One of the notable features of recent years has been the increasing division between the planet’s rich powers and the rest. The former group consists primarily of the European nations, plus the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. It has increasingly tried to expand its influence, most obviously at the recent meeting of the NATO organisation that sought the participation of Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
What really stands out however is the increasing unwillingness of the rest of the world to get caught up in the Geo-political games of the rich group. This manifests itself in a variety of ways. The first illustration is the proposed expansion of the BRICS group. This group of five nations, Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa comprise 40% of the world’s population and 30% of its economic output.
After years of a relatively quiet existence, it has suddenly shown a willingness to expand its membership with countries as diverse as Argentina, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, among others, suddenly showing interest in joining the BRICS group, to make what is currently being called the BRICS+ conglomerate of nations.
What has sparked this sudden interest in joining BRICS? The answer is not entirely clear. Part of it has to do with the world’s developing nations becoming heartily sick of the aggression and manifest self-interest of the rich group, represented most obviously in the latter’s support for Ukraine in the current war with Russia, but also in the long-running anti-Iran attitude manifest in both the United States and Israel’s hostility to all things Iranian.
That both Saudi Arabia and Iran are seeking to join the BRICS is the most surprising development. The two countries have never shown the least degree of friendliness to each other, based not only on their adherence to the two different major groupings of the Islamic faith, but also in the Saudis close cooperation historically with the Americans.
The Saudi-United States relationship has cooled markedly in recent years with the Saudi leader refusing to even take phone calls from the United States president. The latter has had to swallow his pride and has recently made a trip to the Saudi kingdom, no doubt in an attempt to restore some of the old adherence of the Saudis to the United States point of view. That objective is unlikely to be met with the Saudis showing a different attitude in recent years, of which the fragile rapprochement with Iran is one of the most obvious symptoms. Only a few short years ago it would have been unthinkable for Saudi Arabia and Iran to be joining the same group as BRICS, yet here we are.
The second country of major interest in this new reluctance to follow the United States down whatever path it chose to go is India. India has always presented a curious picture to the rest of the world. It is for example a member of the so-called QUAD group of nations, along with Australia Japan and the United States. This was obviously an anti-China grouping with no attempt being made by the Americans to hide this element in the grouping.
It has always been difficult to reconcile India’s membership or both the Quad and the BRICS as the two groups pursued manifestly opposing agendas. In addition, India has for many years pursued a policy of cooperation and friendship with Russia. This manifests itself in a variety of ways. For example, India has refused to join the anti-Russian hysteria this year over the events in Ukraine.
That war is a perfect example of Western hypocrisy. For years they remained silent over the blatantly fascist coup that took place in 2014 when the United States inspired and financed the coup against the legitimate Ukrainian government. They similarly remained silent as the Ukrainians attacked the Donbass, killing at least 14,000 of its citizens and forcing 1 million more into exile. It was only in February of this year when the Russians intervened to prevent a hostile takeover of the Donbass that the West emerged from their slumber to condemn the Russian moves to prevent that takeover.
We are told that more than 80,000 Ukrainian troops remain in the Donbass It never occurs to the Western media to ask why they are there if their intentions were never hostile. Their actions clearly demonstrate that their actions and intentions are hostile, based in part on a determination never to allow Donbass independence or a greater degree of self-government as clearly provided for in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements.
India has been one of the very large number of nations that have refused to condemn the Russians for their role in the current war. India, far from condemning Russia has recently signed up to a new deal that sees Russian goods exported to India via Iran in a new route that completely bypasses the Suez Canal.
That Russian deal includes importing Russian oil which the Indians receive at a substantial discount. There are reports that the Indians are on-selling that oil and making a tidy profit for themselves in the process. While India’s relationship with Russia remains strong, its economic ties to China are more fraught. For example, India remains a strong opponent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and in particular seeing the China – Pakistan $60 billion economic relationship as a threat.
It will be interesting to see how long the Indian hostility to the BRI persists, particularly in the light of its strong relationship to Russia which of course is closely tied economically and politically to China. Given that the overwhelming majority of India’s Asian neighbours are also members of the BRI it is one aspect of Indian foreign policy that should be watched closely. The opposition to the BRI is essentially irrational and reflects India’s political uncertainty more than it does a rational economic response.
In recent months it is also obvious that the Chinese government has been making a major effort to defuse the remaining tensions between the two governments. India this year will probably overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. That is bound to have an effect on India’s projection of its image to the world. Whether that affect will be a good one, as the signs suggest, will be the big issue in the coming years.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.