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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchWinning the Majority: A New U.S. Bargain with the Global South

Winning the Majority: A New U.S. Bargain with the Global South

Author: Sarang Shidore 

Affiliation:  Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Organization/Publisher: Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft  

Date/Place: November 10, 2022/ USA 

Type of Literature: Report

Number of Pages: 32 



Keywords: Global South, U.S. Influence, New Nonalignment, Dying Unipolarity, New Bargain



The Ukraine war has exposed the waning influence of the United States in the Global South. Numerous studies have been published on the subject of the US’s declining hegemony internationally, but each author has approached it from a different perspective. In this article, Sarang Shidore examines the US’s position and influence on the Global South by addressing the following main issue: How and why should the United States reorient its grand strategy to regain and even expand its influence in the Global South?


The author’s starting point is the set of sanctions imposed by the USA on Russia. However, many states, representing about half the global population, did not support the U.S.-backed actions. This is why Shidore suggests that a new bargain with the Global South should be based on pulling back from currently onerous U.S. practices and leading with integration and inducements. Therefore, Shidore provides five policy recommendations for the United States to reorient its grand strategy in the Global South. These policies offer alternatives and new tools to the USA to regain and increase its influence in the Global South, maximize its opportunities, and minimize the risks.


  1. Defining the Global South: The terms “Third World” or “Developing World” are often used as synonyms for the Global South, which refers to the vast belt stretching from Latin America to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island states. The author argues that the challenge in defining the Global South lies in its diversity and sprawl, implying that there will neither be a perfect definition nor perfect policy alignment among its states. However, Shidore identifies three common concerns among these states: First, “catching up” with the wealthy North is important and urgent. Second, they are acutely aware of their relative political marginalization in global structures. Third, most of the Global South carries a historical wariness toward a U.S./Europe-centric world order due to memories of colonialism.


  1. USA’s Vital Interests in the Global South: The author states that even for the mighty United States, with its $25 trillion economy and 700+ military bases worldwide, the Global South is still crucial to consider in the grand strategy due to its being home to the majority of humanity. The Global South is a major source of natural resources, particularly energy and minerals. Crucially, it also provides strategic minerals for the clean energy economy of the future, such as cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel. Many manufacturing supply chains on which the U.S. economy depends also run through the Global South.


Another reason why the Global South matters is its role in voting at the United Nations (U.N.). Despite their leaders’ more ambiguous statements, many states in the Global South voted with the United States regarding the claims of international law violations committed by Russia. While the vote-taking in the U.N. system may have symbolic value, it provides crucial legitimacy to U.S. claims. However, the fact that the majority of these nations opposed a third U.N. resolution to ban Russia from the Human Rights Council indicates that Washington cannot take the Global South for granted, even when it presents a strong argument.


  1. Checking the Waning of U.S. Influence: According to Sarang Shidore, the developments in Ukraine are just the latest indication of the waning influence of the United States in the Global South. States in the Global South are increasingly pushing back against Washington’s demanding and sometimes illegal requests to limit or sever ties with U.S. rivals. For example, India, historically Russia’s biggest defense partner, has repeatedly abstained from U.N. resolutions on Ukraine. There are numerous statements that demonstrate the declining reputation of the United States, even in its own backyard of Latin America. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized NATO’s strategy in Ukraine as “immoral.” Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for peace negotiations. Former Brazilian President Lula’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, criticized U.S. sanctions on Russia as a mistake that risked nuclear escalation. Even U.S. treaty ally Turkey and close security partner India insisted on completing their purchases of the cutting-edge S-400 air defense system from Moscow. Moreover, Russia continues to maintain goodwill it generated in many African states through its past support for their anti-colonial struggles. Incidents of racist treatment of African students by Ukrainian border guards, which received widespread attention, have negatively affected Africa’s perception. Recently, Mali and the Central African Republic have welcomed greater Russian influence. When it comes to China, the author cites Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi speaking on behalf of ASEAN at the 40th U.N. stating, “we refuse to be a pawn in a new cold war.” Prominent Singaporean ex-diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani has long argued that Washington’s military strategy of containment will be overshadowed by the allure of China’s economic strategy.


  1. The New Nonalignment: The first incarnation of nonalignment, represented by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), existed from the 1960s to the 1980s, with its establishment in 1961. However, the author now discusses the new nonalignment that has emerged as a result of several shifts in the international system towards the end of unipolarity. Shidore explains that this new nonalignment is less ideological and is likely to be more robust and sustainable. The Global South prefers to see a multipolar world where power is more diffused, allowing for the expansion of its own strategic space and seeking to leverage all major powers for its developmental and strategic benefit. This approach aims to end both economic and political marginalization.


The author attributes this transformation to four developments that marked the beginning of the end of unipolarity. Firstly, the 2008 financial and economic crisis discredited the notion of a liberal economic international order under the Washington consensus. Secondly, the remarkable rise of China provided an alternative pole of economic and political power. Additionally, Russia began asserting itself after the deep economic struggles of the 1990s. Thirdly, America’s “War on Terror” destabilized the Middle East and alienated many around the world due to illegal military interventions and abuses. Lastly, the rise of the Global South itself represents a significant development.


  1. Why U.S. Strategy is Increasingly Ineffective and Risky: According to the author, during the Cold War, the United States relied on tools such as elite persuasion, inducements, arms sales, coercive sanctions, and military interventions to achieve regime change in the Global South. While some of these tools were effective during that era, the new nonalignment based on national interests rather than ideology makes it harder for Washington to form blocs against great power rivals. The growing reliance on coercive and potentially illegal actions, like secondary sanctions, is increasingly resented. China and Russia no longer pose the same threat to Global South elites as they did during the height of communism, and they are not seeking client states as they once did. Additionally, the strategy of divide-and-conquer is less likely to succeed in the Global South today.


The author concludes that while Washington recognizes the relevance of the Global South and implements policies to enhance its influence, a new bargain with the Global South is crucial to mitigate risks, including pushing key states closer to Russia and away from the United States. Shidore emphasizes the need for urgent reorientation and proposes the following policy approaches:


  1. Accept the reality of the Global South’s new nonalignment and avoid viewing the region primarily through the lens of “strategic competition.” Recognize that expelling or containing Russia and China is unrealistic.
  2. Shift away from a strategy centered on secondary sanctions, as they could inadvertently push states closer to Beijing or Moscow.
  3. Discard talking points about “democracy vs. autocracy” and “rules-based order,” as they are untrustworthy and harm U.S. standing in the Global South.
  4. Steer the rivalry between China and Russia in the Global South away from alliances and military competition, and instead focus on economic and technological cooperation.
  5. Lead with incentivization and integration, treating the middle powers of the Global South as partners rather than patrons. These powers are becoming important centers for supply chains and innovation.
  6. Strengthen the G20 and increase the representation of African members to better coordinate responses to global challenges such as climate change, food security, global health, and finance.


By: Chourouk Mestour, P.h.D Candidate in International Relations  



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