The semester’s most popular articles: “2040: US military supremacy vs Chinese economic leadership” and more
This raises the interesting question about whether the United States could in fact maintain its global military supremacy long after China turns into the world's largest economy. In 2040, for example, China's economy could be - assuming continued high growth - almost twice as large as that of the United States. India - by then the world's most populous country - could begin to challenge the United States position as the world's second largest economy. According to Hans Rosling, India's economy will be much larger than the US economy by 2047 already.
A similar debate is taking place in Brazil, another emerging power that seeks to play a greater role on the international stage. Just like in India, foreign policy makers at Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, grapple with convincing civil society that Brazil should turn into a global actor strongly involved in many issues around the world. Yet quite to the contrary, foreign policy plays only a marginal role in Brazil's bustling public debate. Itamaraty's greatest projects are often greeted with a mixture of neglect and rejection by both the media and public opinion.
Academics in Brazil who support the BRICS concept are often accused of being 'pro-government' - a charge not to be taken lightly in a profession that is supposed to speak truth to power - in South Africa, India and China, on the other hand, speaking favorably of the idea is quite commonplace. The skepticism the BRICS idea is confronted with is particularly perplexing because Brazil is - along with Russia - probably the country that has most benefited from the grouping.
The article makes the reader wonder whether the West has succeeded in transforming today's emerging powers into 'useful idiots', who are so proud that they are part of the G20 that they no longer defend developing countries' interests. Seen from this perspective, the rise of the BRICS may have been a positive development for the West, now that the poor have lost powerful defendants in Brasília and Delhi, who are increasingly defending big-power interests. At the same time, emerging powers should not complain: It is natural that the West will do everything hold on to its power.
In a series of rather dramatic showdowns between several Western powers and the BRICS in the UNSC in October 2011 and February 2012, the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice professed to be "disgusted" by Russia's and China's decision to veto a draft resolution that condemned the Syrian crackdown on protesters. In a more diplomatic moment, she commented on Brazil's, India's and South Africa's behavior in the UNSC by saying that she had "learned a lot and, frankly, not all of it was encouraging.” Along with her, analysts across the world criticized emerging powers for their lack of support for the resolutions against Syria.
The eThekwini Action Plan is quite similar to last year's Delhi Action plan (which was largely fulfilled) - listing an impressive number of ministerial meetings during most of 2013. Most notable, perhaps, is the possible creation of a "virtual Secretariat" under the section "New areas of cooperation to be explored" - policy analysts and academics from all BRICS countries should now use the coming year to develop the suggestions made in the last part of the declaration further and enrich the debate with proposals - for example about what a virtual BRICS Secretariat should do.
Will emerging powers' projects such as the BRICS Development undermine existing institutions and the principles that sustain them? BRICS policy makers go out of their way to point out that the BRICS Development Bank will "complement" existing institutions - yet why then, skeptics will ask, do they not hand over the money to the World Bank, the IMF or other institutions that are already in place? Why go through the hassle of creating a new institution?
The South African government will do whatever it can to present itself as a country capable of representing not only its own national interests, but also those of the entire continent. As Jim O'Neill recently argued, "South Africa could more than justify its presence if it helped Africa to fulfill its remarkable potential." Yet at the same time, South African policy makers surely worry that if other nations such as Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya reach South African GDP per capita levels, South Africa will no longer be able to claim a leadership position on the continent.
Far more interesting is the emergence of a BRICS consensus that may be a game changer in developmental finance across Africa, and with it in the entire developing world. Just like Brazil's and China's development banks have been instrumental in each country's commercial policy, the BRICS Development Bank may influence development not only in India and South Africa, but in several other African countries as well - provided that the BRICS Bank will engage outside of the BRICS.
China's role in Africa is now widely scrutinized (the best book on the matter is probably Brautigam's Gift of the Dragon). India's presence in Africa is still a fringe topic, but a growing group of analysts have begun to study India's presence systematically (Mawdsley's and McCann's India in Africa is highly recommendable). Brazil's presence on the African continent is now becoming the object of a growing number of observers across the world. In 2012, The Economist reported on the emergence of a "new Atlantic alliance" and wondered whether Brazil was turning into the new China in Africa.
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Picture credit: IG Markets