BRICS @ 15: from an economic forum to a strategic plurilateral forum
Criticism of the BRICS is logical and natural but can be unfair without careful consideration of its evolution and contribution
The BRICS Leaders’ Summit, hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 9, 2021, marked the 15e year since the BRIC first met in St. Petersburg, Russia, on the sidelines of the G8 Outreach Summit in July 2006 (South Africa became a full member in 2010). This year India has hosted nearly 150 meetings under his chairmanship, including more than 20 at ministerial level, with another 50 expected to be held by the end of the year. The results are published in 40 reports and press releases accompanying the New Delhi final declaration.
The summit calls for reflection among academics and experts on whether the BRICS still count as a plurilateral forum in world affairs.
Each year, the summit invokes a reflection among academics and experts, on whether the BRICS still count as a plurilateral forum in world affairs. Those who question its relevance generally cite three reasons for the failure of the grouping. First, that it was an artificially and unnatural group to begin with due to the difference in national political and economic systems, and that the forum was a very successful marketing initiative by Goldman Sachs that wanted to attract investors, and not shaping geopolitics or geoeconomics. Second, that China is a misfit, an outlier, due to its economic size and aggressive geopolitical ambitions. The BRICS no longer reflect the multipolarity they were born with, but are instead overshadowed by the rise of China and its dream of a G2 world. For the Indians, the intrusion of Chinese troops into the northern border only underscored this reality. Third, that the forum has nothing to show for all the hundreds of meetings it has held over the years. In particular, the reform of the Bretton Woods system – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank or even the World Trade Organization (WTO) – that the BRICS have promised to implement are still pending. The tireless reminders of officials that it is the only plurilateral grouping in the world to have its own bank could not change this perception.
Criticism of the BRICS is logical and natural but can be unfair without careful consideration of its development and contribution. For example, the âJoint Declaration on Strengthening and Reforming the Multilateral Systemâ issued by the five foreign ministers on June 1, 2021 is a foundational communiquÃ© documenting views and âguiding principlesâ on how the system multilateral should be reformed. The ministers shamelessly called on the system to “adapt to the realities of today’s world”, in effect challenging the mandate and direction of multilateral institutions to focus on the problems of today instead of ” be guided by the geopolitical and geoeconomic challenges that shaped institutions after WWII. This builds on Prime Minister Modi’s remarks at the Raisina Dialogue earlier this year, when he suggested that post-war institutions were designed only with the aim of “preventing a third world war” , which may have reduced the risk of large-scale wars. , but institutions have failed to address the underlying issues facing humanity, such as climate change, pandemics, and proxy wars.
A BRICS Counterterrorism Task Force was launched and the BRICS Counterterrorism Strategy was adopted last year under the Russian Presidency, which includes, among other things, collaboration on intelligence, pursuit of the Convention Global on International Terrorism (a priority for India), Terrorist Financing Mitigation and more.
By now it should be clear that the BRICS want to reform, not reject, existing multilateral institutions. The centrality of the UN was reaffirmed, once again, by the ministers in the press release. They called for better representation and accountability of developing countries across all organs of the United Nations system, including the United Nations Security Council (a priority and popular issue for India) but also the General Assembly. the United Nations and the Economic and Social Council – all of which seem to stand still and unable to solve global problems. Developments in Afghanistan have best demonstrated the powerlessness of the United Nations system. South African President Ramaphosa specifically called for a seat for Africa at the UNSC during his address at the BRICS summit this year.
Certainly, the BRICS would have benefited from such a common vision of multilateralism from the first days of their formation. At the time, the five countries could not even agree to nominate a common IMF candidate in 2011. Pressure the West to launch IMF quota reforms and the launch of the Financial Stability Board. , which originally only had one seat for non-G7 countries, was it. that could lead the West to accept.
But last week’s expansion of members of the New Development Bank (NDB) including the UAE, Bangladesh and Uruguay should be welcomed, other than that the NDB has nearly 80 projects worth US $ 30 billion underway on sustainable development projects. Consensus is also gradually building on the ongoing textual negotiations on the proposed intellectual property rights (IPR) waiver that India and South Africa are seeking with 60 other countries at the WTO to allow mass production. vaccines. This shows that the BRICS are still trying to create an âalternative global financial architectureâ that we all once hoped for.
What has gone unnoticed is the transformation of the BRICS from an economic forum to a strategic plurilateral. At the summit, Russian President Putin explicitly called on the BRICS to focus on Afghanistan. The formal dialogue on international security began with the meeting of the BRICS National Security Advisers (NSA) in 2016 (under Indian presidency at the time), and has gradually evolved into an important track. Over the years, a BRICS Counterterrorism Task Force has been launched and BRICS counterterrorism strategy adopted last year under Russian presidency which includes, among others, intelligence collaboration, pursuit of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (a priority for India), mitigation of terrorist financing and more. The security agenda has become critical, even for Brazil and South Africa. Brazil introduced a anti-terrorism law in 2016 And one anti-terrorist financing law in 2019.
There are initiatives on cross-listing derivatives on exchanges, developing a rating agency, developing a framework for e-commerce and trade in services, researching blockchains, developing a network of science parks, and even the interconnection of libraries and museums. on which there were deep and meaningful dialogues but which did not result in exploitable agreements.
Of course, India’s bilateral relations with China will need to be at the center of such a conversation. This year, senior BRICS national security officials met in August 2021 approve the BRICS counterterrorism action plan. The meeting was chaired by Ajit Doval, the Indian NSA and saw the participation of Yang Jeichi, the top Chinese party official responsible for foreign affairs, who led talks with the United States in Alaska, and General Nikolai Patrushev , Secretary of the Security Council, who was recently in Delhi to discuss developments in Afghanistan. Details of the action plan have yet to be released, but it is clear that the BRICS is gradually developing as a forum for discussing geopolitical affairs.
Of course, simple statements and action plans are insufficient for those seeking measurable results. Perhaps some of the ideas proposed at the beginning were too ambitious, certainly complex, or even impractical. The BRICS has launched nearly 100 initiatives since its inception, including memoranda, roadmaps, action plans and forums. There are initiatives on cross-listing derivatives on exchanges, developing a rating agency, developing a framework for e-commerce and trade in services, researching blockchains, developing a network of science parks, and even the interconnection of libraries and museums. on which there were deep and meaningful dialogues but which did not result in exploitable agreements. Other deliverables this year include agreements on agricultural research, innovation, energy cooperation, remote sensing and customs, many of which are genuine attempts to find common ground on non-controversial issues. Obviously, there is a need to consolidate and streamline the agenda if the BRICS are to be more effective as a forum. It will be worth observing what change the new terms of reference adopted by the BRICS Sherpas this year will bring for future intra-BRICS cooperation.
A BRICS Platform on Digital Public Goods, being discussed as a repository for open source technologies created by BRICS members that can help developing countries achieve the SDGs, is a new idea.
During the dialogues at the BRICS Academic Forum, the official Track II of the BRICS Forum, experts converged on a few ideas worth exploring. For example, the BRICS countries seem to collectively do better than their G20 and OECD counterparts on many green indicators, a feat that goes unrecognized in the global climate discourse. Likewise, it was suggested to focus on ‘sustainable consumption’, which is generally ignored as a key SDG to tackle climate change, on which the BRICS countries are doing better due to our modes of operation. moderate life. Another suggestion was to explore how the BRICS nations are likely to be affected by changes in global supply chains, particularly the changes brought about by Western multinationals on which all nations depend individually, even more so than any of the others.
Meanwhile, this year, by making cooperation in technology and digitization to achieve the SDGs a priority, India seems to have found its calling. It should even become a priority on India’s agenda in 2023 when she chairs the G20. The Indian government is keen to share its experience with digital public goods such as CoWin (a COVID-19 vaccine registration app) and Aadhaar (single identity) with the developing and developed world as a model to emulate, despite the start-up problems that were considered preventable irritants. A BRICS Platform on Digital Public Goods, being discussed as a repository for open source technologies created by BRICS members that can help developing countries achieve the SDGs, is a new idea.
BRICS @ 15 is distinctly different from its early years. It is more mature with its processes, less exuberant about impractical collaborations, and cautiously optimistic about itself as a platform for shaping global governance. This makes it a relevant player in world affairs as most other multilateral forums become increasingly dysfunctional.