The recent BRIC summit in New Delhi was heralded as a game changer in international politics. Although cooperation between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is definitely here to stay as an alternative to Western multilateral institutions, the praise has to do more with hype than substance.
The BRICS summit has been compared to the 1941 conference between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Newfoundland which led to the signing of the Atlantic Charter and ultimately to the creation of a new world order with the forming of United Nations in 1945. The BRICS doesn’t propose to create any such multilateral institution however. It merely seeks to make existing organizations as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank more democratic.
A major obstacle to permanent cooperation within the BRICS is the lack of resemblance among the countries that compose it.
Brazil is a regional power in South America, Russia is a great power in Eurasia, India is a great power in the Asia Pacific, China is a great power aspiring to be a superpower while South Africa is a regional power in Africa at best.
What these countries have in common is that they aren’t too pleased with the status quo of the international system which is dominated by Western powers, specifically by the United States.
Even in a country as India, which considers China to be its primary threat, there is strong domestic opposition against the values of the West and the Untied States.
Yet it remains doubtful that these countries can come together to inaugurate an alternative system at the international level. They all need United States to balance against threats in their own domains.
Brazil seeks American support in its struggle for regional hegemony with neighboring Argentina. Russia finds it hard to digest China’s influence in Central Asia and the Middle East and so does India in South and Southeast Asia. South Africa’s position in Africa is threatened by China’s presence on the continent. The latter’s scant regard for human rights is seen as a problem by both Brazil and South Africa.
There is a risk that the BRICS evolves into a platform for Chinese foreign policy just as Moscow employs an array of interregional cooperative bodies to further its own goals. If that turns out to be the case, the legitimacy of the organization is in jeopardy and it would be high time for the remaining members to consider an alternative.