The word ‘Global South’ is not geographical – then what is it?
Is ‘Global South’ the same as ‘Third World’ or ‘Developing Countries’? What does the word mean and why has it been getting greater recognition lately? This explainer will provide every necessary detail to better understand the term.
‘Global South’ has started garnering substantial attention as many leading countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America maintain their unwillingness to stand with NATO against the brutal year-long invasion of Ukraine.
Headlines similar to “Why does so much of the Global South support Russia?” aren’t new anymore. The term is in no way geographical. It usually refers to various countries across the globe that are sometimes called ‘developing, less developed or underdeveloped’.
Although not all, many of these countries lie in the Southern Hemisphere, with a majority of them in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Compared to countries in the ‘Global North’, they are relatively poor, with lower levels of life expectancy and deeper income inequality.
Understanding The Word’s Importance And Origins
Carl Oglesby is perhaps the first person to have used the term. Writing in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal, the political activist argued the Vietnam War was the culmination of a history of northern “dominance over the global south.”
But it was only after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union that the word started gaining momentum. Until then, ‘Third World’ used to be the more common term for developing countries – or the ones that had yet to undergo complete industrialisation.
The terms ‘First World’ talked about the advanced capitalist nations, ‘Second World’ about the socialist nations led by the USSR, and ‘Third World’ about the developing nations. But things started changing soon and one word gained a different meaning.
The term ‘Third World’ started referring to countries plagued by instability and poverty. Moreover, the fall of the Soviet Union gave a convenient opportunity for the word to disappear. The 1990s saw a noteworthy drop in the number of people using the term.
Shift In Riches And Enhanced Political Visibility
Gradually, the more neutral-sounding ‘Global South’ gained increasing recognition. Nevertheless, given the imbalanced history shared between many of the countries of the Global North and the Global South, it’s no wonder today many are uninterested to be aligned with any one great power.
And whereas the term ‘Third World’ convey images of weak economic potential, which isn’t true of the ‘Global South’. By 2030, it’s projected three of the four largest economies in the world will be from the Global South – perhaps in the order as China, India, the US and Indonesia.
This shift in wealth comes in line with some countries’ enhanced political visibility. Those in the Global South are playing key diplomatic roles – be it Brazil’s attempts to end the war in Ukraine or China helping narrow the gap between Iran and Saudi Arabia.