The United Nations General Assembly opens on Tuesday September 19 at a time when the gap is widening between the West and the countries of the Global South over the hierarchy to be established between the priorities to which the international community must devote its attention.
The media and pundits would do well to listen to the speeches — all the speeches, not just those from the West. They will quickly see that the world is recomposing itself around two axes: the priorities of the North (Ukraine, the fight for “democracy” against “authoritarianism”, the maintenance of the world order established in 1945) and those of the South (the debt, development, climate threats, food security, reform of international institutions).
Never has this dichotomy been more striking than during the G20 in New Delhi a few days ago. While last year’s summit in Bali gave wide coverage to the war in Ukraine, this year the Indian presidency intentionally sidelined this subject in order to leave room for issues that concern the developing world. Clearly, the countries of the Global South have seized the agenda, which did not fail to offend Justin Trudeau, who would have liked to have a resolution adopted directly condemning Russia.
This is because the voice of Westerners no longer has the same reach as before. And especially that of Canada, at the G20, precisely. In Bali as in New Delhi, the prime minister was looked down upon, first by President Xi during a short and unpleasant meeting in a corridor, then by Prime Minister Modi during an informal 10-minute meeting in a corner of the conference center.
Of course, the West is not about to be marginalized. The two great Asian powers can snub Canada, but the Western bloc cannot be ignored. It remains first in terms of power. It has unparalleled diplomatic, economic and military cohesion. Even the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), about to increase from 5 to 11 members, will take time to dethrone it.
However, the discourse conveyed by Westerners on world affairs is no longer convincing. Thus, before the General Assembly on Tuesday, Joe Biden will not fail to scratch China and its global ambitions and return to the charge on the subject of the fight between democracies and autocracies. Emmanuel Macron will certainly do the same on the subject of democracy in Africa. The two leaders will be applauded by their allies, but ignored by others.
This is because, in this world in full restructuring, the countries of the Global South now have the choice of their alliances. As such, they are increasingly attracted by the language used by China and India. What do these two powers say? They take the world as it is. They do not judge and are ready to do business with any state, regardless of its type of regime. They demand respect for the sovereignty of States. They have their vision of democracy and human rights. They are working to establish a multipolar world order in which non-Western states have a greater say. Credible or not, this message sells rather well in the countries of the South.
The message from Westerners becomes inaudible as it masks its own ulterior motives and contradictions. In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States is trying to weave a whole network of alliances whose sole objective is not so much to ensure the security of the participating States as to strengthen their hegemony by encircling China in the aim of containing its economic and military development. There is no other explanation for Washington’s sudden renewed interest in the dozen or so microstates in the South Pacific that American leaders were unaware of until a few months ago.
And how can we convince the Global South of the importance of defending democratic values when Washington strengthens its ties with the worst dictatorships — Saudi Arabia and Vietnam? Or when France suddenly becomes indignant about the coup d’état in Niger, which has turned a blind eye to those of Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Gabon, or to the establishment of a republican dynasty in Chad? All this is not serious and contributes to the discrediting of the Western message.
A new balance of power is emerging between the North and the South. It expresses the reality of everyone’s ambitions and limits. Whatever happens, one thing seems certain: the West can no longer behave on the terms of the last century. The foundations that structure international relations are changing too profoundly for this to be possible. We must therefore find a space for dialogue to avoid the divide that is looming on the horizon.
After all, the Global South asks only one thing: that its economic, military, diplomatic and cultural emergence is not considered as a threat, but recognized as a contribution to the construction of the current and future world.