If the Russia-Ukraine war has seemingly ‘united’ Europe and the US at a time when Europe seemed to be weaning away from NATO to establish ‘European autonomy’, this war has also led to multinational alliance configuration elsewhere as well – an alliance that supports altering the west-centric international system. Its major manifestation came through the recently held 14th BRICS summit in China on June 23-24, 2002. To many, the consolidation of the BRICS alliance comes as a direct challenge to the US, which has been putting extreme pressure on states around the world to support the West and/or oppose and sanction Russia. But the BRICS summit not only defied that pressure on member states – especially, India – but the bid to expand the grouping has also opened up the possibility of presenting a direct challenge to the US-led/dominated international order. Last year, BRICS added Bangladesh, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Uruguay to its New Development Bank. Last month, BRICS foreign ministers were joined by representatives from Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Thailand.
In fact, the politics of expansion is a direct counterweight to the US/European bid to expand and globalise NATO. More importantly, an expanded BRICS would imply, directly, a broader international support not only for Russia’s military operation in Ukraine but also growing support for a new, multilateral world order.
There is, thus, little denying that the group shares a collective – and common – dissatisfaction with this system, especially, how it has historically served neo-imperial states. This dissatisfaction was very clearly expressed when Russia’s Vladimir Putin said that “selfish actions of certain states,” are destabilising the system and when China’s Xi said that attempts by “some countries [to] expand military alliances” and “pursue unilateral dominance” were “dangerous trends” that could not be allowed to continue. This was supported by the Brazilian leader, who opposed “indiscriminate sanctions” on Russia.
To counter these entrenched trends, Xi’s idea of Global Security Initiative (GSI) of “indivisible security”, presented originally in April at the annual Boao Forum and highlighted again at the BRICS summit, becomes a viable concept of integrated security that again challenges Eurocentric notions of global security that set the West apart from the rest of the world. In fact, it prioritises the economic and political security of developing nations and gives them more role in international politics to materialise the core concept of “indivisibility.” As the BRICS summit highlighted, member states “recall further our support for broadening and strengthening the participation of emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs) in the international economic decision-making and norm-setting processes.” This is the BRICS response to Washington’s philosophy of unilateralism evident from its arbitrary exit from the Iran nuclear deal and its sanctions on Russia and/or pressure on other states to sanction Russia.
The BRICS emphasis on including emerging markets is also a challenge to US/western politics of containing emerging powers as a means to maintain their own [western] domination as ‘the centre’ of the world presumably guiding the rest of the world politically, economically, militarily and, when it comes to denouncing rivals, morally as well. But no state at the BRICS summit showed a willingness to subscribe to Washington’s notion of calling Russia an “evil state.”
The BRICS states, thus, have their own narrative – something that has its roots in how the global balance of power is changing. As the World Bank data shows, income inequality, at the inter-state level, is decreasing in the world. With an increasing number of poor countries now graduating to different levels of development, a politics of pushing for more inclusive international reforms is bound to come. BRICS manifests this demand in so many words, which is why many developing countries see this as a more viable platform for causing a shift in the world system. As the summit declaration stressed, the grouping demands for
“ … reform[s] to build an open world economy that supports trade and development, preserve the pre-eminent role of the WTO for setting global trade rules and governance, supporting inclusive development and promoting the rights and interests of its members, including developing members and LDCs … We call upon all WTO members to avoid unilateral and protectionist measures that run counter to the spirit and rules of the WTO.”
Therefore, while the US has, for years, ignored the Global South/BRICS as meaningless international actors, the extent of the challenge, supported by a vision of common development, makes this grouping both inevitable and indispensable.
This inevitability – and indispensability – will increase further and in approximate proportion to the growing US-China and US-Russia rivalry. But this rivalry is unlikely to force countries to take pro-US positions simply. This is evident from the Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s proactive diplomacy to host the G20 summit without simply submitting to the US pressure of boycotting the summit if Russia participated.
The leeway, therefore, for the US/west to manipulate international politics as and when it deemed fit is closing in ways that will have a long-term impact on the post-Second World War system built by Washington in close alliance with Europe.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.