Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


The Struggle for Influence: America and the Global South

Amid the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union eschewed direct military engagement, opting instead to wield influence through deadly proxy wars. Their geopolitical chess game unfolded across the Global South—in the Congo, Vietnam, Angola, Korea, and Cambodia—nations that became the unwilling battlegrounds in the ideological struggle between communism and capitalism. Today, three decades post-Cold War, the echoes of this global tug of war persist. China’s maneuvering in the Indo-Pacific and its dominance over vast infrastructure projects in Africa are of note, as is Russia’s continued war of naked aggression in Ukraine. And as the U.S. grapples with complexities in the Middle East, and as hostilities flare anew between Israel and Hamas, the specter of a fresh Cold War looms on the horizon.

The nations of the Global South, increasingly disillusioned with their underrepresentation in global affairs, look to the BRICS alliance—comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—as a beacon of diversification. The alliance’s anticipated expansion in 2024 to include Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, with a lineup of nations eager to join, poses a direct challenge to the established order of U.S. foreign policy. It is imperative that the United States view these developments not as a threat but as a clarion call to embrace a role as an ally to the Global South, fostering an environment of collaboration over competition. The United States’ response should be the formulation of a nuanced policy concerning BRICS and the Global South, a gesture that would signal its readiness to support and ensure a cooperative global future.

With the inclusion of pivotal players such as China, Russia, and soon Iran, the influence of BRICS on the world stage cannot be dismissed by the U.S. In the previous year alone, BRICS has effectively countered U.S. diplomatic initiatives, providing alternatives to Western sanctions against Russia amid its ongoing war in Ukraine. Economically, the coalition has challenged the U.S. dollar’s dominance in global trade, exemplified by India’s groundbreaking oil agreement with the United Arab Emirates, settled in rupees. These strategic moves have the potential to significantly recalibrate U.S. influence and its relations within the Global South.

The opportunity for the U.S. to forge stronger ties with the Global South is ripe, particularly with nations in sub-Saharan Africa that perceive both the benefits and pitfalls of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While the promise of infrastructure development is alluring, there is growing scrutiny over the stipulations often linked to these investments—such as the ceding of fishing rights near ports and the prominence of Chinese corporations in leading projects, primarily for their own gain. Additionally, Russia’s influence in Africa cannot be overlooked, with entities like the Wagner Group extending its presence in many African nations.

As the U.S. navigates its global relationships, it must carefully balance its role as a friend rather than a foe. The traditional alliances of the U.S. remain integral, yet in a shifting global political climate, the luxury of choosing sides is less viable. The dichotomy of right and wrong is obsolete, and a more inclusive approach could serve U.S. interests well. The U.S. must re-envision its interactions with countries in the BRICS and beyond, particularly those with democratic leanings, to ensure that authoritarianism does not overshadow the coalition’s potential. The strength of BRICS lies in its diverse membership, capable of unity despite varying interests and aspirations—a stark contrast to America’s historical preference for aligning with like-minded states. A paradigm shift is required, one where the U.S. no longer views its engagement in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia through a donor-recipient lens but as a symbiotic partnership in economic and technological progress.

North-South cooperation is paramount, and adopting a constructive stance toward BRICS should not jeopardize U.S. relations with any single nation. The goal is to build upon existing bilateral relations, demonstrating a sincere commitment to global cooperation over competition. The U.S. must embrace a posture of listening and understanding the needs of others without imposing its own ideals. Such an approach has the potential to distinguish the U.S. from its peers, China and Russia, as a nation that supports the aspirations of the Global South, as defined by them, not as presumed by the U.S. Only through this can the U.S. establish its position as a global ally and not merely another global contender.

To avert the onset of another Cold War, the U.S. must awaken to the reality of China’s growing influence in the Global South. The continents of Africa and the vast Indo-Pacific region should not be reduced to mere chessboards for a U.S.-China power struggle. The U.S. must transcend this outdated rivalry and recognize that a positive engagement with BRICS and a commitment to North-South cooperation are fundamental to America’s future—and indeed, the future of our planet—ushering in a secure, sustainable, and just era for all.