Opinion: BRICS, one step towards a new world order

The new global players are clearly unhappy with the management of the global system

The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be taking part in his first BRICS summit meeting. BRICS has been a frequently occurring acronym in our discourse in the recent years. But not many seem to have grasped the reality of BRICS and its utility.

The post Cold War era has seen the economic and political rise of a host of nations, Brazil, China and India being foremost among them. Since 2000 and the advent of Vladimir Putin, Russia has with some help from soaring oil prices made impressive economic gains. The new South Africa, based equally on the industrial inheritance of the robust but unequal and exploitative apartheid regime and the bounty of nature, now finds itself as an advancing economic power. Unlike Nigeria that has frittered its oil wealth and has been looted by its native kleptocracy, South Africa has been a relative symbol of responsible government and probity in public life. Each one of these nations is now a major economic player and some already have bigger GDP’s than many in the G-7. Together, in the quarter of a century or so the BRIC’s will outstrip the G-7.

It is now a grouping of a new rung of increasingly powerful countries so far being kept out of the high tables of global power. Russia and China are permanent members of the UNSC, but are not in the G-7. India, Brazil and South Africa are in neither. With the advent of new world economic and political powers, logic would demand that the global high table be expanded. But there is an inherent problem with exclusive clubs. Expansion means they become less exclusive and with it goes the attendant risk that some already in will become less important. On the other hand those who get admitted will find that their admittance has made it somewhat less exclusive. Groucho Marx captured this paradox when he said: “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

If the G-7 were to remain an exclusive and powerful club, then the only way to ensure it would be to relegate some of the present members like Italy and Canada to some lesser league. Similarly, if the UN Security Council were to become a truly representative and powerful body than Britain and France might have to be seen out and countries like Brazil and India brought in. Neither Britain nor France has the global economic reach of Germany, till this year the world’s leading exporting nation. Britain’s global power status is kept afloat by leased US nuclear submarines and missiles.

But this is not happening nor is it likely to happen in a hurry. In the meantime the world is changing. So the countries knocking on the doors are trying combinations and these combinations are many. On the basis of economic potential, and thanks to Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs head of global economic research who coined the now familiar and catchy acronym BRIC’s, Brazil, Russia, India and China had come together to form a forum called just that. BRIC’s has now officially become BRICS with the invitation in the end of 2010 to South Africa to join the BRIC’s leadership conference at Sanya, China in mid April 2011. Phonetically BRICS has a constructive ring about it and works well. On the other hand it could have just as well been CRIBS, which in English means a cot for a baby and in the colloquial as discards on a card table.

But the fact of the matter is that there is nothing of binding commonality between these five countries. Brazil is far in the west and is a middle income and middle industrialized country with vast natural resources and a landmass to boot. Very much like Russia. Russia however is still a colossal military and nuclear power with a global reach. But the Russian main is in Europe and it is largely a westernized country. South Africa is Africa’s largest and most modern economy, but has to still fully recover from the inequities of the apartheid era, and reconcile the aspirations of the black majority and the still powerful white minority. China and India are low-income Asian countries with gargantuan populations and an entirely different set of problems. But they are the giant economies of the future. Not only do they not have many cultural affinities and historical linkages, they are also are locked in a difficult territorial dispute. Then China is a totalitarian one party and authoritarian state, and does not have in place market economy structures like liberal labor laws and stringent environmental regulations like the other BRICS. So would these countries ever have come together if Jim O’Neill did not conjure up them as a group?

Now there is a veritable cornucopia of alphabet soups being conjured up. There is BASIC – Brazil, South Africa, India and China-, which was very much in the news in Copenhagen as a ginger group that forced the western and industrialized nations, including Russia, to water down their growth constricting agenda. India, Brazil and South Africa as the three democratic, fast growing and non P-5 countries are coming together, presumably to force an expansion of the UN Security Council? China, already in the P-5 is opposed to any new permanent membership of the UNSC that includes Japan. Many informed observers in India also feel that China is opposed to India’s entry and though it pays lip service to its cause now, it might actually reveal its disdain for India late in the game as it did in the IAEA. And there is already in existence a RIC’s grouping consisting of Russia, India and China that view with askance the meddlesome activities in Central Asia and the blatant partisanship of the USA in the Middle East.

Recently I was in a conference funded by the German foreign ministry for a GIBSA grouping to somehow inveigle Germany into the equation. Of late government’s in Japan have been signaling desire for a life outside the US umbrella and would like to have a grouping built around democratic countries like Japan, India and Australia. Nearer home there is a grouping called BIMSTEC to mean Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Srilanka and Thailand Economic Co-operation. And so it goes on.

Clearly the world is in a churn. The new global players are clearly unhappy with the management of the global system. What we need is a true power shift that reflects the emerging economic, political and military realities. But the multitude of agendas only serves to preserve the status quo – for the foreseeable future. Only when Brazil, Russia, India, China, South America, Japan and Germany, give or take some, come together and determine what the future world system must be, can we expect a new world order.

( Source : mohan guruswamy )
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