Those BRICs Will Fall Apart

Although Brazil, Russia, India and China would represent a formidable force on the world stage, they are unlikely to cooperate.

The four members of the BRIC, Brazil, Russia, India and China, together account for more than a quarter of the world’s land surface and represent more than 40 percent of its population. The investment bank Goldman Sachs, which coined the term in 2001, predicted that by 2050, the BRICs would economically eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world.

The BRIC leaders first met in Russia in 2009 and convened most recently in Brasília last April. Whether their interest in one another will actually promote political cooperation abroad remains to be seen though. Each of the BRIC states is at odds with at least one its comrades while none stands to benefit from forming anything resembling a formal bloc or organization.

Moscow is naturally loath to dilute its remaining influence on the international stage by supporting either Brazil’s or India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. Russia is redefining its relations with India though it’s largely because of China that these former Cold War allies are driven closer once again. They haven’t much in common, politically or economically, besides.

China’s growth and mounting military and political assertiveness is also threatening its relations with Brazil. Whereas President Lula da Silva heralded an era of close economic ties with China, his administration’s easing of restrictions on Chinese imports hasn’t translated into greater political collaboration yet.

In general, there is far more that divides the four BRICs than unites them. Grouping these countries together may be attractive to academics and commentators trying to recognize trends among rising powers but BRIC diplomacy and summitry in recent years can’t obscure the fact that the club is beset by internal conflicts.

Unlike China and Russia, Brazil and India pride themselves on being huge and diverse democracies that are promoting multilateralism abroad. India, indeed, favors a soft power approach to international relations whereas the Chinese have been willing to act more aggressively, in the South China Sea for instance, where it is trying to coerce the rest of Southeast Asia into accepting its view of where the maritime borders should run.

Russia, too, is quick to resort to intimidation, in its former sphere of interest as in the Arctic. Both vying for influence in Central Asia, China and Russia, hardly good friends to begin with, are only likely to collide more often in the near future.

In their opposition to American hegemony, the BRICs may find common ground but the foursome can’t possibly develop into an alternative to the American world order. China is obsessed with perpetuating its stellar growth rates before anything else, fretting that any hiccup in economic development may unleash its internal forces of discontent. Brazil is still struggling to be recognized as the hegemon of South America while the near hopeless situation in Pakistan means that India can’t aspire to regional power status any time soon.

The BRICs, in short, aren’t able to lead, nor are they willing to. Brazil, China and India will likely continue to grow and naturally expect to have a greater say in international affairs as a result. Their inclusion in the G20 is an encouraging sign of Europe and the United States realizing that they stand little to lose from having these countries participate. But as their own democracies are fragile and their populations still partly impoverished, they’ll do more to try to secure resources and international regulations that work in their favor too, than promote freedom and democracy around the world as the United States have been doing for the past fifty years.