Is there potential for a BRICS security architecture?


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On January 10, National Security Advisors (NSAs) of the BRICS held their own first-ever stand-alone summit in New Delhi. In the aftermath of the meeting, the media in China and India was full of excited reports of an emerging "BRICS security architecture", promising that the 5th BRICS Summit in Durban (South Africa) in March would formalize first steps in this field. Is there really significant potential for cooperation among the BRICS in the security realm?

Since their first official meeting in 2009, the BRICS Summits have made significant progress. In addition to yearly meetings by heads of government, BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and many others, including business leaders and policy analysts, have began meeting on a regular basis, thus lifting ties between the five countries to unprecedented levels.

As Rajeev Sharma argues in a recent article, "it was only a matter of time that (...) national security issues should also come on to the agenda and become an important element." And indeed, national security advisors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa certainly had many interesting debates during the recent meeting - ranging from topics like terrorism, cyber security and piracy, as well as about current conflicts in Syria, Libya and Mali. While Russia and India are both experienced in combating terrorism, Brazil is beginning to focus on the issue as it is set to host two mega events in 2014 and 2016. Thus, particularly Brazil is likely to have benefited from the conversation.

Yet expectations that the BRICS will be able to articulate an actual security architecture over the coming years are premature and unrealistic. Quite to the contrary, overly positive and optimistic announcements by policy makers regarding cooperation on security matters prior to the next summit will help critics argue after the 5th Summit in South Africa that the BRICS are too different from each other to agree on anything.

While meetings between National Security Advisors should be welcomed, continued and even intensified, and while there may be space for security cooperation, these issues should not be a priority at the 5th Summit in Durban. Far more importantly, BRICS policy makers should focus on a more tangible goal that is now generally seen as a litmus test of whether the BRICS are able to institutionalize or not: the creation of the BRICS Development Bank.

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