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MSC 2024: No international security without the Global South

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
February 17, 2024

The Munich Security Conference is more diverse than ever before and there are more guests from the so-called Global South. The hope is they will bridge a growing rift. But how realistic is that really?

Rice fields in India
Experts warn that global security is intertwined with climate, water and foodImage: Jaipal Singh/epa/dpa/picture alliance

New visions and ideas for a global world order: This is one of the slogans of the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC). The idea is that there shouldn't be winners or losers among the countries of the globe. Instead each state should be able to benefit from international cooperation.

That is why the conference has invited representatives from countries in the so-called Global South, that is from countries in the southern hemisphere that are not Western industrialized nations. Whether from Asia, Africa or South America, there are guests in almost all panels making their perspectives heard. Could this be a first step toward a fairer world?

For former Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, more participation also means more opportunities. "Earlier it used to be 60-to-80-year-old white men talking hardcore security. We're still talking hardcore security but we're doing it in a way which is slightly more diverse," she says.

The perspective from another region is crucial when it comes to formulating alternative strategies, Rabbani Khar argues.

Skyline of Nairobi
Guests from cities like Nairobi are crucial for a global perspective at the MSCImage: Thomas Imo/picture alliance/photothek

This is also how Kenya's former foreign minister, Raychelle Omamo, sees it. "I think the more voices you have from all over the world, the more exciting the discussions are and the richer the solutions," she told DW. Omamo is also a member of the Security Conference's Advisory Council, which means she helps determine its direction. "I like the fact that I'm hearing perspectives from one side of the globe to the other," she added.

Security also means climate and water

The focus of the conference is on current conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine but also looks at how many countries in the Global South have turned away from the West. Climate change and migration as a result of environmental destruction are also a global threat. They are among the most pressing issues facing the world's people and are hitting countries in the Global South harder.

Security no longer means the same thing it did before, says Ambika Vishwanath. She is a co-founder and the chair of the Kubernein Initiative, a geopolitical consulting firm based in Mumbai, India. "It's no longer just about defense and military. It's also about water, food, human health, and all of that is interconnected," Vishwanath told DW.

It is not enough that more people from the Global South are represented at international conferences such as the Munich Security Conference though. She argues that other topics also need to be discussed, ones that are closer to ordinary people's everyday lives. That includes things like climate change and water resources. 

That's also why Vishwanath rejects the term "Global South" because it suggests that these issues don't affect everyone. "If you just say I'm having the same kind of discussion but [you only] bring in more people, you are not going to have long term change, because what you are talking about hasn't actually changed," she argues. Vishwanath has been coming to the conference for over ten years and she welcomes the fact that the group of participants is increasingly diverse.

Human rights versus security policy

In order to accelerate cultural change, you have to create the space for it yourself, argues Düzen Tekkal. She is a journalist and chairwoman of the human rights organization Hawar.help, which, among other things, runs projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is moderating a panel on sexual violence as a weapon of war, a topic that has received little attention at the security conference in the past. "There is nothing negative in seeing the interests of the Global South represented by the Global South itself," Tekkal told DW. "We in the liberal West benefit from these experiences."

But not everyone is welcome. As a matter of principle, the organizers of the conference do not invite representatives of repressive regimes. But this doesn't mean all participants have a clean slate. In addition to Indian and Chinese government members, the controversial prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who has been accused of human rights violations, is also attending.

Sheikh Hasina
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has been accused of human rights violationsImage: Wolfgang Rattay/REUTERS

That upsets Saskia Bruysten, who founded the Yunus Social Business in Bangladesh alongside former Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Yunus was recently sentenced to prison in Bangladesh in what human rights activists say was a politically motivated case.

"I think it's important that representatives from the Global South are represented here, but it's also shocking that someone like Sheikh Hasina is here on stage being applauded while she puts her only Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, in prison. Dialogue is important here on site, but we also have to address human rights issues and discuss them publicly and not just applaud," says Bruysten, who sees herself representing Yunus in Munich too. 

Tekkal argues that this shouldn't just be about representation though. Human rights issues are not sufficiently integrated into the actual debates and the conference is still dominated by the military-industrial complex.

This is where we should start, she says. "Experience has shown that those who supply the weapons come from the Global North, but that those they target are from the Global South. And then there is always that question: Who is responsible for those killed? Those who shoot or those who deliver [the guns]?"

This article was originally published in German.

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi Head of DW Dari/Pashto@washasnaz