Security in Context is pleased to announce the publication of its first SiC Report "The Global South in an Era of Great Power Competition." The Report is the result of a collaboration between SiC and The Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South at Northwestern University Qatar. SiC Reports are edited collections of research based articles that advance our understanding of a specific theme under one of SiC’s research tracks. You can read the introduction to the Report and download the full pdf of all articles below.

Citation: Demir, Firat, and Van Jackson (eds.) 2024. The Global South In An Era Of Great Power Competition. Security in Context Report 24-01. April 2024, Security in Context.


By Van Jackson and Firat Demir

Policymakers, pundits, and intellectuals have increasingly come to see our historical conjuncture as one defined by “great-power competition” – euphemistic language referring to geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States, and to a lesser extent between the United States and Russia. Such a signifier is important because, in generations past, politicians have wielded geopolitical competition between great powers to justify prioritizing military concerns over democratic ones, secrecy over liberty, and jingoism over policies of solidarity, care, repair, or caution.

International rivalries invoke rally-round-the-flag nationalist consolidations, subverting transborder movements for peace and equal rights while persecuting those who do not meet the criteria of belonging – whether Japanese in World War II, socialists during America’s multiple red scares, Muslims amid the War on Terror, or Chinese Americans today.

But no two rivalries are entirely alike, and geopolitical competition always plays out in the concrete circumstances of an ever-changing world. The threats, opportunities, and constraints of great-power competition depend not only on the prevailing trends of the age, but also positionality in the world system.

In that spirit, Security in Context, in collaboration with the Northwestern University Qatar Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South, and the Center for Peace and Development at the University of Oklahoma, is publishing the following special collection of essays analyzing what great-power competition means for the Global South. The authors answer wide-ranging questions: How does great-power competition produce insecurity in the Global South? What role is there for small, middle, or rising South countries to exercise agency? What do the geopolitics and political economy of multipolarity and insecurity look like when viewed from different locations? Who speaks on behalf of whom, including vulnerable populations, regions, and countries in the Global South? If multinational institutions are increasingly ineffective and being challenged for representing the interests of the Global North countries, based on their own rules of the game, how will global governance be managed? In what order? Are all countries equal in the global rules of engagement, be that trade, finance, human rights, or rules of war?

Emma Soubrier examines the foreign policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, finding that their propensity to hedge among great powers is longstanding, a development that resonates with a new Non-Aligned Movement. Their strategic nonalignment amid Sino-U.S. and U.S.-Russia rivalry today could break in two starkly divergent directions: toward a roughly stable, status-quo Middle Eastern order or toward new strategic rhetoric justifying old patterns of oppression and regional insecurity.

Lee Shaker and Paul Falzone analyze African media as a stage for great-power competition. They find that Russia, China, and the United States pursue distinct political goals in jockeying for political, economic and cultural influence in Africa’s information environment, but these aims often contradict how Africans themselves view their own media and exercise their agency. Local content programming directors are actually empowered – and largely autonomous – given foreign power interests in funding and providing media content, but the African media market is becoming more populated with propaganda, and foreign-media production is increasing the costs for African content makers.

Salma Abdalla investigates the ways in which Russia exercises influence in Sudanese politics, concluding that Russian influence has directly and indirectly aided kleptocracy and domestic repression as part of preserving its “strategic” interests. The alignment of Russian interests with the military and autocratic leaders has undermined the Sudanese pro-democracy movement. Prior to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Sudan had also been a crucial site for Russian paramilitary/mercenary forces like the Wagner Group to operate, train, and benefit financially.

Kevin Funk, by turn, considers the potential for South-South models of cooperation to trump, subvert, or serve as a bulwark against great-power competition by examining economic relations between the Middle East and Latin America. He reaches the contrarian, gloomy conclusion that South-South relations centered on commodity and agricultural exports from places like Brazil to the Gulf countries intensifies patterns of exploitation and oppression of marginalized Global South communities, essentially reifying the worst of a neoliberal economic order. The new South-South trade connections, dominated by the existing power relations and large business interests, are not likely to provide an alternative development path and instead replicate the same uneven development that marks North-South interactions, both within and between countries.

Mandy Turner evaluates the meaning and implications of the Global South’s nonalignment in relation to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. At once confounding Western preferences without entirely defying them, Global South countries’ rejection of sanctions yet support for national sovereignty should be interpreted as a paradox: a sign of an emerging multipolar order that circumscribes but does not end or disconfirm American hegemony.

Aude Darnal makes the case for a New World Order entirely, one centered not on “great” powers but on the interests of the Global South – which is home to the world’s majority. Framing North-South relations, including challenges posed by Russia and China to Western hegemony, through the lenses of competition and domination highlights new insecurities. Accepting the right of the Global South to exercise agency and supporting a global order that treats all countries as equal partners can eliminate or reduce many contributors to traditional great-power competition and offer the promise of an international order with actual global legitimacy – something that cannot be said about the “rules-based international order” today.

Waleed Hazbun argues that the contrasting Chinese and American approaches to the Middle East could potentially coexist stably. China’s approach of “soft integration” through trade, finance and infrastructure investment makes it the provider of choice for public-welfare and economic goods, whereas America’s “hard integration” approach through military and political alliance makes it the region’s security provider of choice. It is the dissatisfaction of China and the United States with the status quo, each jockeying for position against the other, that makes the approaches clash. Autonomy for Middle East governments, Hazbun concludes, requires that the two great powers limit the scope of their influence.

Finally, Bantayehu Demlie Gezahegn shows how the politics of eleven nations bordering the Nile River have been ensnared by great-power competition, magnifying the difficulty of resolving disputes among those governments adjacent to it. Different national and geo-strategic interests by the North and Global South countries towards the region have influenced how the media frames the conflict. Egypt has sought U.S. involvement and Ethiopia has accused the U.S. of Egyptian bias. Media narratives about everything from “who owns the Nile” or “water security” frameworks, to China’s financing role, to the Nile’s role in decolonization diverge in Global North versus South media coverage.

Collectively, this special series of papers on great-power competition and the Global South presents a perilous picture with modest spaces for optimism. The authors highlight the heterogeneity within the Global South, caution against narratives that simplify the possibilities and limits of South-South exchanges and the landscape of multipolarity as alternatives to existing Northern-dominated world order.

Intensifying rivalry between China and the United States tends to both narrow and enlarge the policy options available for smaller and developing nations, depending on their abilities to exercise agency and negotiate with the dominating Northern and Southern powers. The power-politicization of local or regional politics is pervasive. South-South cooperation is not inherently an antidote to or bulwark against great-power competition – it depends on the terms of exchange. However, the best chances for a durable security reside as much in governments of the Global South seeking and exercising strategic autonomy as they do in the great powers ameliorating the militarism, jingoism, and ethnonationalism that powers their contemporary relations.

The contributions in this Report can be read below:

The Case for a New World Order by Aude Darnal

China, the United States, and the Reconfiguration of Middle East Geopolitics: New Possibilities for Conflict and Order by Waleed Hazbun

Emerging Stage for Great Power Competition: Russia’s Influence in Sudan amid Political Turmoil by Salma Abdalla

A (Neoliberal) “New World Economic Geography”: Latin American-Middle Eastern Relations in an Emerging Age of Multipolarity by Kevin Funk

The Global South and the Russia-Ukraine War: Nonalignment and Western Responses on the Cusp of a Multipolar World by Mandy Turner

Whither the Non-Aligned Gulf: Sustainable Security or Repackaged Insecurities? by Emma Soubrier

Television & Soft Power: The 21st Century Competition for African Hearts & Minds by Lee Shaker & Paul Flazone

Traces of Great Power Competition in the Nile Basin: Evidence from Media Depiction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) by Bantayehu Demlie Gezahegn

The PDF version of "Security in Context Report: Global South in an Era of Great Power Competition" can be downloaded below.

Article or Event LinkSIC Report: The Global South in an Era of Great Power Competition PDF DOWNLOAD
Apr 3, 2024



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