The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Re-examining the ‘Rise of the South:’ The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 18, 2013

Summary: The 2013 Human Development Report highlights the complex and often contradicting dynamics of paths to human development and offers a critical note into the ‘rise of the South’ and how novel exclusive regional institutions may not work in an interdependent world.

The Human Development Reports (HDR), published since 1990 are critical updates on the progress of human development across regions and the country rankings, and at the same time, active endorsement of the human-centred development paradigm that the UN imbibes. Entitled ‘The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,’ the 2013 HDR came out more as a surprise and evoked a sense of both optimism and confusion. The exercise of using the notion of the North-South divide seems contradictory to the UN paradigm of human development. Such conflicting messages highlight the complexity of issues in achieving human development.

One issue is equality. The Report boasts of the accelerated rate of progress in low and medium HDI countries. However, this simply cannot be the basis of less inequality contrary to the report’s assessment that ‘the world is becoming less unequal,’ since it also noted the ‘wide disparities’ and rising ‘income inequality’ within and between countries. This highlights how country-based assessments can be impractical tools for measuring human development, more so, equality.

Another issue is the generalisation of the ‘South.’ The Report notes that not all developing countries are on the ‘rise’. This paints a picture that, given those countries that the Report highlighted that are rising and the least developed countries (LDCs) not ‘participating fully in the rise of the South’, the Report may have misused the term ‘South.’ Which ‘South’ is it referring to then? The use of binary terms to denote the developed and developing status of countries may not be useful for a paradigm of human development (which differs more so within countries). Dividing the world into the North and South has been wilfully debunked by the UN in the 1990s when it came up with the first Human Development Report. In the report, the use of the ‘South’ as a term comes heavily loaded with interpretations that used to be in the purview of those focused on economic development and growth indicators.

Finally, the HDR highlights that institutions such as a new ‘South Commission,’ are necessary to ‘facilitate regional integration and South-South relationships.’ The existing institutions at the international and regional level already make the system complex and some may already be outdated. However, new institutions may not be necessary.  New institutions may unfurl the ties that already bind countries together and reverse the trend of current trends of multilateral cooperation and collaboration, for example, any progress made by ASEAN and its offspring extra-regional institutions. Reinventing the wheel and promoting the exclusivity for ‘South-South’ relations may not be the best path to pursue. However, a long sought-after shift in paradigm about development frameworks and norms to address the challenges of ‘enhancing equity, enabling participation, confronting environmental change and managing demographic change’ is definitely in order.

This blog post was written by Gianna Gayle Amul. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).


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