UKRAINE: Nonalignment & the Global South

Nontobeko Hlela sees an urgent imperative in rejecting a Cold War mentality of dividing the world along old acrimonious lines.

U.N. Security Council on Feb. 25 voting on a draft resolution, presented by Albania and the U.S., condemning “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.” (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

By Nontobeko Hlela
Peoples Dispatch

South Africa and other countries that have abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations General Assembly in response to the war in Ukraine face intense international criticism.

In South Africa, the domestic criticism has been extraordinarily shrill, and often clearly racialized. It is frequently assumed that abstention means that South Africa is in support of the Russian invasion, and this is either due to corrupt relations between Russian and South African elites, or nostalgia for support given to the anti-apartheid struggle by the Soviet Union, or both.

There is seldom any acknowledgment that nonalignment, in this case refusing to be aligned with the United States and its allies or with Russia, can be a principled position, as well as an astute tactical engagement with geopolitical realities.

As two founding figures in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Yugoslavia’s then-President Josip Broz Tito and India’s then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said in a joint statement signed on Dec. 22, 1954,

“the policy of non-alignment with blocs… does not represent ‘neutrality’ or ‘neutralism’; neither does it represent passivity as is sometimes alleged. It represents the positive, active and constructive policy that, as its goal, has collective peace as the foundation of collective security.”

The Global South houses more than 80 percent of the world’s people, yet its countries are systematically excluded from any decision-making in the international organizations that make decisions in the name of the “international community.”

First summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, in Belgrade. (Museum of Yugoslavia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

For decades, countries of the Global South have been advocating for the United Nations to be reformed so that it moves away from the zero-sum game of the Cold War mentality that continues to drive it.

Gabriel Valdés, Chile’s then-foreign minister, said that in June 1969, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told him,

“Nothing important can come from the South. History has never been produced in the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance.”

Jaja Wachuku, then a Nigerian foreign minister, posed a still urgent question to the U.N.’s 18th Session on Sept. 30, 1963:

“Does this Organization want… [the] African States to be just vocal Members, with no right to express their views on any particular matter in important organs of the United Nations…[?] Are we only going to continue to be veranda boys?”

Global South countries are still “veranda boys” watching the adults make the rules and decide on the path that the world must take. They continue to be lectured and chided when they do not do as expected.

Time to Revitalize

It is time for a revitalized Non-Aligned Movement. It will only succeed if the leaders of the countries in the Global South put their egos aside, think strategically on the global scale and put their considerable human capital, natural resources and technological ingenuity to better use.

The Global South has an ascendant China, the second-biggest economy in the world. It has India, one of the leading countries in medical care and technological innovation. Africa is rich with a growing population and the natural resources that are needed for the mushrooming AI and cleaner energy industries.

However, these resources are still extracted for profit to be accumulated in far-off capitals while Africa and much of the Global South remain underdeveloped, with millions still stuck in the desperation of impoverishment.

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A renewed NAM has real potential if time is taken to build new institutions and to build buffers against the economic warfare that the United States has been waging against countries like Cuba and Venezuela and is now unleashing on Russia. Financial autonomy is critical.

BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has a bank, and for the 16 nations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) there is the Development Bank of Southern Africa; yet the reserves of the countries joined to these projects are still kept in the United States or European capitals.

This is the time for leaders within the Global South to wake up and realize that given the type of economic warfare that is currently being let loose on a country like Russia, weaker countries across the Global South have no meaningful autonomy.

This is the time to rethink how we conduct politics, economics and foreign policy when it is clear that the West can decide to decimate entire countries. The economic weapons being built against Russia will be available to be used against other countries that have the temerity not to toe Washington’s line.

BRICS has been disappointing in many respects, but it has opened some space for Global South countries — with their many differences in creed, culture, political and economic systems — to find a way of working together.

The rejection of intense pressure to bend their collective knee at the United Nations Security Council is an encouraging example of the Global South rejecting the assumption that they should remain permanent “veranda boys” (and girls).

As the United States rapidly escalates its new Cold War against Russia and China, and expects other countries to fall in line, there is now an urgent imperative to reject this Cold War mentality of wanting to divide the world along old acrimonious lines. The Global South should reject this view and call for the respect of international law by all countries. It makes a mockery of the concepts of human rights and international law when they are only evoked when it is those countries whom the West dislikes or disagrees with who break them.

Only by standing together and speaking with one voice can the countries of the Global South hope to have any influence in international affairs and not continue to be just rubber-stampers of the positions of the West.

The Non-Aligned Movement needs to be confident and bold and not seek permission from the West. Leaders need to understand that they are there to serve their people and protect their interests and not allow the temptation of being included in the “big boys club” to sway their stance on issues.

They need to constantly keep in mind that they have been kept as “veranda boys” for far too long, and unless they truly take their destiny into their hands, they will forever be at the foot of the table, with their people eating only the scraps from the wealth accumulated by the global economy, much of it from the exploitation of the South.

Nontobeko Hlela was the first secretary (political) at the High Commission of South Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. She currently works as a researcher for the South African office of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, a Global South think tank with offices in Johannesburg, South Africa; São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and New Delhi, India.

This article was produced by the Morning Star and Globetrotter and published on Peoples Dispatch.

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9 comments for “UKRAINE: Nonalignment & the Global South

  1. John W. Wright
    May 6, 2022 at 21:52

    The NAM needs to use BitCoin to leverage their way into the new global financial system now being created by Russia and China. They should lobby for it to be included in the basket of commodities that will define the new global reserve currency.

    El Salvador and the Central African Republic have already made the move to BitCoin and El Salvador’s success is inspiring other Latin American countries to consider making the move.

    This will allow the global south to break free of the corrupt imperial fiat financial system managed by the western central banks for its own benefit while maintaining a degree of independence within the new global financial regime. It will also provide the smaller economies an easy way to transition from the fiat world and provide a much more level playing field than presently exists.

  2. Joe Wallace
    May 6, 2022 at 18:39

    Superb article! The author makes it abundantly clear why the Global South is in no hurry to join the U.S. in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just as Russia’s national security concerns were systematically dismissed for the last thirty years, “included out” of discussions at the European Union and NATO as the “defensive alliance” marched ever closer to its borders, so has the Global South been “systematically excluded from any decision-making in the international organizations that make decisions in the name of the ‘international community.’” The quotations from Henry Kissinger and Jaja Wachuku are a pointed reminder that slights sting, even if they can’t immediately be answered, and are not forgotten. You don’t win hearts and minds when you tell people, in so many words, “You don’t matter. We don’t have to pay attention to you, so we won’t.”

  3. May 6, 2022 at 10:25

    “BRICS has been disappointing in many respects, but it has opened some space for Global South countries — with their many differences in creed, culture, political and economic systems — to find a way of working together..”

    Russia is not the first victim and witness to the power of the current commercial system to cripple nations. But it is a reminder that other countries are at the mercy of the same US controlled system. Since the system is man made it can be changed by creating alternatives. The countries of BRICs need to acknowledge and act on feasible changed or any one of them may be next.

    The heavy handed way the system is used by is a call to heed the words of I think Benjamin Franklin in standing up to Britain, if we don’t hang together we shall hang separately.

    As an American, I hope we too will come to our senses and recognize that continuing to be the bully of the world is both unethical and
    dangerous. Being a beacon on the hill is a much better place to be.

  4. May 5, 2022 at 13:45

    Given the revelations now of the US role in fomenting this proxy war in Ukraine, it’s parallel to what has happened in Iraq and Syria over the past 20 years, and other similar patterns, this author sets out a real possible peace amongst nations, a revival of the Non Aligned Movement, significant was the role of Tito in Yugoslavia and Nehru in India, now developing into the bridge that is India and Eastern/Central Europe, and now another major economy, Brazil, to be BRICS, and this author’s point of how Africa can be a part of this, and avoid the proxy globalist forces that have driven so many conflicts. In short, it is the idea of Distributism, power distributed to the local level decision making, local sustainable development, ideas that bridge left and right, thinkers like Hillarie Belloc, Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, Alexander Chayonov (sent to the gulag), and this author.

  5. Cara
    May 5, 2022 at 10:40

    Thank you for this important perspective. I’d say the NAM is an imperative to any healthy future.

  6. May 4, 2022 at 13:42

    The sentiments sound progressive but the not going deep enough to analyse the class relations within each Southern country likely means that it will be local elites combining to resist US imperialism, and doing so off the backs of local working classes and other dominated classes. China’s lockdown of Shanghai, literally putting thousands of its citizens there under house arrest, is indicative of the oppressive relations between local elites and the majority of their states’ citizens. The focus should be on internal citizens movements, including trade unions, students, womens’ movements and ethnic minorities (etc), that can combine with similar popular movements in the developed capitalist centres to effect deeper class-related changes that can advance real popular democratic control over all their states, to de-escalate the dynamic leading to war.

    • Corinne
      May 6, 2022 at 05:19

      The comment above was brought to you by George Soros’ Color revolution Inc.

  7. HHH
    May 4, 2022 at 13:14

    Any realignment by the global south will only take place by countries not indebted by loans from the IMF, IBRD, and the IDA all parts of the World Bank. The World Banks is controlled by the US and applies US foreign policy by loans to that will/can never be paid off to impoverished third world countries to keep them poor and as cheap sources of commodities for the US to consume.

    • onno37
      May 9, 2022 at 09:29

      Yourr comment and many of the above make me realize that US captalists are ruling this planet without ANY mercy for the poverty of the people. Only WW III could change this, HOPEFULLY!!

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