Laying the BRICS for a Multi-polar Future

When the world was still moving cautiously ahead into the new millennium, economist Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, predicted the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which would dominate the coming years. What started off then as a nomenclature rose to become BRIC, an organization that later included South Africa (2010) to become BRICS, a group of countries which have become political and economic outperformers.

Over the last two days, Goa hosted the 8th BRICS Summit which provided the perfect opportunity for India to assert its position and leadership at the global level. On this backdrop, let’s take a look at what BRICS stands for and what India aims to achieve from it strategically.

The Foundational Idea:

Saran and Rej point out, that the legacy of BRICS comes not just from the onset of millennia or the paper from Goldman Sachs, but the seeds for BRICS were laid at the rise of Pax Americana and Bretton Woods, the rise of EU and the gradual rise of Global South as a power to reckon with, along with a resurgent Russia and a weakening West.

BRICS countries are home to 43% of the world’s population, 37% of the world GDP, $4 trillion in combined foreign resources and 17% share in the world trade. Not only is this massive in terms of numbers, but it includes the powerful Russia-India-China (RIC) troika and Brazil and South Africa which make it a truly global grouping. These nations may not be similar in their political and economical structures yet they have united under a similar goal, which is enhancing a new world order which can offset the Western hegemony, right from the UN to IMF.

Annual BRICS Summit, Goa, 2016:

This year, the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan had overshadowed the BRICS summit. Yet by inviting the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations instead of SAARC, India has made it amply clear that its alignments is shifting pragmatically from “Neighbours’ First” to “Acting East”.

The theme ‘Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions’ (BRICS) mirrors the G 20 Summit  which focused on creation of an “innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive” world. The BRICS Summit in Goa on 15th and 16th October, 2016 consolidated this by adopting a five pronged approach of ‘IIIIC or I4C’.

The I4C approach is:

  1. institution building to further deepen and sustain BRICS cooperation,
  2. implementation of the decisions of previous Summits including PM’s announcements at the Fortaleza and Ufa Summits,
  3. integrating synergies among the existing cooperation mechanisms,
  4. innovation, i.e. new cooperation mechanisms and
  5. continuity, i.e. continuation of mutually agreed existing BRICS cooperation mechanisms

Therefore, the overarching agenda and discussion includes multiple areas such as:

 

    • Governance (political South-South cooperation, developing dispute mechanisms, smart cities, urban management, etc),
    • Economy (E-commerce, tackle marginality and poverty, improve infrastructure, promote SMEs, improve employability, strengthening New Development Bank),
    • Combating transnational crime (preventing extremism, enhancing security and combating terrorism, narcotics, piracy and cyber crime),
    • Science and technology (IPRs, improving transport, communication, health, agriculture),
  • Academic dialogue, Digital Connect and corporate cooperation,
  • Environment (green economy and climate change), protecting global commons, achieving the SDGs, and development of cleaner and alternative energy.

While these seem as rather holistic areas, the geopolitical and geo-economic realities of the 21st century are something which cannot be encapsulated only in these tenets.

At present, BRICS is caught amidst the two conflicting sets of globalization, one is the Western model (neo-liberal) and the other is the Southern model (promoting a sustainable development for all). In this dynamic environment, BRICS aspires to work under the keystone principles of ‘sovereign preponderance’ and ‘democratic equity’ to achieve a more balanced world order. Keeping an eye on the future, these nations have been striving to maintain an active role, in eco-political sphere, especially at the time post economic crisis.

The cooperation of the countries in this group, touted as “influential voice in international discourse” by PM Modi, should be a long term foreign policy investment. The aim is not to not counter the West, but to work with it. China, which has been vociferously promoting its One Road One Belt and Maritime Silk Routes, the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) and seemingly other counter Indian policies in terms of its alliance with Pakistan, could also be balanced by India by playing a well charted role in the BRICS. Brazil’s instability has also led to apprehensions among some members, so has the neutrality of South Africa, yet BRICS may not prove so fragile.

The convergence of shared ideals and values can and has kept the BRICS together and if successful, will lay the foundation of an equitable, democratic, multi-polar world, which involves and empower the marginal, the women and the children. ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ will be a reality by reducing the structural imbalances which hamper these economies. Nevertheless, the future development of BRICS needs to be on based on trust and credibility among its members and rest of the world, which will be the clarion call for liberal internationalism.

In the next article in this series, we will take a look at the challenges ahead of BRICS and the role India needs to play.

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Pooja Ranade is an Assistant Professor of English. She also holds M.A. in Political Science and Diplomas in National Security and International Relations, and French and Spanish Languages, Pune.