BRICS Group Is A Work In Progress, Needs More Focus

From left to right, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, China's President Xi Jinping, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro pose for a photo at the BRICS emerging economies at the Itamaraty palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

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Geo-Economic Rise Of Group Is Not Yet Reflected In Geopolitics; Thrust On Development, Terrorism

By Raj Kumar Sharma@

The 11th BRICS Summit in Brazil was held on the theme ‘BRICS: Economic Growth for an Innovative Future’ and recently concluded with customary calls to strengthen multilateralism, reform of global institutions like the UN Security Council, World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In its initial years, BRICS mainly had an economic agenda but gradually, the scope has widened to include security, health, science and technology, culture and civil society. Under the chairmanship of Brazil, more than hundred meetings were held in 2019 related to BRICS.

From Indian perspective, two major developments happened at the summit. One, the grouping decided to open regional office of New Development Bank in India. This would give impetus to financing of projects in India’s priority areas.

Second, terrorism was one of the priority areas for BRICS 2019, set by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. In July 2019, a seminar was held in Brazil on the theme ‘BRICS Strategies for Countering-Terrorism’. The BRICS joint working group on counter-terrorism decided to constitute five sub working groups – terrorist financing, use of Internet for terrorist purposes, countering radicalization, issue of foreign terrorist fighters and capacity-building.

It is important to mention that in 2012, India, as the chair of BRICS, introduced security in BRICS agenda as the theme of New Delhi Summit was ‘BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity’. India made a good use of this year’s BRICS platform and PM Modi highlighted the fact that the world losses USD 1 trillion due to terrorism each year.

India has been facing state sponsored cross-border terrorism from Pakistan since decades now but in BRICS, China has been shielding Pakistan and has been uneasy discussing issue of terrorism on this platform. However, gradually, the issue of terrorism is gaining salience in BRICS agenda and India should continue to work with other BRICS countries to reach an understanding with China on the issue of cross-border terrorism.

China’s President Xi Jinping, left, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, second from left, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, center, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, second from right, and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa leave after a meeting with members of the Business Council and management of the New Development Bank during the BRICS emerging economies at the Itamaraty palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

BRICS has completed a decade and it was the economic rise of BRICS countries particularly that of China and India which made the world take notice of this grouping. As argued by BRICS members, their geo-economic rise is not reflected in geopolitics, as global governance is still dominated by the West.

Hence, BRICS countries favour reform of the UN Security Council and Bretton Wood institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund) to reflect the true potential of emerging markets and developing countries. These institutions have become outdated and need to focus on inclusive approach. Their reform process has been too slow, a sign of reluctance on the part of developed countries to give equal space to rising economies. Hence, BRICS has established its own bank, New Development Bank (NDB) with initial authorized capital of $100 billion.

As per the 2017-2019 operational strategy of NDB, development of sustainable infrastructure is central to its philosophy. BRICS has also established BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), to respond to any short term balance of payment crisis among the member economies. Unlike the World Bank and IMF, the NDB does not attach strings to financial assistance given by it to needy countries. All the members have equal share and there is no provision of veto power.

The bank is not averse to working with other international organizations which shows that it is not trying to rival the likes of the World Bank or IMF but intends to work with them. All it wants is to reshape the norms on which global financial governance is based. It is an alternate to Atlantic system of global financial architecture.

In the political arena, although BRICS supports reform of the United Nations Security Council, the internal divisions and rivalries in the grouping make it difficult to achieve this aim. Russia has been reluctant for UNSC reform, although it supports India’s candidature in the reformed council. China has not endorsed India’s candidature for a potential seat in UNSC as Beijing sees India as a rival along with Japan. 

India-China rivalry would persist till the two Asian giants solve their border dispute which can turn into a conflict and the Doklam standoff in 2017 is a very recent example of their strategic mistrust. The divisions in BRICS are further evident on security issues. When India hosted the 8th BRICS summit in 2016, there was a push from New Delhi to bring the issue of terrorism on the table. Prime Minister Modi, without naming Pakistan said that mother-ship of terrorism is a country in India’s neighbourhood. China tried to shield Pakistan by saying that political dialogue is required to address the root causes of such problems.

BRICS, with all its economic potential and internal divisions, remains a work in progress. The global order is in flux as Western liberal free-market ideas are now being challenged by sentiments of nationalism and protectionism.

In such uncertain times, a vacuum could develop in the global order where BRICS would become important. New ideas that talk of equality and just global order need a new lease of life. In the new global order, ideas from the South should find a reasonable place and BRICS would serve that purpose. Lack of legitimacy has been a shortcoming of global institutions and by incorporating various alternate voices; there is a chance to make it truly representative and legitimate.

@Raj Kumar Sharma, Ph.D is a Delhi-based expert on India’s foreign and security policy