By Dr Subhash Kapila
“India and China have defiantly declared their intention to continue trading with Iran rebuffing United States attempts to force them and other countries to cut economic ties with Tehran over its nuclear programme.
As both countries raised a banner of revolt at the US- led efforts to economically strangle Iran, they received support from Russia, South Africa, and Brazil, in what could resonate around the world as flexing of muscles by the BRICS Powers, the new grouping of emerging powers whose leaders are holding the Fourth Summit meeting in New Delhi this week.” — The Economic Times, 29 March 2012.
The BRICS Powers Fourth Summit is currently being held in New Delhi and being hosted for the first time by India. Unlike previous three summit meetings the Fourth Summit of BRICS Powers is being held against the backdrop of an increasingly complex and tense global political and strategic environment. Equally complex is the global economic environment where the possibilities of US-Israeli military strikes against Iran are pushing oil prices out of control and thereby impeding global economic recovery.
The BRICS Powers grouping emerged as an economic grouping of powers with no strategic overtones. But as the news item quoted above indicates that BRICS with its combined economic strengths which in turn imparts greater political say on global strategic issues may be in the process of challenging established political, economic and financial shibboleths so far dominated by the United States and the West.
It seems that the contextual global security and economic environment is propelling the BRICS Powers to move towards more assertive stances on issues other than economics only. It was in 2009 that the Beijing Review (, July 2, 2009) stated that “When Goldman Sachs created the acronym BRIC in 2001, neither the economists nor the rest of the world imagined that Brazil, Russia, India and China could sit together to build up a substantive platform one day”. South Africa joined BRIC in the Third Summit to make it BRICS.
The United States and the West do not seem to have yet recognised the potential strengths of the BRICS Powers as evident from the observations of the distinguished US Author Joseph S. Nye Jr. in 2011 that: “Although a meeting of the BRICS may be convenient for short term political gains, it lumps together countries that have deep divisions, and including Russia, a former superpower, with three developing economies makes little sense.”
Commenting on the latest economic forecast of Goldman Sachs predicting predicting increasing strengths of BRICS, Nye remarked “Whatever the merits of this linear projection, the term makes little political sense for long range assessments of power resources”.
The Fourth Summit of the BRICS Powers is being adequately covered in the media and one would avoid a repetitive coverage of the same. This Paper would alternatively focus on a review of the BRICS Powers economic, political and potential strategic strengths so that an appropriate perspective template emerges for long-term assessments.
BRICS Powers: The Significant Economic Strength
In terms of economic potential of the BRICS Grouping, Goldman Sach predicts that “BRICS can become collectively bigger than the G-7 (top industrialised powers) by 2035. BRICS countries have accounted for over 50% of global economic growth in the last decade”.
Other significant economic strengths of BRICS grouping that need highlighting are as under:
- In terms of global GDP, BRICS countries account for 40% and the forecasts are that this proportionate share will keep on increasing.
- 17% of global exports are being commanded by BRICS countries.
- In terms of intra-BRICS trade the current figure stands at $230 billion and this is planned to touch $500 billion by 2015.
- China’s imports of goods are officially stated as to reach the figure of $ 10 trillion in the next five years and BRICS members are expected to be the main gainers of this economic pie.
In the Fourth Summit under way, the major economic points agenda is concentrating on setting up a BRICS Bank on the lines of the World Bank, cross-linking of all BRICS countries Stock Exchanges and management of intra-BRICS currency trading procedures.
Because of their economic weight BRICS Powers would also like to see a transformation of international financial institutions and mechanisms. They are said to be in dialogue with the G-7 and G-20 countries on these issues.
BRICS Countries Political Profile as a Factor to Reckon with on Global Political Issues
The Fourth Summit 2012 main theme as “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity” carries a political message that BRICS nations are breaking out of the economic shell and venturing into the fields of global stability and global security, both terms having political and strategic connotations.
Besides the Summit Meetings of the Heads of States, other ministerial level meetings are a regular feature of BRICS Powers consultations on important global political and economic issues. The Foreign Ministers meet regularly on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly sessions and other international fora.
The political profile of BRICS Powers needs to be highlighted in that all BRICS member countries enjoy not only regional powers playing substantive roles in Asia, Africa and Latin America but also at the global level individually in their own rights. Since all of them enjoy economic clout they also claim political clout.
BRICS does not have any BRICS Secretariat as yet but at the inter-ministerial discussions, Summit Meetings etc. important issues and contemporary challenges are identified and common approaches adopted. In the past such issues have been the transformation of the UN Security Council and the global financial institutions.
The BRICS Summits provide a useful forum for political meetings between the Heads of State not only to discuss global issues of concern but also provide an opportunity for bilateral discussions like in the case of China and India.
The BRICS Summit therefore also provides an effective venue for back-channel dialogues between these powerful nations.
During this Summit, political discussions too are expectedly on on the Middle East volatile situation, Syria and Iran. The fact that none of the BRICS nations are Middle East powers indicates the spreading political profile of BRICS.
BRICS Powers: The Strategic Profile May Ultimately Provide the Building Blocks for an Enhanced Strategic Role in Global Power Calculus
BRICS Powers account for 26% of the world’s landmass and 42% of the global population. That is a significant and strong factor that would count in the global strategic calculus
Amongst the BRICS Powers three nations are nuclear weapons powers, namely, Russia, China and India. The other two, Brazil and South Africa were also nuclear powers in the making had they not renounced nuclear weapons capabilities some time back.
Geo strategically, all the BRICS Powers dominate their geographical regions and are noted for sizeable defence expenditures with China now emerging as the nation second only to the United States in defence spending. All BRICS countries have appreciable indigenous defence production capabilities.
While no multi-lateral strategic and military cooperation exists between BRICS countries, there is quite a lot of bilateral defence cooperation between them more notably between Russia and India and China and Russia. What the future holds in this sphere is not predictable but what is predictable is that building blocks are existing for making headway in this direction, especially defence production collaboration.
Not receiving much public attention is the existence of High Representatives on Security Meetings of National Security Advisors of BRICS countries since 2009 to discuss security challenges.
The Iran Sanctions Issue Opposition to United States Demands Crystallizes at Fourth BRICS Summit
Initially itself has been highlighted the strong opposition by China and India against US dictates on the isolation of Iran by cutting off oil imports from Iran and coercing into roll-back its nuclear programme.
This is a significant convergence of the BRICS approach because the Chinese and Indian positions are supported by Russia, Brazil and South Africa. Globally this may be a straw in the wind but it could be a trend in the making where US and Western dictates would not find total acquiescence. Such a BRICS formulation if further reinforced could pose serious challenges to the United States and the West.
Chinese Commerce Minister commenting on the issue asserted that “China was not obliged to fulfil any domestic laws or rules of any particular country”.
The Indian Commerce Minister asserted that India will respect the sanctions imposed by the United Nations and that “We are sure that none of the countries are in violation of the UN Resolution. The Resolution does no forbid countries engaged in trading essential commodities and what is required for public good”.
Reading between the lines one gets the impression that China and India may not be all that inclined to listen to US dictates on the Iran issue.
BRICS Powers: The Future Perspectives
On present indicators, the BRICS Powers grouping exhibits a growing trend towards better cooperation and striking out into wider political and strategic areas beyond its traditional economic parameters.
With the increasing diffusion of global power and power shifts taking across the globe, the BRICS Powers do have the potential of playing a greater role in the global power calculus. However, the BRICS Powers greater cohesiveness required to emerge as strong and powerful global player would require a strategic reconciliation between China and India.
Strategic analysts are fond of advancing the argument that economic superpowers do not necessarily turn out to be powerful strategic powers too and in other words that economic power is not synonymous with strategic and military power. This is true when the examples of Germany and Japan are recalled. But in that case, both Germany and Japan are non-nuclear weapons nations and without the currency of international power and their small size and human resources precluded them from a more powerful role.
Can the BRICS emerge as the equivalent of NATO? Unlikely for two good reasons. The reasons being that BRICS does not face an ideological foe nor does it have any other geopolitical or geostrategic imperatives to do so. With its economic strengths which get translated into more political assertiveness the BRICS Powers can emerge as a grouping to reckon with in global affairs.
BRICS Powers grouping’s emergence needs to be viewed as an inevitable phenomenon that had to emerge in response to the decades long economic, political and strategic domination of the global stage by the United States and the West.
In an earlier SAAG Paper I had disputed the 21st Century being termed as an Asian Century chiefly because in the limited Asian context, China would not share the Asian strategic space with India. The BRICS grouping has a much larger geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic canvass where both China and India in partnership with Russia, Brazil and South Africa may be able to span across Continents to provide an overarching force for “Global Stability, Security and Prosperity”—the theme of the Fourth BRICS Summit in New Delhi.