What Objectives of the “BRICS”? by Ambassador mo

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Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa held their summit on the Chinese Island of Hainan. Are these states the start of a new broad alliance - perhaps something more akin to the “Non-Aligned Movement" born out of the “Cold War” and such political wanderers as Yugoslavia’s Tito who sought space between ideological poles?

”Representing 40% of the globe’s population and around 18% of global GDP, but by no means are the political or economic interests of these countries elegantly aligned. Rather, they appear to be more a club of buyers and sellers who have dramatically increased trade between each other with otherwise not so necessarily shared political/diplomatic agendas. Complementary political/diplomatic interests seem to be as much or more founded upon what they are not and what they oppose rather than broader ideological alignment.

A Capitalist Invention?
The term BRIC was invented by Wall Street, (perhaps a Goldman Sachs executive) to define the rising economies of these four states. Their economies are founded upon rather different foundations for development – Brazil and India more as resource providers and China and India not only the buyer of such but also producers of finished goods.

It all seems like an elegant vertical arrangement except neither political nor economic relationships can be that neatly delineated. China and India are more direct competitors, as well as sharing historical animosity and conflicting territorial claims. Russia and China have also more of a rough history including border conflicts. Brazil and South Africa have experienced an influx of Chinese goods that local businesses have claimed are intended to undercut and undermine domestic production. Economic complementarities appear to be primarily based upon China’s (and to some lesser degree India’s) insatiable appetite for resources, and the ability of Brazil, Russia and South Africa to feed such. China has not been shy in asserting a mercantilist model; ironically echoing it’s experience on the other side of the equation a century earlier.

A New Global Reserve Currency?
China in particular has been increasingly focused on promoting “special drawing rights” (presumably from the IMF or perhaps World Bank) replacing the US $ as the primary global reserve currency. The economic risks for China of such are significant, as China holds so many US $ denominated financial instruments including US Treasuries. However, China appears to be motivated as much by the political relativism (of demoting the US $ to just another currency) as it is by more immediate economic considerations.

The Sanya Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the Hainan Summit, gave emphasis to "Special drawing rights" as an alternative. What was more revealing though about the potential alignment of BRICS is the political/diplomatic conclusions.

Starting with Libya
All of the states present were not supportive of military intervention in Libya, (although South Africa is a case unto itself). Each had its own reason. China is super sovereignty sensitive, (read Taiwan, Tibet and northwest “Muslim” provinces), and also inclined to check US/EU/NATO influence in emerging markets and resource rich countries – (read Africa). Ditto for Russia, spiced by memories of Soviet empire lost and ambitions to reassert under Russian flag. India shares China’s sovereignty sensitivity (read Kashmir) but also tinged with “Non-Aligned Movement” context. South Africa would like to be the political/economic leader of the new Africa. South Africa has already become a major exporter and direct investor in neighbors south of the Equator on the continent, but the African Union as political institution has exhibited the tendencies of an unwieldy fan base of a second tier British soccer club. Brazil has similar ambitions in Latin America, except that the United States is even closer in body and influence.

Consequently, it is understandable why they may perceive NATO/European/US intervention in Libya unfavorably in context of strategic self-interest. However, it stretched incredulity when the BRICS asserted that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 did not authorize military action against Colonel Gaddafi. In my opinion it undermined their credibility and diplomatic seriousness as the “all necessary measures” language employed alongside Chapter VII authority has been used to initiate military action in Kuwait, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and even Ivory Coast, to mention but a few examples. The precedent and intentions of France, the UK and the US was abundantly clear to even the new diplomat at the UN.

Since the BRICS happened to be all members of the UN Security Council when the Libyan Resolution 1973 (employing purposefully especially broad language), was adopted, they could have voted against or even vetoed it (China, Russia). South Africa actually voted in favor. (President Jacob Zuma was subsequently embarrassed by how unceremoniously most European and relevant Arab states along with the US blew off the AU’s/his cease fire plan almost as quickly as Colonel Gaddafi accepted it - and the opportunity to perpetuate his hold onto Libya).

Seeking A Permanent Seat
However, there is another matter upon which there may be seeming agreement, at least until actual votes and consummation of promises is called upon. India, Brazil and South Africa are all seeking a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council. The easy part is receiving the verbal support of the other, especially since no vote is likely in the near term. Much less chance of consensus on expansion and particularly who would be selected, in view of regional rivalries (India, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia in Asia or South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt in Africa).

Why South Africa?
After South Africa was invited (transforming BRIC into BRICS) during this last summit, the question was why not Indonesia, Turkey or Mexico for example who are economically much more significant? Perhaps the answer can be found in the possible political agenda rather than economic weight. South Africa is a ready made aspirant to top dog status in its neighborhood with no direct conflicting interests with then current BRIC members. The choice of South Africa may have been based upon subtraction rather than strategic multiplication.

Who Are You Sharing Toasts With?
However, could this be a critical mistake? There is no majority Islamic country at the BRICS table. This could significantly taint the BRICS' potential aspiration/claim to a broader inclusive agenda. BRICS has already raised discomfort among some mid-size and growing economies and related regional groupings, (like ASEAN which more frequently finds itself in competition as much as cooperation with China and even India). Without being more inclusive and at least support from most Muslim majority states, BRICS may be destined to be an alternative country club for the nouveau riche. Of course, it may be all to early to judge, but the disparate political ideologies and even differences on such current issues as the International Criminal Court may destine BRICS to a club of convenience. The notion that the BRICS are still outsiders to the US and EU despite rapidly growing wealth may be the most cohesive factor. What happens though when they start looking around the room to see who they are sharing toasts with rather than dwelling on who is not there?

By Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey
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