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An idea whose time will come

The BRICS combination is met with either derision or disinterest by the rest of the world. This is not without reason.

india Updated: Mar 29, 2012 21:45 IST
BRICS

The BRICS combination is met with either derision or disinterest by the rest of the world. This is not without reason. Among all multilateral organisations, its character is the most curious. Most international groupings have their origins in ma-jor global crises or in response to some political shock. BRICS has its origins in a report by an investment bank. The criteria for me-mbership seems non-existent. If it’s about rising developing economies, then declining Russia should not be a member. If it’s about GDP clout, then South Africa is the anomaly. Some global clubs are built around one dominant member. On paper that would seem to be the case here. China is overwhelmingly the most powerful BRICS member with an economy larger than all the others put together. And two members, India and Russia, are ramping up defence expenditure largely because of concerns about the increasing combativeness of another, China.

What mortar keeps the BRICS together? The answer is not clear. Each summit is a mix of rhetoric, agreement on tangential issues and a large amount of groping in the dark. However, what is obvious is that the BRICS exist because there is a slow and uneven transition of power from the western nations to what is sometimes described as the East, but should be called the Middle. These middle powers — which include not only the BRICS but also, say, Turkey, Indonesia and Mexico — are not opposed to a US-dominated world-system. India is among those that prefer a US-led world to a China-led world. Even China and Russia place their relations with the West far ahead on the priority list than their ties with fellow middle powers. The latter countries are also not interested in turning the world order on its head. China, the only one that could try to rearrange the global furniture, has shown a willingness to let the US continue to run the international house with only a few tweaks here and there.

The BRICS nations, therefore, agree the most on their des-ire for a world in which there is only minimal geopolitical change or one where change takes place through a natural progression. One of the strongest areas of agreement, evident in the present summit, is collective irritation at the West’s failure to keep its financial sectors on an even keel and the West’s erratic response to the Arab Spring. Though the BRICS ‘bank’ would seem to be a tangible subtraction from Western power, it would be better to see it as a complaint against Wall Street ineptitude. A similar view is being taken about their wariness about events in Syria. All BRICS countries are wary of the fallout of an Arab spring that becomes a Muslim climate cataclysm. And it is the slow increase in the number of these marginal issues that could lay the basis for a more coherent organisation. In the meantime, BRICS serves as a symbol of a global trend that could, one day, be the basis of a new global order if its members become agitated enough to try for one.