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How do Global South politics of non-alignment and solidarity explain South Africa’s position on Ukraine?


The war in Ukraine is often described by Western analysts as a turning point in international relations that has upended the post-Cold War international order. In the Global South, the war is equally historic, reinvigorating foreign policy autonomy and non-alignment as geopolitical tensions rise between the West and Russia (and China).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine revealed more than Russia’s neo-imperialist vision for a reconstituted empire. It revealed that many countries in the Global South—with market economies and democratic political systems and values like those espoused by the West—prefer not to take sides even in the face of a clear violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity.

Many in the West were baffled by the lack of overwhelming support from the Global South. South Africa, for example, vacillated between the Foreign Ministry initially calling for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, only to within a few days of the invasion withdraw that position. This was followed by an abstention at the United Nations General Assembly and a call for both Ukraine and Russia to negotiate.

South Africa’s response should be understood through two elements: (1) its key foreign policy principles and positions and (2) the continuing importance of solidarity with old “friends.” Foreign […]

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