-By Ravi Srivastava
(This article has featured in Defence Monitor on 01 Nov 23.)
a 5 mins read.
South Africa recently hosted 15th BRICS Summit at Johannesburg from 22nd – 24th August. This summit assumed significance as it was first in person BRICS summit post global pandemic. BRICS an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa represents all major developing countries. The summit brought the leadership of all the participating members. South Africa as host has extended an invite to all members of African Union (AU), Bolivia and Bangladesh among others taking the tally of observers to almost 70.
Invitations include 67 leaders from across Africa, Asia, Latin America and to the Secretary General of UN, Chairperson of the AU and President of the BRICS’s own New Development Bank. The invite reflected the host country’s desire to further boost South Africa’s place among AU states and showcase this marquee event as a mega success. The chosen theme – ‘BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism’ aptly summed up this initiative.
AU has charted an encouraging developmental program termed ‘Agenda 2063’ aiming to transform Arica from a low income and underdeveloped continent to progressively developing society. South Africa as a key AU member is well placed to play a role in integrating the BRICS and AU’s developmental program. Bringing in countries like Bangladesh and Bolivia as observers and potential future members of BRICS+ format is also an indication towards BRICS desire to absorb more potential partners.
The grouping was formed in 2009 and with inclusion of South Africa in 2010 as full member it emerged in it’s new avatar as BRICS. BRICS was envisaged as a meeting ground for the world’s major developing economies, to offer a collective voice to nations driving global demand and supply. Each of the members are economic heavyweights and hold considerable value in trading terms. Moreover, BRICS countries are also voice for their respective continents from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe a rare democratic representation on the global platform.
Amid a plethora of regional groupings BRICS stands out as a global giant in terms of it’s size and magnitude. It is home to the world’s 3.5 billion consumers and 23% of global GDP. It’s more representative of current times, better reflecting prevailing realities and the world order. As a group it commands 26% of the world’s global trade, 40% of economic heft, where decisions are by consensus and till now each member has enjoyed a strong independent say in the grouping’s affair.
It’s indicative of the bloc’s success that around 20 countries are willing to join including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina and more. However, the questions on expansion will not be easy ones. The danger of it becoming a disjoint enlarged glitzy association, where decisions are hard to come by will test the BRICS resolve. Consensus being an integral charter and probably strongest part of BRICS success, it is felt, it would itself become it’s biggest hurdle the moment expansions are resorted to.
BRICS is looking forward for an integrated and inclusive growth of member states, it is also keeping an eye on global economic recovery and acting as an engine for sustainable growth. BRICS is currently facing a multitude of challenges both internally and externally. Major internal challenges for BRICS have been the resistance & push on the question of expansion, coordination within divergent political systems from democratic to authoritarian and the management of mutual trust deficit among members. While externally majority of BRICS leadership were under immense pressure to not let this mega grouping appear as a political voice for Russia & China or be seen as a counterweight to G7.
The question of summit itself came under heavy clouds as soon in person attendance was announced by South Africa. West was especially not happy to see Russian President gain incredible photo ops during this high-profile summit. It took recourse of reminding host of an existing arrest warrant against Russian President. An issue which has questionable merit and is fueled by political symbolism. War doesn’t answer issues of morality, it evolves on perception, one disaster fueling the next.
There’s a message for Western powers, the lack of photo ops and presence of Russian Leadership didn’t diminish Russian voice, unfortunately it proved counter-productive with much of BRICS coverage brought Russian Leadership in discussion. The West doesn’t hold enough morality or the heft to see Russia shunned out of all international forums. This brings us back to the original question of morality and intent. Continuation of Ukraine conflict and a complete absence of efforts to defuse the situation from Western leadership puts their intent under question mark.
India as Centre of Gravity
BRICS undoubtedly has been gaining graduated prominence since it’s formation. The idea of BRICS to act as a financial cushion for major developing nations during the financial crisis in 2008 has had a positive impact on it’s members. But the time BRICS was envisaged and the moment we are living in now appears to be from two different centuries. There has been a sea change in the challenges the world is faced with. If the financial crisis was the overwhelming concern, then, now it’s the fear of disruption in the global supply chain. While the world appears to be torn out in two distinct blocks on the Ukraine conflict, most middle powers are still working to prevent a showdown on ‘we or them’ choices.
India as a founding member and a major emerging power has played a rather delicate role. It is concerned about Chinese ambitions, turning BRICS into another China led & China guided grouping something what is experienced by the SCO. India wants BRICS to effectively harness aspiration of major developing economies but also holds concern on competing mutual interests of members many of them are rivals in emerging markets. India is worried with ongoing economic and political turmoil in Russia & Brazil and depleting security dynamics with China.
These issues have hurt BRICS growth and prevented major joint economic initiatives. India gave it’s tacit approval as the group finally agreed to invite Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it’s new members. India hoped the addition of these countries will act to further push BRICS growth agenda. Given India’s diplomatic astuteness and growing economic aspirations, India will likely emerge as the center of gravity for BRICS a meeting point on divergent views. India has the muscles to shoulder this tremendous churning and the BRICS would need every bit of this stabilising strength in it’s volatile journey ahead!