Ever since the end of the Second World War, the financial and economic structures that underpin the existing global order have been created, led and dominated by the US and its Western allies to the exclusion of almost everyone else. This is evident in the selection of the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the continued existence of the exclusive G-7 club.
Last week, however, at the end of the fourth BRICS summit in New Delhi, this world order began to shift ever so slowly but perceptibly away from its original centre of gravity. The nature and pace of this transformation will depend upon whether the existing order and the emerging order choose to confront or cooperate.
There is a perception that BRICS, which is now starting to link its markets, create greater financial integration among them and establish its own development bank, will likely build structures to rival the existing ones and will become an anti-West bloc. This may well be the outcome if BRICS follows the established Western tradition of creating non-inclusive structures.
BRICS leaders, from left, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and South African President Jacob Zuma. Photo: AP
However, the indications are that BRICS is unlikely to follow the Western model of exclusivity. This is not because it’s necessarily more enlightened or intuitively more inclusive in its approach, but because such an approach serves its objectives for at least three reasons.
First, there remain major differences between BRICS countries, which prevent the possibility of creating a united front. This is particularly true of the India-China relationship. Apart from the divergent political ideologies, the presence of the longest disputed border and the shadow of Tibet (which manifest itself in the tragic immolation of a Tibetan protester on the eve of the New Delhi summit) loom large and sustain mutual mistrust. This distrust is evident in the Delhi Declaration, which calls for a reform of the United Nations Security Council but falls well short of supporting the Indian case (along with that of Brazil and South Africa) for permanent membership of this exclusive club.
Second, though BRICS has started to challenge the dominant Western discourse on issues as diverse as the leadership of the World Bank and IMF, as well as the crisis over Iran and Syria, it is either unable or unwilling to formulate and lead an alternative approach. Thus, in the case of the World Bank leadership its call for “an open and merit-based process” of selection does not reflect its democratic instinct but the inability to agree on a consensus candidate.
Similarly, while calling for an “inclusive political process” in Syria and “resolution…through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned” on Iran, BRICS has been reluctant to lead this approach in either case. The latter is particularly ironic given that a peaceful resolution of the Iranian crisis would benefit China, India and South Africa which are significantly dependent on Iranian oil supplies.
Finally, given that all BRICS countries have strategic partnerships with the US and value their relationship with Washington more than with each other’s capitals, there is no incentive to confront the leader of the Western bloc.
Indeed, given Washington’s salience for all BRICS members, there might be a case for inviting the US to join BRICS as a member or at least as an observer. This would not only dispel any anti-West perception, but would also enable a cooperative transition from the existing to the emerging world order. BRICUSS (BRICS +US) might not be as catchy an acronym, but that is a price worth paying.
W.P.S. Sidhu is a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight.
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