Raising the bar: BRICS moment under global sun

The success of the Durban summit will lie in generating fresh mortar and cement to rebuild a more inclusive and democratic world order afresh. Source: Kommersant

The success of the Durban summit will lie in generating fresh mortar and cement to rebuild a more inclusive and democratic world order afresh. Source: Kommersant

The Durban summit surely promises to be more than a glorified photo-op and may even surprise critics, who are prone to dismiss it as another talk shop for grandiloquence.

The BRICS moment to bask in the global sun is here again. With most of the developed world embroiled in a festering recession and grappling with the inexorable shifts of power, all eyes will be on the 5th BRICS summit of the leaders of five emerging economies in Durban March 26-27.

In diplomacy, symbolism matters as well as substance. And the Durban summit surely promises to be more than a glorified photo-op and may even surprise critics, who are prone to dismiss it as another talk shop for grandiloquence, by unveiling pioneering initiatives to map out new pathways of synergy and cooperation among the global South and the emerging world.

In the past few months, senior officials of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have been consulting proactively to firm up an ambitious and overarching agenda for the leaders’ meeting. While speculation continues to swirl around points of agreement and contention, one can safely make some broad brushstroke projections about possible outcomes of the summit. 

BRICS Development Bank: The BRICS Bank or South-South Bank is poised to be the showpiece outcome of the Durban summit. While it remains a work in progress and the modalities will be firmed up only after a meeting of the finance ministers of BRICS countries, the Bank is a potential game-changer in the BRICS’ larger project of remapping the global financial governance architecture and in spurring infrastructure building in the developing world. There is no clarity on the corpus of the fund, but it could be in the range of $50 billion, with equal contributions from all BRICS countries.  

Intra-BRICS trade and investment: Despite the slowdown in some BRICS economies, the $12 trillion grouping is still a beacon of global recovery. The BRICS strategists are working on new initiatives to scale up intra-BRICS trade to $500 billion by 2015.  The Durban summit will also impart fresh momentum to concretizing a BRICS Stock Exchange and promote greater trade in local currencies of BRICS countries. 

Reform of global financial institutions: Equity is the buzzword and an overriding imperative for the five BRICS countries. The grouping is united by a common drive to break the decades-old stranglehold of the West on global financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. In his speech at the summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to make a robust pitch for re-engineering global institutions to allow a greater voice for developing countries in decision-making. Russia and China also see the BRICS as a powerful platform for democratizing the world financial order. The demand for greater voting quota for emerging powers and developing countries in the Bretton Woods institutions should be reflected in the joint declaration.  

Reform of UN Security Council:  India sees BRICS, which consists of two permanent members of the UNSC and three aspiring members for the prized seat, as a powerful platform for building the critical mass required to advance the long-overdue reforms and expansion of the UN Security Council. In this context, the Durban summit will see India make a renewed push to get China to back its candidature for the permanent seat in the UNSC more explicitly and will try to get this commitment reflected in the joint communiqué.  China has so far hedged on India’s UNSC claim.

Strategic Depth

Building upon the meeting of the national security advisers of BRICS countries in New Delhi in January, the Durban summit will see a convergence of views on a host of cross-cutting security issues like terrorism, piracy, nuclear proliferation and new age threats like cyber warfare and cyber espionage. Russia is especially keen on imbuing the BRICS with greater strategic depth and coherence on security issues. This is going to be reflected in President Vladimir Putin’s address at the plenary.  The focus will be on institutionalising BRICS cooperation in the realm of cyber security. In this respect, the summit is expected to culminate in important initiatives like a BRICS emergency response team that will facilitate consultation among cyber experts and senior officials in case of a major cyber threat. The mechanism will enable sharing experiences, best practices, technologies and expertise among the BRICS countries. In the area of counter-terrorism, the BRICS countries will also insist on the primacy of the UN leadership in the arena of counter-terrorism and press for adherence to the UN conventions on human rights to be reflected in the joint communique.

Global/Regional Issues

Syria: With the Syria stalemate showing no sign of easing and growing unease about the infiltration of al-Qaeda elements in the ranks of the rebels/opposition in Syria, officials familiar with latest developments say that the grouping will back the peace initiative of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. One can expect a strongly-worded resolution in the joint communique that outlines the urgent need to advance the Syrian-led national reconciliation process and opposition to unilateral external intervention.

The Iran deadlock: Officials in New Delhi say that India is expected to join other BRICS countries in backing the P5+1 talks and promoting the resolution of the deadlock through diplomacy, and not through force. There is a possibility that the joint communique contains a reference to the impact of the US and EU sanctions on ordinary people of Iran and register the BRICS’ opposition to sanctions-driven approach of the West.

The African Agenda: Pretoria has made the African agenda the showpiece of the Durban BRICS summit. In view of its robust multi-faceted economic, political and strategic ties with the resurgent continent, India will pitch itself as a preferred partner in the African resurgence. China, which is the top trading partner among BRICS countries and which played a pivotal role in getting South Africa into the BRICS, is understood to be actively promoting the African agenda.

West Africa, Mali: With the African Union being invited to the BRICS summit for the first time, the leaders will be pushing for initiatives to stabilize the alarming security situation in West Africa and counter the rise of Islamist radicalism in Mali. India is specially concerned over the linkages of Islamist militant networks in Mali and West Africa with al Qaeda-Taliban remnants from Afghanistan and will like this concern to be reflected in the joint communique.  

The Way Ahead 

The Durban summit, the first one to be hosted on the African soil, will mark the political maturation of a multilateral grouping which was born in the crucible of the global financial crisis in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in 2009 and had remained focused on economic issues for the first three years. The Sanya summit brought in the political element, with the joint communiqué articulating a common BRICS position on Libya. The 2012 New Delhi summit saw the BRICS pooling in their collective economic and political clout to shape international discourse on pressing global issues like Iran and Syria. The Durban summit will cap this process of investing the grouping with greater political and strategic content. The BRICS countries, especially India, Russia and China, look at the grouping as a platform that provides a counter-narrative to the West-dictated agendas and approach on regional and international issues. The West and reigning status quo powers, enfeebled by the prolonged global slowdown and sterile interventionism, are trying hard to arrest what is clearly a defining shift of power from the West to the rest. The success of the Durban summit will lie in generating fresh mortar and cement to rebuild a more inclusive and democratic world order afresh.

The writer is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes (www.indiawrites.org), an online magazine-cum-journal focused on international affairs, the India Story and promoting dialogue among cultures.

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