The BRICS turning the tide against the US will once again divide the world at a time when many of the developing nations are either confused or have not been able to decide which side to take. Already, the BRICS has been branded as an anti-Western global platform. The smearing of BRICS as an anti-American group needs to be minimised in the global media
The recent BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) conference in Johannesburg, South Africa (Aug 22-24, 2023), reaffirms the formation of an alternative global governance system. Way back in 2001, an economist for Goldman Sachs named Jim O’Neill coined the original acronym ‘BRIC’ to refer to Brazil, Russia, India, and China. He also predicted that all these emerging economies might dominate the global economy by the year 2050. However, it hardly garnered attention in global discussion forums and among intellectuals as the US was then the supremely dominating unipolar power. Nevertheless, with the global economic crisis in 2008, the international community came to realise that there are other nations in the Global South like India, China, etc, which can easily stabilise and further dictate terms in the international financial system in the long run.
It was the first time in 2008 when the BRIC came into discussion with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-8 Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. But before that, the foreign ministers of the BRIC nations met on the margins of the 61st UN General Assembly in New York City in 2006 and outlined the main objectives of the future group. These high-level meetings finally led to the crystallisation of the intergovernmental organisation on June 16, 2009, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, when the heads of the four founding members gathered for its first summit. The main objectives and goals set by the BRIC were: to promote economic cooperation, trade, and investment flows among the members and with other developing countries; to advocate for a more legitimate and representative international system, including reforming the UN Security Council; to strengthen people-to-people exchanges and cultural, educational, and sports cooperation; to act as a bridge and voice for the interests of the Global South, and finally to use the economic strengths of each member to build relations and avoid competition. However, these original objectives have undergone massive changes with the sharp rise of China since 2012 with the beginning of the Xi Jinping regime in Beijing. Additionally, what has tremendously affected the intergovernmental relationship between India and China is the ongoing border clashes on the Line of Actual Control and over the McMahon Line, covering more than 3,488 km and dividing into three sectors: Eastern, Western, and Middle Sectors. Apart from China’s much-talked-about and controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the String of Pearl Strategy, and finally, the Wolf Warrior Diplomacy tactics are fast becoming potential threats to its neighbour India. Under Xi, China has revived its imperialistic agenda and is reclaiming its global status by using money, muscle power, and diplomacy.
Furthermore, within the BRICS, the current concern is the Russia-Ukraine war continuing since February 2021. Putin’s aggressive agenda and blatant violation of international norms, including the UN Charter, while forcefully occupying the eastern flanks of Ukraine, are making geopolitical equations worse every single day. In fact, Putin could not travel to a BRICS member nation, ie, South Africa, this time for the latest summit, fearing his arrest as the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already issued an arrest warrant against him. South Africa is an ICC member and would be compelled to arrest Putin if he enters its territory. Therefore, the spymaster has avoided attending the latest BRICS summit and has deputed his Foreign Minister and confidant Sergey Lavrov instead. On March 17, 2023, after conducting an investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights. The ICC indictment alleges that both are responsible for war crimes involving the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow has denied the allegations and labelled the charges as completely outrageous. The biggest irony is that the ICC has no power to arrest such suspects and can exercise its jurisdiction only within its member nations. The Russian Federation is not a member of the ICC at present. Besides, Putin’s war game in Ukraine and NATO’s constant supply of lethal weapons to the latter are creating an environment of almost a Third World War in Europe, putting the whole world at risk of another catastrophe immediately after the harrowing COVID-19.
Furthermore, Brazil and South Africa, two other members of the BRICS community, are undergoing significant economic and political upheavals recently. Especially the chaos brought by Jair Bolsonaro, the outgoing President, and currently, Lula’s populist political agenda may once again herald disaster for Brazil. With all these in mind, the future of BRICS and its new members will face turbulent times in the days to come.
For Delhi, it would be challenging to balance its growing relationship with the US and the West while spearheading a forum where China is the most dominant power. Beijing’s agenda for de-dollarisation and creating an economic spectacle for dethroning the Bretton-Woods institutions would not augur well for the rest of the BRICS community, including the newly inducted ones. The reason is that BRICS is a relatively new platform, while the US-led global liberal order is an old and experienced system, so to say. Indeed, the US and the West-led institutions have already witnessed multipronged crises and have learned the art of survival. So only with the assurance of China, the largest economic giant in the world, a dwindling Russia under Putin, and a fast-emerging global power like India under strongman Narendra Modi, bracing for its own identity, power, and influence with a strong tilt towards the US, could possibly create a serious push-and-pull game within BRICS in the coming days. And the game has already begun; India displayed its power and branding at the Johannesburg summit with the announcement of its rare space science marvel, successfully landing the Chandrayaan-3 mission at the South Pole of the Moon. Frankly speaking, Prime Minister Modi is a highly ambitious statesman who has already committed his country to a five-trillion-dollar economy and developed country status in the coming days. Equally ambitious is Xi, who is already on the road to acquiring the status of China’s lifetime president and ruling until his death, similar to the country’s founder Mao Zedong. Remember, these two leaders are running the two most populous countries in the world, and they are neighbours intensely competing for global power and position. Therefore, BRICS is setting a new power game that will be sharper and tougher in the years to come.
It’s time for India to take sides instead of playing double roles, as many strategic experts suggest. However, it is a challenging game to be on one side of the spectrum, as the world has become increasingly interdependent today, unlike the pre-Cold War days.
This summit is historically significant in the sense that it has paved the way for the expansion of the group from mere five to eleven now. The new members joining the grouping are Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In fact, it is the second expansion of the organization after a gap of 13 years, when South Africa was welcomed in 2010. The addition of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is of great significance as they are oil-rich nations of the world. With the entry of Argentina, another member from the South American region has come, following Brazil. Now, the two big nations and powers from South America can well represent the priorities for the rest of the Latin American countries. All these new members will formally join the forum by January 1, 2024.
Despite all the intricacies of the global governance system and within BRICS itself, the latter is certainly redefining a new system for emerging economies and developing nations, especially for the Global South.
Finally, the BRICS turning the tide against the US will once again divide the world at a time when many developing nations are either confused or have not been able to decide which side to take. The BRICS has already been branded as an anti-Western global platform. The smearing of BRICS as an anti-American group needs to be minimized in the global media.
On the other hand, the advocates of the longstanding global liberal order must understand that their system is declining, and people are rapidly losing trust in it. Hence, an Asian order spearheaded by China could be an alternative framework for many, but it has its limitations due to its neglect of universal human rights and purely authoritarian style. It is time to reinvent a new global order wherein multipolar identities and interests are accommodated. Possibly, BRICS could be an alternative system that can guide the world into a new order, despite the serious problems and growth prospects within the organization’s members. Let’s wait and watch how BRICS takes the world forward.
(The writer is currently president of the Global Research Foundation)