On the basis of ideology, during and after World War II, the world got divided into East (Socialist bloc) and West (Capitalist bloc). However, from the 1970s onwards, scholars, thinkers and practitioners started dividing the world in other ways too.
Global South constituted countries (countries in the southern hemisphere) that were socially, culturally, economically and even politically less stable and developed, whereas Global North constituted countries (countries in the northern hemisphere) that were more developed.
This became the new way of dividing and classifying the different nation-states of the world on the basis of development and underdevelopment. It happened because the 1970s onwards, multi-dimensional disparities between states in the north and south became pronounced.
Collectively, a picture is painted of the states of the south, such that all weak, vulnerable and insecure ones are conglomerated in the southern part of the world. It becomes problematic to cope with these factors, more so as these characteristics have a spillover effect.
The development and underdevelopment of the world have magnified after the two World Wars; even more after 1990, with the end of the Cold War between the two power blocs.
USSR’s disintegration paralysed its economy making it impossible for it to aid its satellites and dependencies anymore. The USA, then, the strongest surviving economy (also bloc), that didn’t need to counter USSR any more, also stopped aiding its allies. Insecurities increased, as did the gap between the economically rich and poor states.
These poor states, that now had to become a part of the new economic world order had to tune themselves to the interests of the bigger and wealthier nations, who were more powerful and stable.
This led to the upcoming of a world order that forced the southern states to comply with the northern states. This new kind of dependence increased exponentially after globalisation, and already existing vulnerabilities increased further.
Out of the total number of less developed countries of the world, most of them are from the global south. The primary cause of this problem of poor development is a US-centric system, that leads to the re-emergence of neo-colonialism and a new variety of imperialism.
This problem of development and underdevelopment can be explained in three ways-
(1) The prime cause for a country’s developed or underdeveloped nature depends on its internal character i.e., domestic factors such as the political and economic structures of the country determine its state of development or underdevelopment.
So, one could say that the cause of “global south countries” underdevelopment is their weak internal character. Hence, the development of the global south is completely north sponsored and north dependent. This sponsorship from the north chiefly consists of foreign aid as these countries require a huge amount of capital.
(2) Another reason is the continuity in the pattern of the relationship of the dependence of the south on the north and the dominance of north over the south.
This explanation is hinged on the unacceptability of the concept of “linear process of development”. No country can become completely developed from being underdeveloped earlier.
If the idea of linear development of nations would be true, then the underdeveloped countries would have all become developed, or at least most of them would.
Also, in that case, then all the present developed countries of the world should have been underdeveloped earlier at some point of time in history. But the reality is that they were never underdeveloped. They were only ‘undeveloped’.
On this account, it is clearly understood that cultural and political superiority of dominant nations effectuate underdeveloped nations to remain so.
3) Yet another source of development and underdevelopment is associated with the core feature of industrialisation. The difference lies in the multi-lateral institutions that have hastened the development of global north countries more than the global south.
The difference in the development of ‘core states’ (rich, powerful, developed) and ‘peripheral states’ (poor, underdeveloped) is due to the former being industrialised first and the latter, later on.
For example, 18th century Europe was considered to be the most developed as it was industrialised first.
However, one notices that with time, cultural imperialism has taken away cultural differences and the features of the world have changed greatly, since the 1980s.
Underdevelopment is not a feature of the south alone anymore. In recent times, we can see how the magic of “laissez-faire” is no longer unique to the global north.
The end of the Cold War called for scholars and thinkers to conceptualise a new understanding of development, linking it with democracy. It was emphasised that the germ of underdevelopment is a monarchical or a dictatorial political regime; that development could be achieved by embracing a liberal democratic form of government with a free market economy.
Even this idea failed, as it does not hold true anymore because many modern liberal democracies are yet to achieve true development. It failed to explain the persistently widening gap between the rich and poor states.
Another outcome of the end of the Cold War was the considerable fall of military spending as the world had become unipolar and threat perceptions declined. At the global level, military expenditure decreased from 6.1% to 3.1%. But that 3% was not channelised for socio-economic development of the third world.
Presently, 200 million people are getting affected by desertification; 20 million hectares of tropical forests have been cleared outright and there are more than 30 million refugees in the less and least developed world (excluding Syrians, Palestinians and Rohingyas).
Many millions are affected by terminal or fatal diseases and more than one-third of the world population has no access to primary education. Neither a free market economy, a democratic political system, any amount of aid nor cutting down of military expenditure has given a boost to the development of the less developed world whatsoever.
Apparently, it might seem that the growth rate, GDP (gross domestic product), national income, etc. have risen overtime for these underdeveloped nations. Yet features like the low standard of living, low human development index (HDI), poor health and sanitation and lack of adequate employment opportunities are grave socio-economic realities.
After the 1990s, the New International Economic Order (NIEO) that was formed, offered the Non-Aligned nations an independent voice of their own, in the unipolar world.
This independence was much needed to reduce the south dependency on the north by enhancing south-south co-operation. It was in the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) Summit of 1982, that the then Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, offered an extremely viable and well thought of solution, to the problem of underdevelopment.
She laid stress on how backward countries should depend on themselves and on one another more than on foreign aid. Stress was laid on how the underdeveloped third world nations should strive to develop their own technology.
Instead of only exporting raw materials, manufactured products should be exported. An economy can never become self-reliant with aid only. Moreover, co-operation within the third world was imperative in the sphere of trade and commerce for it to be able to compete or come at par with the developed world.
Eventually, a lot of regional organisations came up at the close of the 20th century, like South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), that was created for regional development of the less developed countries.
These regional associations were formed with the objective of creating duty-free, barrier-free trade zones to facilitate easy trade. Many free trade agreements were signed such as SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) and LAFTA (Latin American Free Trade Agreement).
In Africa, the South African Development Community (SADC) was formed in 1980 with similar objectives. Thus, overall, it felt that there was a demand for developing countries to recover, rise and develop on their own.
There is also a realisation now, that the Human Development Index isn’t something that just embraces social and economic development, but also encompasses the real purpose of development i.e. to enlarge people’s choices.
Hence, the problem of underdevelopment has to be done away with from the top. The United Nations has played a big role in the development and peace-keeping in the world.
However, even the UN lacks coercive power, because the major funding for running the various organs of the UN comes from the developed countries of the world, who are the ‘big five’ permanent members of the UN Security Council too.
They misuse their power of “veto”, hindering the delivery of true justice and development of the less developed nations of the world. The aid or flow of resources that take place from the developed to the underdeveloped countries is always with the vested interest of the former whereby, in the name of development of the poor countries the rich ones just expand their markets.
Therefore, the only way to bring about parity between the underdeveloped and developed countries of the world, in the true sense, would be to have economic relations based on the principle of ‘equal interdependence’ rather than ‘unequal exchange’.