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BRICS: Catalyst of change or game changer?
March 24, 2013, 4:17 pm

In 2001, Jim O’Neil, the Goldman & Sachs economy and currency guru, wrote a paper on emerging market economies aligning Brazil, Russia, India and China under the acronym BRIC as if such a grouping really existed.

Whatever it was – a touch of genius or an unwitting research experiment – the author certainly could not foresee the tremendous success of the brand.

O’Neil elaborated further on the potential of emerging economies until 2006 when the four acronym-aligned countries decided to put the vision into practice. The foreign ministers of the group of four met in New York at the UN General Assembly sidelines to start a journey toward establishing a real BRIC.

It was a timely move: the global crises in finances and economy soon broke out followed by growing insecurity in world affairs.

In the wake of a persistent global economic crisis and with no credible solutions in sight, many began to feel that the G8, the G20, the UN, the famous forums, clubs, and brain trusts of national and international standing had become incapable of addressing the real roots and causes of the world’s greatest challenges.

These groupings were seen as unable to work out drastic alternatives to the financial and banking practices that guarantee the recurrence of crises, wars and, finally, degradation of humankind.

Seeking real solutions

Against this background Brazil, Russia, India, and China decided to try, without breaking away from the ways and businesses of the world, to become a non-antagonistic game-changer helping to search real remedies and shape a better world.

South Africa joined later in 2010 to represent itself and the continent.

The BRICS countries moved fast. From 2006 and on they worked on several tracks – philosophy, positioning, agenda, and infrastructure.

Organization and logistics were important: Guided by pragmatism, efficiency, and close coordination as basics for BRICS activities, the group preferred not to set up a central office and bureaucracy but created a viable modus operandi – a mechanism for all levels and events from summits to the meetings of experts.

The ambience within the group allowed the countries to organize, starting from just an acronym in 2006 to four summits and dozens of meetings of ministers, VIPs, and top experts coining the BRICS policy and shaping its image.

The South African BRICS summit in March 2013 will be the fifth. The work was hard by volume but came easy – the parties had clear and definite mutual interests, a common vision of goals, were determined to act, and establish a climate of genuine mutual respect, which, as Russian BRICS officers say, carries away and makes a participant feel gratified.

The BRICS business and its machinery became an integral part of policymaking and diplomacy for the group.

Initially the BRICS agenda dealt mostly with the world finances, economy, currency system and the reform of the international financial institutions. At the first BRICS 2009 summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, the heads of states positioned the group as a catalyst for deeper reforms at the G20 and IMF, declared coordinated stands at the UN forums on trade, investments, energy and ecology, and spoke about changing the paradigm of economic development.

However, the joint statement of the first BRICS summit in Yekaterinburg went beyond the economy and currency agenda; the leaders stressed the need for a more democratic and fair multi-polar world based on the primacy of international law, equal rights, mutual respect, and cooperation, and coordinated decision-making by all states.

Global security

The message was clear – concentrating efforts on finance and economy, the BRICS will project its interests on world politics and security.

The reaction to the rise of the BRICS was ambivalent. The supporters highlighted the group’s impressive dimensions, constructive mindset, and non-confrontational intentions and expressed hope that BRICS will help to straighten the ways of financial elites and maintain world peace and strategic balance.

The critics asserted that the BRICS is too loose a group, that the major interests of the member countries lie mostly beyond the group, that the four are contradictory or even conflicting(India and China), and that mutual gravity was low while political community and guidelines were too vague.

The passage of time and joint work on issues evaporates doubts about the BRICS personality.

After NATO’s bombing of Libya and the visible injection of alien political ideologies in the Middle East and North African developments, the Third BRICS Summit (Hainan,China, 2011) expressed the four countries’ deep concern about the volatile situation in the region.

It called for all parties to abstain from the use of force and respect the principles of independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of states.

Observers noted that the Hainan Declaration included Russia and China’s understanding and support of India, Brazil and South Africa’s larger role in international affairs, including  the UN – which gives a clear hint at the actual condition of Chinese-Indian relations.

It indicates that the scope of the world’s problems and threats largely outweigh the border disputes between the two. The Hainan summit stressed that the BRICS countries intend to ensure even closer cooperation and coordination among themselves and are strongly committed to implement their political vision into practical deeds.

To back that up, the summit adopted a plan of action of more than 20 points envisaging expansion and intensification of the BRICS’ agenda and activities.

The 2012 New Delhi BRICS summit was marked with a challenge to the existing financial system – the BRICS countries would switch in mutual trade from the US dollar to the national currencies.

The Fifth Summit

There’s no doubt that the Fifth BRICS Summit this week in Durban, South Africa will add more flesh to the substance of the existing hard-working mechanism which cannot be called an organization and formally is still a forum or a ground for discussions rotating from country to country.

The need is in the air.

The turbulence in world finances and economy goes on; as well as the threats of geopolitical wars and “orange revolutions” with strong foreign focus on hydro-carbonates or mineral wealth.

Even hardcore idealists become increasingly aware that neither European nor US establishments are willing to principally alter the current financial and economic order that has became globalized at the cost of generating crises and wars.

The thunderous banking downfalls, disclosures of unworthy practices behind the Afghan and Iraqi wars and scheming behind the “orange revolutions” has resulted in a decline of trust and influence of the “masters of the wings.”

The problems, however, remain – inertia and greed maintain strong defenses and obstruct real change.

The BRICS countries differ much from each other and at the same time have much in common. They communicate and understand each other easily.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa represent mighty cultures and civilizations, share basic values, have been through the hardest of trials, possess both negative and positive national experiences, and are crucially interested in maintaining peace and sustainable development.

They underwent economic and political reforms, learnt the pros and cons of the market practices, joined the globalization track and are willing to improve the world economic and political realities to preserve their own values.

They might be strong in size and spirit individually or jointly, but it’s not enough to survive and succeed even with a mechanism like today’s BRICS.

The world situation is such that the BRICS has to upgrade itself and emerge as a new powerful organization shaping the world order with its good (and firm) political will, otherwise previous efforts might be lost.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.