The emerging global order is challenging multilateralism in the sense that power is becoming situational: centres of gravity are overlapping and transient, and the transnational interdependence that characterises this ‘polypolar’ world challenges small and great powers alike. Emerging powers are forming a ‘new middle', straddling the North-South divide with dynamic new multilateral formations, and prioritising economic self-interest. South Africa is at risk of being relegated to a new global periphery if it gives priority to political solidarity with the global South rather than economic pragmatism in its multilateral strategies. Its comparative advantage in the diplomatic arena is its middle power credentials. If it rationalizes its multilateralism to focus on diplomatic niche areas it can enhance its political influence in global governance institutions, despite its small economic stature.