Just days after the end of the World Cup, Brazil was the gathering place for another international meeting: the annual BRICS summit. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is an association of five emerging national economies. It represents 3 billion people around the world, 21 percent of global economic output, and has contributed more than 50% of the world’s economic growth in the past decade.
However, it remains to be seen whether it can be a real force on the world stage or whether it will remain a nominal association without any real clout. The West remains critical. Nevertheless the BRICS remain determined to change the world order as it exists under American financial hegemony. Their 3-day summit came with the announcement of the creation of a New Development Bank, to challenge the World Bank (WB) and the Contingent Reserve Fund, to challenge the International Monetary Fund (IMF). India stressed they want to make sure all members (which could eventually include non-BRICS nations) have equal voting rights unlike in the Western-run WB and IMF.
The question I have is will the BRICS always be an economic association? Or will it become a political one as well? It is telling that these five nations with different political systems could come together, recognizing they have a lot to gain from each other, knowing they could change the world. But if they gain economic clout, given 3 of the 5 BRICS are countries that have historically challenged the status quo, adding a political element to their association could add a further challenge to the US and the West that is neither hostile nor belligerent, but that simply tells the US, that it is not calling the shots anymore.
However plausible this is, it is a long ways off. For one, it remains to be seen if the BRICS can be an economic force. Second the BRICS focusing on economics effectively allows them to focus on what can benefit their national economic needs, and avoid political differences that could tear them apart.
Although China and Russia are getting close, it is not a marriage of love. Russia needs allies and China wants to buy Russia’s gas. China’s foreign policy is based on noninterventionism for its own self-interest. India’s foreign policy under Narendra Modi remains to be seen but he is pragmatic like Xi Jinping and is focused on improving India’s economic situation. Historically India has been non-aligned, thus it would not be surprising for India to have a similar foreign policy to China’s.
On the other hand, Russia could give them no choice. The BRICS have been largely silent during the Ukraine-Russia conflict but the recent plane crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 could force them to step away from Russia. India wants more responsibility on the world stage and is making a case to be a permanent member on the United Nations Security Council. However lukewarm Britain and France’s political response is, it is unlikely they will allow India veto power if it seems ‘too close’ to Russia.