Beyond the Acronym
More than a decade after the acronym BRIC was coined, the concept is appearing to take shape of an idea with Brazil, Russia, India, China and
South Africa (latest BRICS entrant), constituting the five pillars of the idea.
Together, the plan is to usher in a new narrative and to challenge years of
‘western hegemony’ to dominate political and economic discourses. Can
BRICS shape a new world order? BY SANJAY KUMAR
The hope for BRICS arises from the sheer economic size of the five countries. “Together, BRICS account for more than 40 per cent of the global population,
nearly 30 per cent of its landmass and a share in world GDP that increased from 16 per cent in 2000 to nearly 25 per cent in 2010. It is expected to rise significantly in the near future,” reads The BRICS Report, published recently. Naturally, there was significant expectation surrounding the BRICS Summit which was held in New Delhi recently. BRICS proponents hailed the “Delhi Declaration” issued after the meet as the manifesto of “most comprehensive criticism of the failures of the West that has been voiced by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War”. They say it has come out with an alternative world view and offers stinging criticism of the established world order, and its institutions. They argue that it offers an outline of an alternative blueprint for the new emerging world. The Delhi Declaration calls for an end to violence in Syria. It calls for dialogues to bring normality. Similarly, the group suggests resorting to political and diplomatic means to resolve the issues in Iran rather than war, as some “western” countries and allies are calling for. The meeting also agreed to examine the feasibility and viability of setting up a new “Development Bank” for mobilising resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries. The nascent organisation also expressed its commitment to support Afghanistan in eradicating terrorism and extremism, and underscored the need for more effective regional and international co-operation for the stabilisation of the country. However such overt united intent to address the world issues, hides latent contradictions within the
BRICS group. According to critics, these “subaltern nations” do not have the cohesion or a united world view to represent a new order. They also point out to
how the economic and geo-political interests of the bull in the BRICS shop (China) will come in the way of BRICS emerging as a cohesive and united international front. The argument states that China is not enthusiastic enough on an alternative international order. Rather it is keen to perpetuate the status quo in the institutions, so that it gets to deny India’s entry into the United Nations as a permanent member. Opinions surrounding democracy also divides the group. There are fingers being pointed at China and Russia’s notion of democracy. How can BRICS reconcile with such an in-built contradiction? Critics also pointed out to the political differences and disputes between New Delhi and Beijing as a stumbling block. These inherent contradictions and lack of trust has proved to be
an impediment in the way of the “BRICS Bank”; an idea that was first proposed in
the Yekaterinberg Summit held in Russia in 2009. The summit also lead to the criticism that Russia was hoping to promote Renminbi— its currency—at the international level through BRICS. To know both sides of the argument, DW spoke to two leading voices—Oliver Stuenkel, Professor, International Relations Coordinator, School of History and Social Sciences of FGV at São Paulo. And Dr Harsh V. Pant, Reader in International Relations, Department of Defence Studies,
Kings College London.
OLIVER STUENKEL// The recent BRICS Summit in New Delhi, India, has shown
that BRICS nations are committed to building stronger ties, principally in the economic sectors. However, the consensus is not only at an economic level. The nations have also found common denominators on political issues. I would rate this year’s summit as a positive one which covered a gamut of issues. I believe co-operation and consultation between the BRICS members is taking place at a broader level now. Do not make any mistake. The “Delhi Declaration” is not a “manifesto of dissent” against the West. The BRICS nations do not seek to undermine the nature of the western world order. After all, they have been the greatest beneficiaries of it. Rather, the declaration shows that global structures
need to be modified to reflect the shift of power. And that the BRICS nations symbolise this shift of power away from the United States and Europe towards the “developing nations”. In this sense, they pose a challenge to some nations. Internally, BRICS nations continue to differ on several issues themselves, which
need to be resolved so that the world does not move from one version of hegemonyto a BRICS’ version of it. Rather, we should be moving towards a multi-polar world in which several powerful actors—both western and non-western—work out strategies together to deal with the most pressing
challenges such as climate change and financial volatility. I am aware that critics have been referring to BRICS as “an artificial bloc built on a catchphrase”. However, two things need to be considered before we examine the context. It is true that the BRICS nations differ on a handful of issues. It will be a great challenge for them to find a middle-ground together. This has partly to do with the fact that while India, Brazil and South Africa seek to obtain more decision-making power in today’s institutions, China and Russia are relatively established. This becomes obvious while looking at the debate surrounding the UN Security Council reforms: China continues to oppose India’s inclusion. This shows that China’s national interest continues to matter more than the collective whole. Another problem lies in the composition of BRICS—despite being a group of rising economies, it remains contradictary. There is a deep-seated dissent among member countries India and China. Though the tension is an obstacle, but that is the very reason why the nations need to have more discussions. It is only through strengthening trade ties, co-operating over political issues and conducting multi-level interactions that we can reduce the risk of conflict. While seeking to find common positions on security matters, China and India are in constant
conflict. The two are yet to solve the border conflict. India’s political and economical ambitions pose difficulties for China’s regional ambitions. The two countries have to find ways to improve relations. But instead of taking it as a reason for BRICS not to exist, I see it as a vindication of why it should. I see the emergence of the BRICS to be relevant to the present global order. The rise of BRICS will impact the future of global order. The member nations' attempts to find a common voice is also an attempt to turn into a global agenda-setter. The BRICS no longer seek to merely participate in debates, they seek to define the topics. China is by far the most important country within the member nations. I take hope in the fact that in the recently-held New Delhi Summit, China showed its inclination to engage the members, particularly India. Rather than dominating, China seems to be getting comfortable being seen as a part of a group of emerging powers. The BRICS Bank project is still in its infancy. Several details need resolution. There is clearly a trend towards stronger economic and financial co-operation between the BRICS countries. For example, China will begin to provide Yuan denominated loans to member countries. The BRICS Stock Exchange will be created. A BRICS Bank would be an important step towards institutionalising ties. Given the compositions of the group, it is not a surprise that the member nations within the BRICS do not agree on several important issues; but there are disagreements between NATO nations or when the G7 Summits are carried on. Germany abstained from the Libya Resolution, while several other nations supported it. Even EU member-countries are often unable to reach a consensus. That does not make such groups self-defeating. Why should we
attach too much negativity to the internal divisions within the BRICS over geopolitical questions. It does not reduce the group's potential.
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