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BRICS Plus: An Econo-Civilizational Pivot

The recently held 15th BRICS Summit redefined global south cooperation by expanding its membership to key countries in the Middle East and Africa, resulting in a BRICS +. While this may strengthen the multilateral cooperation among the member states, some challenges may still arise.

The BRICS Summit 2023 brought together the leaders of Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Russia.

Meanings are often born from the anvil of history forged by conquests. The idea of global south emits the language of the victor, colonizer and oppressor, the ‘once-dominant west , who adjoined regressed development, inequality and poverty to the imaginations of political economy of global south. This preconceived assertion was turned on its head by the rise of the south where Brazil, Russia, India, and China formed a neo-alliance that redefined Global South to an epicenter of ‘everythingness’, this grand polity with the plus members due to join in 2024 encompasses within itself, a behemoth manufacturer, a self sustaining market and a revolutionary self-sustainingeconomic dynamics determining the connected fates of a populace that composes of 46 per cent of the global poopulation, 40 per cent of oil reserves, 45 per cent of oil production, 32 per cent of landmass, 30 per cent of GDP, 37 per cent of GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP), 20 per cent of gold reserves, 32 per cent of gold production, 30 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI), 40 per cent of foreign reserves, and above all, a direct challenge to a dollar-dominant economy.

At Fortaleza, Brazil, while addressing BRICS for the first time in 2014, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi had said, “I believe that we have now reached a level where we should be even more ambitious. We should focus more on such tangible mechanisms and outcomes. Make BRICS a platform of impact”. As 15th summit of BRICS draws to a close at Johannesburg, it is true that BRICS has definitely made an impact in the world of geopolitics and dynamics of global markets.

From Yekaterinburg to Johannesburg

When the term ‘BRIC’ was originally coined in 2001 by the Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in his report, Building Better Global Economic BRICs (Global Economics Paper No: 66), no one would’ve anticipated that BRIC+S would gradually evolve from a concept to an accomplished idea. The first summit of BRIC at Yekaterinburg was held when the world economy was reeling under the aftershocks and deep-rooted fiscal reverberations of the gloomy capital meltdown caused by the global financial crisis. Every financial crisis creates a new direction that prompts world leaders to gather and deliberate upon measures to contain fiscal crises. As a matter of cause, such events used to be deliberated under the close watch of American policy institutions. However, the 2008 subprime credit crisis brought the American economy to a standstill. Massive capital pull-outs caused aftershocks causing severe strains to emerging economies of the world. Emerging powers like India, Brazil, Russia and China realized the need for an alternative to the West-funded global financial architecture. In this context, the first BRIC summit was held at Yekaterinburg, Russia, which largely focused on building resilient architectures that can withstand global financial shocks. The BRIC bloc emerged as a result of this evolving need to insulate emerging economies from economic shocks. South Africa was added later to the block in the third BRIC summit expanding the acronym to ‘BRICS’. Since its formation, the bloc has evolved into a resilient institution that has the potential to reshape the new world order. The Johannesburg summit is evidence of the interest shown by a large number of countries to gain membership in the bloc making it ‘BRICS+’.

What the Johannesburg Declaration says

BRICS and Africa was the priority for this year’s summit. The Johannesburg summit and subsequent declaration stress upon the commitment of BRICS to political, security, economic, financial, cultural and people-to-people cooperation and to enhance strategic partnership for the benefit of the BRICS populace through the promotion of peace, a more representative, fairer international order, a reinvigorated and reformed multilateral system, sustainable development and inclusive growth. There was also an increased vigor to uphold the promotion and protection of world peace and to uphold human rights, solidarity, mutual respect, justice and equality that will form the basis of cooperative engagements. There is also a greater call for the representation of emerging markets in the international arena by the reformation of the multilateral systems to ensure greater inclusion. The declaration also focused on an open, transparent, fair, predictable, inclusive, equitable, non-discriminatory and rules-based multilateral trading system. Disarmament and non-proliferation were to be encouraged for greater world peace and terrorism and extremism were condemned. It was India’s success that the bloc called for the early adoption of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism which was spearheaded by India. There will be greater people-to-people exchanges between the countries to stimulate an array of idea flows that could trigger an ecosystem of exponential growth in innovations. The meeting also laid emphasis on supporting the growth of Africa and the African Union. The leaders univocally reiterated support for the African Union Agenda 2063 and increasing Africa’s efforts to integrate by operationalization of the African Continent Free Trade Agreement. In the end, the BRICS expanded membership by the inclusion of Six new members with greater regional representation. One was from Latin America, two from Africa, and three from West Asia making BRICS + a reality.

The challenges

The BRICS plus comes with its own set of challenges. Brazil and Argentina share years of mutual friendship. The invitation to Argentina is to be seen as Brazil’s vision to carve its own foreign policy in Latin America. Latin America was often seen as the cradle of United States adventures. This ‘Active Non-Alignment’, in display in Latin America would also mean independence of the region from the influence of US foreign policy by a common collective. The Latin American region is a strategic power, rich in rare minerals. The Amazon rainforest is a natural resource storehouse and an environmental checkmate against climate challenges. The integration of Argentina into BRICS plus forum is a welcome move towards consolidating regional interests. China, at present accounts for over 70 per cent of the bloc’s GDP and an increasing Chinese influence on the world affairs and African shores is a major concern for India. Recently African nations have started finding partners in Russia and China often leading to the leveraging of strategic powers of these nations in the African region. In the case of strategic defense co-operations, Russia has replaced the United States as a major military partner in West Africa and Sahel region. A large number of countries in Africa which were former colonies of European states find this forum increasingly attractive as it neither carries the burden of an oppressive history nor a liability-like cooperation. Russia and China have come out with economic and structural fiscal realigning of the region by way of interest-free loans for infrastructure development. India, on the other hand, had always followed developmental partnerships catering more to human resource development initiatives with a larger view to consolidate the strengths of the recipient nation.

West Asian powers such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islamic Republic of Iran who have been invited to join the BRICS are arch rivals whose strategic competition is on hold for the time being as the result of a Beijing-led effort at Détente, which can improve significantly by their mutual entry to the BRICS. The possibility of sustained peace between the two West Asian oil giants, if lasts, could help bring regional stability to many Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain if they are able to find the idea of self-improvement in consonance with emergent economic realities, offering them a window of opportunity for economic recalibration and development.

However, Riyadh has recently raised eyebrows at UAE and went to the extent of categorizing it as a nation that betrayed Saudi interests. Hence the Middle East blocs will pose a serious challenge to the extended BRICS as the dilemmas of doubt, apprehensions and flare-ups of sectarian violence remain to be addressed. The same situation is observed in Egypt and Ethiopia which often go to war of words over Nile river water sharing. Ethiopia is engaged in the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile River which is the most ambitious project in the country. This project will eventually decrease the Nile water availability to Egypt and Cairo has raised concerns in this issue. This can also trigger militarization of the region surrounding the river which may lead to political instability and regional turmoil.

India-BRICS Plus: Advantage of Functional Legacy Democracy

However, amidst all these crises surrounding the new members of BRICS+, India is a stable democratic republic that holds a unique standing as a sustained democracy that champions peace and development. Indian interests in the BRICS+ is one of the main policy areas of a dynamically transforming Indian foreign policy module from a non-aligned one to a strategic autonomy approach where its economic agenda to become a five trillion dollar economy is integrated.

Besides the policy imperative, Indian economic interests especially intra-BRICS investment are a matter of academic interest. According to UNCTAD data, total inward FDI stock between BRICS countries increased from $ 27 billion in 2010 to $ 167 billion in 2020, wherein India received an intra-BRICS investment of $ 622 Million in 2010, $ 1218 Million in 2015 and $ 1795 Million in 2020 signaling the economic importance of BRICS for India and to meet her development goals. At present, the BRICS countries have collectively concluded a total of 460 international investment agreements (IIAs) including bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and treaties with investment provisions (TIPs) and India has signed 25 (17 in force) IIAs, 10(6 in force) BITs and 15(11 in force) TIPs. India stands to expand its investment opportunities in an expanded BRICS + with six new members.

The stress for UN reforms by the BRICS countries with a view to the comprehensive transformation of the UN, including its Security Council, is advantageous for India along with Brazil, and South Africa and ensures a democratic, representative, effective and efficient UNO that validates the developing countries for a greater role in Global Affairs.

Indian democracy has become her greatest strength and value-capital that will give India, the much-needed edge in maintaining the balance of BRICS+ that can reign in autocratic, semi-democratic and democratic nations of the revamped BRICS + together.

All $ = USD

Dr. Abhilash is a parliament and political analyst who is currently Assistant professor of political science.

Adarsh Balachandran is a Parliamentary and policy analyst who has assisted various Members of Parliament and is a regular contributor to various regional and national media.

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