The 11th BRICS Summit in Brazil was held on the theme ‘BRICS: Economic Growth for an Innovative Future’ and recently concluded with the usual calls to strengthen multilateralism and reform global institutions like the UN Security Council, World Trade Organisation, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund. During its first several years, BRICS mainly had an economic agenda, but gradually the scope has widened to include security, health, science and technology, culture, and civil society. One, the grouping decided to open a regional office of the New Development Bank in India. This is hoped to provide impetus to financing of projects in India’s priority areas. Second, terrorism was one of the priority concerns at BRICS 2019, which was hosted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The BRICS joint working group on counter-terrorism decided to establish five sub-working groups: on countering the financing of terrorism, countering the use of Internet for terrorist purposes, countering radicalisation, and on the issue of foreign terrorist fighters and capacity-building. BRICS’ Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity’ highlighted the fact that the world losses USD 1 trillion due to terrorism each year. India has been facing state sponsored cross-border terrorism for decades now. The issue of terrorism is gaining relevance in the BRICS’ agenda.
BRICS members contend that despite their geo-economic rise to power over the course of the past decade, this rise is not reflected in geopolitics, as global governance is still dominated by the West. Hence, BRICS countries favour a reform of the UN Security Council and the Bretton Wood institutions (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) to reflect the true potential of emerging markets and developing countries. These institutions have become out-dated and need to focus on an inclusive approach. Their reform process has been too slow, a sign of reluctance on the part of developed countries to yield equal space to rising economies.
In the political arena, although BRICS supports reform of the United Nations Security Council, the internal divisions and rivalries in the grouping make it difficult to achieve this aim. Russia has been reluctant for UNSC reform, although it supports India’s candidature in the reformed council. China has not endorsed India’s candidature for a potential seat in UNSC as Beijing sees India as a rival along with Japan. The divisions in BRICS are further evident on security issues. When India hosted the 8th BRICS summit in 2016, there was a push from New Delhi to address the issue of terrorism.
BRICS, with all its economic potential and internal divisions, remains a work in progress. The global order is in flux as Western liberal free-market ideas are now being challenged amid a rise of nationalism and protectionism. In such uncertain times, a vacuum could develop in the global order where BRICS would become important. New ideas reflect a genuine desire to promote equality and a just global order need a new lease of life.
In the new global order, ideas from the global South should find a reasonable place for discussion, and BRICS could serve that purpose. Lack of legitimacy has been a shortcoming of global institutions and by incorporating various alternate voices; there is a chance to make the group truly representative and legitimate.