As the BRICS Summit closes in on the second decade of its existence, the way forward will be determined by its ability to tackle the principal challenge of retaining internal solidarity and balancing its expansion and impact on the contemporary world.
Considered among the world’s most important and influential multilateral groupings, some like to call it a club of emerging economies, of which three belong to Asia/Eurasia (China, India, and Russia), one each from Africa (South Africa) and Latin America (Brazil).
Some would like to call it a counterweight to G-7 or the grouping of the developed nations. Whether that is true or not is a different matter.
The undeniable truth is that once we have accepted multilateralism, setting the new political and economic paradigms of world order, the appearance of new groupings with new aspirations cannot be blocked.
Consider that China has become the world’s second-largest economy, and India, being the fifth, is bidding to be the world’s third-largest economy soon. The BRICS and G7 are the key pillars of G-20, the premier international economic forum presently headed by India up to September 2023.
A nations grouping called BRICS represents 27% of the world’s land area, 42% of the population, 16% of international trade, 27% of global GDP, and 32.5% in PPP terms.
With this potentiality in place, it would be worthwhile to have a bird’s eye view of some achievements of the BRICS from 2006 to July 2023 and also the serious challenge thrown up first by the Covid-19 pandemic and then by the Ukrainian conflict at a time when more countries want to be its members.
Will the BRICS obtain its optimal potential during its second decade? This is the first question that the observers will ask. The founder of the BRICS concept in 2001 predicted that the four fast-growing economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) “would collectively dominate the world economy by 2050.
“Brazil, Russia, India, and China foreign ministers met in 2006 in New York on the sidelines of UNGA and announced the formation of the group, 2009 when the first BRICS summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and in April 2011 when South Africa joined the group which got the name of BRICS.
The most serious challenge before the BRICS today is retaining its cohesion and influence in the world in the background of overreaching US-China strategic contestation and the impact of other developments like climate change or food and energy crises.
The BRICS foreign ministers foresaw the need for greater multipolarity as early as 2006. The first BRICS summit in 2009 called for “a more democratic and just multi-polar world order” and advocated “peaceful resolution of disputes in international relations.” It also stressed the central role of G 20 summits in dealing with the financial crisis.
John Kirton, Director of the BRICS Research Group at the University of Toronto, noted, “The summit communiques have grown in length from just under 2,000 words in 2009 to a peak of 22,000 in 2014, then declined to 8,400 in 2018. In all, BRICS leaders made 844 commitments about international cooperation, development, regional security, trade, digital economy and other issues.
On A Negative Note
The decade from 2006 to 2016 has a relatively decent record of BRICS’ achievements. Its projects strengthened multipolarity by serving as a bridge between the Global North and the Global South and helped improve emerging economies’ quotas in the IMF and World Bank.
It created the New Development Bank (NDB) and Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA). Some more steps were also taken in a desirable direction.
But BRICS has brought disappointment to its supporters on several other counts. Russia and China have often stubbornly held on to the minority view as against the majority (Brazil, South Africa, and India) views, especially on the theme of reform of the UN Security Council.
The minority group failed to support the case for permanent membership of the IBSA nations and refused to move beyond a frozen formulation. Some analysts in and outside India whisper that New Delhi is unhappy with the policy of BRICS about not succeeding in building a consensus on India’s permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
India, South Africa, and Brazil are linked through a common allegiance to the IBSA Dialogue Forum. These are three leading democracies belonging to the Global South and have more in common among them than in authoritarian governance systems.
The five members of the BRICS must improve their internal dynamics and consolidate their inner cohesion.
The reality is that an apparent asymmetry is markedly discernible in the relations among the members. China’s contribution to the world GDP is bigger than the GDP of the four combined. China aspires to become the world’s number one power. China-India relations remain seriously strained.
Even in the 15th summit, the Indian prime minister told the Chinese president that it is paramount that the border issue between the two states is resolved peacefully. The fallout of their strained relations is that India is pressured to reorient her foreign policy and show more friendliness towards the US and France.
Ukraine war has made Russia depend more on China; thus, the subgroup in BRICS would like to hold it.
The 94-point Declaration is devoted mostly to economic issues and cooperation, while Ukraine is mentioned only once. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE will become full members as of January 1, 2024.
The next summit in Kazan in 2024 will have the likely partner countries drawn up by BRICS foreign ministers. Commitment to strengthening macroeconomic coordination and deepening economic cooperation are reaffirmed. Food security is an inclusive agenda to the effort. BRICS countries account for a third of the world’s food production.
The declaration advocates using national currencies in trade and financial transactions between the countries. The association is against trade barriers imposed by several developed countries under the pretext of combating climate change.
Considering the UN as the cornerstone of the international relations system, the Declaration reaffirms its commitment to multilateralism. At the same time, BRICS supports reforming the UN, including the Security Council, supporting wider representation of the developing countries. WTO and IMF should also be included in reforms.
The Declaration appreciates mediation proposals aimed at ending the Ukrainian crisis as well as other crises like in Syria and Iran.
Finally, it has called for the early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the UN Members as well as the launching of negotiations on an international convention on the prevention of acts of chemical and biological terrorism on the platform of the Conference on Disarmament.
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former Director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views expressed here are of the author’s.
- Mail EurAsian Times at etdesk(at)eurasiantimes.com