Recently, the world’s geopolitical structure was changed by the birth of a new bloc called BRICS, an association of five countries, namely, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. South Africa, which joined this association in 2010, is hosting the 10th summit of the BRICS bloc from 25 to 27 July 2018 in Johannesburg.
It is my contention that an article, which appeared in the Southern Times of 18 June 2018, titled “BRICS in Africa: You are either at the table or on the menu”, demeans BRICS and its summit”.
The article begins by arguing that, “…the political leaders of the BRICS nations, namely, Michel Temer (Brazil), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Narendra Modi (India) and Xi Jinping (China) will join host president Cyril Ramaphosa at the Sandton Convention Centre. Each of their governments exudes an overwhelming stench of malfeasance, according to the author of the said article Patrick Bond. In this vein, a certain Prashad is quoted in the article argues that: “The domestic policies adopted by the BRICS states can be described as neoliberal with southern characteristics – with a focus on sales of commodities, low wages to workers along with the recycled surplus turned over as credit to the North, even as the livelihood of their own citizens is jeopardised, and even as they have developed new markets in other, often more vulnerable, countries, which were once part of the Third World bloc.”
In my view, such scepticism is misleading. The BRICS countries do have much in common that binds them together, such as: their common experience, and rejection, of the neoliberal development model of the past several decades and the western-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which still advocate that approach. The rapid development of these countries over the previous couple of decades has been remarkable indeed.
The current world is in turmoil
The question of the United States of America’s (USA) dominance of the world’s geopolitical and economic situation has not only been criticized internationally, but also at home. During President Barack Obama’s reign his foreign policies have both reflected and encouraged a desire for contraction and retrenchment. It is my contention that the relevance of the USA in continuing to play the role of ‘indispensable power’ at this time is becoming irrelevant. Perhaps it used to be relevant in 1945 after World War II, but it is no longer.
In addition, the United Nations no longer holds the promise it once did.
Presently, the United Nations Security Council is dominated by a selected few (such as China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly). However, this type of world order in the sense of the United Nations Security Council has been challenged by the ordinary members without any success.
Not only the UN, but other prominent world blocs, such as the European Union, which even a decade ago seemed to offer a path to a new world order through regionalisation and the establishment of supranational regimes, are struggling to maintain themselves in this globalised world. Brexit is only one example of the challenges to the current world order. The UK has voted to leave the European Union, and is scheduled to depart at 11pm UK time on Friday 29 March, 2019. However, the border between Northern Ireland (which will be leaving the European Union together with the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (which is remaining in the European Union) is a problem that has not been sorted out yet. Arguably, in the face of international geopolitical uncertainty, threats and dominance, groupings of nations under threat, such as the countries making up BRICS, are attempts to overcome and resist these pressures. BRICS has allowed common problems to be approached from several different angles.
Why should BRICS be strengthened?
The current world order has shifted dramatically, perhaps for the worse, especially since the new administration has taken office in the USA. Responding to such change, BRICS countries have decried the rise of nationalism and protectionism in the new USA policy and its impact on the world. Therefore, the current BRICS summit in South Africa is intended to garner strength for BRICS countries to affirm the importance of seeking multinational solutions to global problems, at a time of growing nationalism, populism and trade protectionism in the world.
The current global order is threatened by these trends; one example of this are the large new tariffs that have been slapped on steel and aluminium imports to the USA, provoking a global trade war.
Moreover, while the world is grappling with the issues of climate change and global warming, the US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. Furthermore, Europe is now so angry with the USA’s withdrawal from the Iran pact which imposed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting economic sanctions on the country. As a result, US allies were not only astonished, but also worried about the future of their partnership with the USA.
What are the focal points of the BRICS Summit?
The leaders of the BRICS countries will certainly deliberate more on the issue of security. In the article in the Southern Times, Prashad argues: “As for larger geopolitical concerns, the BRICS have made only defensive military gestures in their immediate vicinities. These include China on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea, Russia in Eastern Europe and Syria, and India on the Pakistan and Bhutan borders.
If Trump attacks Iran or Venezuela, as seems likely, given his elevation of warmongers John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. In addition, Prashad concludes that “the BRICS project has no ability to counter the military dominance of the US and NATO.”
I would counter-argue that, in terms of current global security, the situation is different from that of World War I and World War II. Currently, for example, terrorists do not use cruise missiles, warships, or sophisticated bombers etc. to attack peaceful nations. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11 was not carried out by means of a missile. Likewise, are the cruise missiles really needed even by the antiterrorist campaigners? The terrorists use other tactics, strategies and technologies to carry out their attacks. Hence, what may be needed are cyber security and technologically sophisticated strategies to combat terrorism.
The fight against Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) lingers on, but is still not over, despite the existence of powerful NATO forces in every ocean around the world. If military might alone was able to solve international conflicts, it would have done so.
This implies that military might on its own is not enough. An example of this is the USA’s involvement in Somalia in the early 1990s, when US President George Bush committed a strong force of about 25,000 US troops to Somalia to protect UN peace workers and finally to capture Somali warlord Farah Aydid – nonetheless, they failed in their mission. Technically, then, the US was defeated by Farah Aydid and US troops withdrew without capturing him.
Therefore, I thus hold the view that the forthcoming BRICS summit in South Africa should not be mocked or discouraged because it is also vowing to focus on countering terrorism, co-operating in peacekeeping, facilitating the joint production of vaccines and exploiting the fourth industrial revolution within another context.
BRICS Summit is on opportune moment
The leaders of the BRICS nations seem to be serious about and committed to the policy of multilateral diplomacy. This is evident because this meeting is taking place at a time of seismic changes in the world, which includes issues around migration to Europe, the exodus of African migrants over the Mediterranean Sea, the construction of the wall between Mexico and the USA, and the removal of migrant children from their mothers in the USA, the intensification of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the re-emergence of national protectionism that threatens multilateralism.
All the people who happen to find themselves caught within the webs of these issues need alternatives, and BRICS is creating just such an opportunity for its member states, so that they do not need to rely only on the West.
BRICS and Africa
BRICS has a programme called Outreach Plus, which is held during its summit meetings. For this summit outreach, various African countries have also been invited to participate in various capacities, for example, Rwanda as the Chair of the African Union, Namibia as the incoming Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Togo as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In addition, the Head of the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) agency, the President of the African Development Bank and six regional executive committee secretaries-general have been invited to the summit.
The economic relationship between BRICS and Africa is significant in many ways. Among others, the key tasks of the state sectors of the BRICS countries is the development of medium-size businesses and economies through the support of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); these offer a lesson that Africa may learn from their involvement with the BRICS countries. SMEs and such-like business enterprises in African countries need government support.
This is vital to enable them to operate as partners in international projects and to encourage and facilitate their participation in national industrial development programmes.
As a member of BRICS and as an African state, South Africa represents the interests of Africa in this intercontinental bloc and provides BRICS with an African presence. This adds an interesting dimension to BRICS, including an understanding of economic strategies like NEPAD. Not only that, but South Africa also has practical experience of regional economic integration under the auspices of SADC to add to the strategic ambitions of BRICS.
In this regard, the BRICS vision is clear; it seeks to build trust and predictability in the world, and to seek solutions to global problems, such as terrorism, drug-trafficking and climate change. BRICS believes in adhering to the UN Charter, and in avoiding unilateral interference in the internal affairs of other nations, which can potentially cause mayhem, as was the case in Libya and Iraq.
Thus, the leaders of the BRICS countries prefer to engage in diplomatic and political solutions rather than in military solutions to global problems. What is important to emphasise here too is that the aim of BRICS is not necessarily to compete with other existing international organisations, but rather to complement them and make them more representative.