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The Changing International Order and BRICS Relevance
The two events in the recent times that have had a profound impact on the world order are the Covid-19 pandemic which though has abated to some extent yet it has shown up the many fault lines that exist in the international system; and the second event that is causing reverberations in the world order is Ukraine crisis which again has divided the world in many ways. These events also indicate that the global community remains interconnected despite the attempts by some countries to look inwards and get isolated etc. Both the events have touched the world community in many aspects of their daily lives ranging from health security to food and energy security.
The raison d’être of BRICS coming into existence has been to provide an alternative to the Western inspired groupings and institutions that tend to promote their own interests and outlooks at times to the exclusion of interests of groups and countries that are not beholden to them. BRICS over the years has become a useful platform for the member countries to exchange views on global politics, governance and economic environment which is reflected in its ever expanding coverage of issues included in Declarations of its Annual Summits.
BRICS, SCO, RIC and many other regional organisations have come up to promote multipolarity but trends in multipolarity have come under stress because of the two defining events of the emerging world order. Further these events i.e. the Ukraine Conflict and Covid-19 have also made it abundantly clear that adherence to principles of UN Charter and norms would remain the guiding light if international peace and security and the objectives of UN’s Sustainable Developments Goals are to be realised.
It is also well known that the effectiveness of BRICS as an alternative to the Western inspired groupings and institutions has always been under scrutiny. While it can be said that BRICS has been making some progress towards realising its objectives yet, it has a quite a distance to travel before it can play a leading role for the developing world.
It also needs to be noted that BRICS was one of the first multilateral groupings to come together for responding to Covid pandemic in April 2020 when Foreign Ministers of BRICS under the Chairmanship had met as part of multilateral approach to deal with the pandemic. At that time G-7, G-20 and even the UN institutions were found wanting in mounting a collective response to the Covid crisis.
Last year India had hosted the BRICS Summit where it came out with a number of new initiatives which have been detailed in XIII BRICS Summit Declaration of New Delhi. BRICS had cooperated in providing one billion Covid-19 doses and other medical accessories including grants and donations, bilaterally, to international organisations and to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility. Response of most of the BRICS countries in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic has been much better and in many cases even better than that of some of the western countries. Covid-19 has also had an adverse economic impact which is still ongoing but here various BRICS members have had varying effects on their economies and these could be long lasting.
On the economic front, it is only China’s and Indian economies that have been growing with the other three members contributing not as much to growth. Further, China continues to be a leader in the area of the economic growth even though of late its economy has been decelerating. Nevertheless, the size of Chinese economy is second largest in the world and therefore China has acquired both economic and geopolitical heft. Whether China would be able to help in the economic growth and development of other member countries as also whether BRICS can help developing countries in some manner depending upon the development needs of those countries is a question that needs more attention.
Linked to the global governance and economic development is the issue of climate change. BRICS has 43 % of the world population that gets impacted by the climate change policies and practices. BRICS, therefore needs to adopt a common approach at the international arena that is commensurate with the needs and stages of development of its members. There should be a fair distribution of emissions which are related to members’ development plans. Here, especially China and India (as also the other three embers) need to come to a common understanding on climate change issues. Any discordant note on this aspect would naturally be exploited by the US and the developed countries to the detriment of the group members and a large number of the developing countries.
At the political level BRICS support multilateralism, are against protectionism and are in favour of reforming the UN system, the World Trade Organization and institutions like IMF etc. China and Russia, both permanent members of UN Security Council had reiterated in Brasilia Declaration that they support the aspiration of Brazil, India and South Africa to play a greater role in the UN. This is, of course, much short of what these three members would like. Nevertheless, strengthening multilateral systems through UN Reforms has been on the BRICS agenda during last several Summits. New Delhi Declaration of 2021 also reiterates that “instruments of global governance should be made more inclusive, representative and participatory to facilitate greater and more meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities”.
BRICS countries have largely taken a neutral stance on the Russian-Ukraine conflict but have their own nuanced positions in the ongoing imbroglio. They have supported peaceful resolution of the conflict and cessation of hostilities. They have largely resisted the attempt by the US and the western countries to accede to their narrative exhibiting a degree of unity in their individual approaches. Despite the mounting pressure from the US and European countries for adopting a pro-West policy on the Ukraine issue, India has been following a policy that is aligned with its interests and preferences.
From Indian perspective, a much greater attention and prioritization of counter-terrorism in Brasilia Summit outcome document and New Delhi Declaration is a positive development. Formation five sub groups on counter terrorism will help focus BRICS members’ energies in dealing with this scourge. In areas of information security and cyber security though the paragraphs related to these aspects have been becoming larger in the Summit Declarations yet there is a need for practical cooperation on the ground which is yet to acquire some substance.
Lack of an institutional mechanism to take forward the agenda of the grouping is another area that continues to pose a challenge. BRICS still does not have a permanent secretariat and if it has to mature as an institution with some heft then this deficiency needs to be removed.
Brig. Vinod Anand, Senior fellow, VIF
21 June 2022