece of advice for anyone making announcements at the end of this weekend’s G7 summit: avoid the buzzwords like “fence-sitters” and “geopolitically unstable states” currently circulating in Washington. The metaphor of the vigorous state – meaning “once every four years we will focus on you” – maintains a sense of patronizing, if not parochial, imperial power.
“We should be talking about a rules-based international system, not a rules-based system,” says a senior Western diplomat. “And when we talk about war, it should not be about peace in Europe, but about the kind of world we want to live in.”
Specifically, the Biden administration has built unique regional alliances, from the I2U2 (a Bono-inspired grouping of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States) to the Asia-Pacific Security Quad alliance of India and Australia. , Japan and the USA.
At the same time, China is also holding busy meetings. This week, Xi Jinping hosted a summit of Central Asian countries — Russia’s backyard — that confirmed historian Serhii Plokhi’s thesis that, far from increasing Moscow’s global power, the war in Ukraine hastened Beijing’s potential subordination.
New world orders are of course easier to declare than to implement. In 1991, George HW Bush talked about one. His words echoed emptyly a year later: Bosnia was on fire. And some will find it difficult to navigate the new direction. South Africa is clumsy pas de deux With Russia, an object lesson in how not to play the non-aligned game. Fortunately, the Biden administration appears unwilling to punish him for his misconduct.
But India, Indonesia and others are playing quite well. When the war in Ukraine ends, it will be against the background of a more subtle world order than in February 2022. It will be more complex and probably more dangerous; but there will be more opportunities for some non-aligned countries. And it’s here to stay.