Volume 25 - Issue 12 :: Jun. 07-20, 2008
from the publishers of THE HINDU

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For a new order


BRIC shows signs of emerging as an alliance in an exercise seen as a challenge to the U.S.-dominated unipolar world order.


External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee with other BRIC Foreign Ministers Celso Amorim (Brazil), Sergei Lavrov (Russia) and Yang Jiechi (China), and Eduard Rossel (centre), Sverdlovsk Governor, at the press conference in Yekaterinburg on May 16.

BRIC, an acronym coined by Goldman Sachs a few years ago to define a group of large emerging economies with fast growth rates, was born in May this year as a formalised grouping aspiring to play a leading role in reshaping the global political and economic order. The four-way alliance was set up in Yekaterinburg on May 16 when Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim joined the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China a day after they held the fourth stand-alone meeting of RIC (Russia, India, China) in this Russian city in the Urals.

The BRIC meeting was a triumph for former Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy of promoting multilateral arrangements to challenge the United States’ concept of a unipolar world.

Unfazed by sceptics who scornfully dismissed the idea of a strategic triangle between Russia, India and China when it was first broached by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov 10 years ago, Putin steadily worked to make it a reality. Russia arranged the first RIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in New York during a United Nations General Assembly session in 2002, hosted the first stand-alone meeting in Vladivostok in 2005, and presided over the first summit of the three nations’ leaders on the sidelines of a Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in St. Petersburg in 2006.

It is out of this troika that the four-nation format was born. Even though the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China had earlier met twice on the sidelines of the General Assembly sessions, in Yekaterinburg they held their first stand-alone meeting. This signalled a “new quality cooperation” in the quadripartite format, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The BRIC countries are home to 40 per cent of humanity, three times as many as the G-8. Their combined gross domestic product (GDP), measured in purchasing power, is only half of that of the G-8 and is expected to overtake it by 2020.

A joint communique adopted in Yekaterinburg shows that the four nations aspire to convert their economic might into political clout. “Building a more democratic international system founded on the rule of law and multilateral diplomacy is an imperative of our time,” the BRIC Foreign Ministers said. “The Ministers reiterated that today’s world order should be based on the rule of international law and the strengthening of multilateralism with the United Nations playing the central role,” the communique said.

In Yekaterinburg, Russia, India, China and Brazil vowed to turn their four-way group into a powerful political and economic instrument for changing the world. “We are the world’s fastest-growing economies, we have many common interests in the globalised world and share many views on how to build a more democratic, fair and stable world,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference after the BRIC conference.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee hailed BRIC as a “unique combination of mutually complementary economies” and a platform to promote energy and food security, fight terrorism and reform global political and financial bodies.

“We are changing the way the world order is organised,” echoed the Brazilian Foreign Minister.

The joint communique said the four Ministers “confirmed the aspirations of the BRIC countries to work together with each other and other states in the interests of strengthening international security and stability”.

The principles that the BRIC Ministers laid down for resolving global problems are clearly at variance with the unilateral stand of the U.S.-dominated Western organisations.

“The Ministers noted that sustainable development of the global economy in the long-term perspective, as well as finding solutions to the acute global problems of our time, such as poverty, hunger and diseases, are only possible if due account is taken of the interests of all nations and within a just global economic system,” the communique said.

Russia’s role

Russia has been the main driving force behind BRIC. Putin predicted the emergence of the new alliance on the ruins of the U.S.’ unipolar world, in his famous Munich speech in February 2007. Pointing out that the combined GDP of the BRIC countries measured in purchasing power parity was already higher than that of the European Union and would keep growing, he said: “There is no reason to doubt that the economic potential of the new centres of global economic growth will inevitably be converted into political influence and will strengthen multipolarity.”

Russia counts on the new centres of economic and political power such as RIC and BRIC to help advance reforms at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the U.N. in favour of a more equitable management of global economy and politics.

Last year, Russia challenged the West’s domination of the IMF by nominating its candidate to compete against a consensus candidate of the European Union and the U.S., which together control 60 per cent of the votes in running the IMF. Moscow’s single-handed revolt predictably fell through but it brought out in greater relief the unfair arrangements in the international financial institutions.

Russia has also been pushing for reform of the G-8 to reflect the general shift of economic power away from the U.S. and Europe. Putin took advantage of Russia’s rotating presidency in the G-8 in 2006 to launch the process of transforming the West’s rich men’s club into a wider forum of the world’s major players – a kind of an informal Security Council. He invited the heads of state or government of the five outreach nations – India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico – to attend the St. Petersburg summit, while their Ministers for finance, foreign affairs, education and public health took part in ministerial-level meetings of the G-8 for the first time in its history. At the summit, Putin spoke in favour of enlarging the G-8 by including leading emerging economies and stressed the need for adopting a new political agenda for the grouping – “to try and work out a new architecture of international relations”.

However, Germany, which took over the G-8 presidency from Russia, cut down dialogue with the outreach nations to a few select issues, such as climate change, under the so-called Heiligendamm Process. Japan, which will host this year’s G-8 summit in Hokkaido in July, has altogether limited interaction with the outreach countries to a working breakfast.

In Yekaterinburg, Lavrov said that Tokyo had rebuffed Moscow’s efforts to secure a more substantive involvement of the outreach countries than a place at the dining table in Hokkaido. “It’s no secret, and you perfectly know it, that the main opposition of the G-8 expansion comes from the U.S. and Japan,” the Russian Minister told his BRIC partners.

By joining forces, the BRIC nations will be in a better position to push for reforms at the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the U.N. in favour of emerging economies. BRIC could also become a basis for a broader multilateral organisation to challenge the dominance of the existing world policy fora.

Lavrov described as “speculative” suggestions that RIC and BRIC could eventually merge but said that the evolution of the two fora was open-ended. It would be logical to expect closer interaction between the two groups and also with the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) Dialogue Forum, which met in South Africa a few days before the Yekaterinburg meetings. India, incidentally, is the only country among the members of RIC, BRIC and the IBSA which participates in all the three groups and is therefore uniquely positioned to provide additional linkages between them.

BRIC is being built on the solid foundation of successful trilateral collaboration in the RIC format, which rose to a distinctly higher plane in Yekaterinburg compared to the previous RIC meeting in Harbin, China.

In Yekaterinburg the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China dropped a dubious reference to their “divergent interests” that was present in the Harbin communique and “reaffirmed the commonality in the approaches of the three countries” to global and regional problems. They noted progress in starting practical cooperation in agriculture, health and medicine, disaster mitigation and relief, as well as business-to-business and academic contacts.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with the new President, Dmitry Medvedev, at the Kremlin on May 12. Russia under Putin’s leadership was the driving force behind BRIC.

The RIC communique for the first time set forth the troika’s shared views on separate international issues. This became possible primarily because India turned around on Kosovo and Iran.

On Kosovo, India joined Russia and China in denouncing the Serbian enclave’s unilateral independence as being “contrary to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244” and in calling for a resumption of talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Earlier, India had only said it was “studying the evolving situation”.

On Iran, Mukherjee said India supported Teheran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy provided it fulfilled its international obligations. He called for all outstanding issues of Iran’s nuclear programme to be resolved through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and warned that “confrontation and destabilisation” in the region were adversely affecting the situation. The joint communique called for “a political and diplomatic settlement” of the Iran problem “through negotiations”.

But the most remarkable shift in India’s position was on the issue of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which unites Russia, China and four Central Asian states. Less than a year ago, official sources in New Delhi told The Hindu that India, which had an observer status in this six-nation grouping, would like to steer clear of aligning with the SCO in military, strategic and political terms even as it favoured cooperation with it on trade and economic issues.

However, in Yekaterinburg, Mukherjee was for the first time on record as saying that India aspired to full membership in the group. “Of course India would like to be a member in the SCO,” he said in reply to a question at a press conference. However, he added that India’s “full membership is not imminent in any way” because “currently, as I understand, it has been decided not to give full membership to any country”.

Mukherjee thanked Russia and China for encouraging India to be a hands-on participant “in all activities of the SCO”. The RIC communique said Russia and China “welcome India’s aspirations for playing an enhanced role as an Observer State within the SCO framework”.

Pursuance of multilateral arrangements, such as RIC, BRIC and the SCO, was a top priority of Putin’s foreign policy and is likely to remain so under his successor. The RIC and BRIC meetings in Yekaterinburg were the first major international conferences Russia hosted after the new President, Dmitry Medvedev, assumed office on May 7.

Later in May, Medvedev undertook his first foreign visits as President to Kazakhstan and China. A political declaration that Medvedev signed in Bejing with Chinese President Hu Jintao said Russia and China would work jointly to strengthen both BRIC and RIC.

The first foreign trip of a new leader is always rich in symbolism. It will be remembered that Putin’s first visit was to London. Medvedev’s choice of Beijing as his first overseas destination shows that Moscow, faced with the West’s continuing policy of containment, is turning its face to the East.•

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