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BRICS: The Long March Ahead
January 18, 2013, 10:11 am

Expect BRICS to get more political. That’s the message coming through after the first-ever standalone meeting of BRICS High Representatives, or national security advisers, earlier this month in New Delhi.

Slowly, but surely, BRICS nations are emerging from the shadows of under-confidence and approaching issues of global interest on a stronger footing. These statements may have a low decibel level on the global stage at the moment, but expect this to rise in the coming months and years.

By way of example, here’s what Indian National Security Adviser Shivshanker Menon had to say about the Syrian issue: “…all of us felt that it is for the Syrian people to choose their future… we thought that the deterioration in the situation and the increasing violence was something of great concern to all of us, also, the rise in extremist and terrorist forces in the region and in Syria itself…there are no military solutions to this kind of a problem.”

Syria, Libya, piracy, cyber attacks. The list of issues covered by High Representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa reveal that the depth of engagement between these countries is rising.

Given that national interests of these countries differ in a number of areas, their increasing  public congruence is also reflective of a vacuum in the international political order where a declining West is unable to deal with the varied crises facing the world.

“We discussed how the BRICS – which today account for 43 per cent of the world’s population, around one quarter of the world’s GDP – of how we can work together for global peace, for stability, for development, and how BRICS could be a factor of stability and growth,” Menon added.

That’s a pretty tall task that BRICS has set for itself. And, even if a small part of it actually gets done, the rest of the world will be watching.

BRICS national security advisors meet in New Delhi. [Xinhua]

BRICS national security advisors meet in New Delhi. [Xinhua]

Originally crafted as an economic forum, the addition of South Africa in 2011 has lent full continental representation to a grouping that is learning as it moves along, an Indian official, who preferred anonymity, told this writer.

“Don’t miss the fact that BRICS leaders also met on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Mexico and the foreign ministers have been meeting in New York as well,” the official said.

Analysts believe that if BRICS is taking a position on global issues then it needs to make its views count on the global stage. “Your statement should not just be coherent, but loud and clear,” Biswajit Dhar, Director-General of Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a Delhi-based think-tank, said.

So, we have meetings of finance ministers, health ministers, foreign ministers and officials at different levels apart from coordination before multilateral sessions on trade negotiations.

The Indian official believes that though negotiations are going on, BRICS leaders could agree to the formation of a development bank at their Durban, South Africa summit on March 26-27. “Negotiations are still going on, but agreement could well happen at the summit,” the official said.

“The BRICS development bank is a good idea. But, it cannot be a counter to multilateral financial institutions,” M.K. Venu, a Delhi-based analyst and Managing Editor of the Financial Express newspaper, felt.

All BRICS nations are conscious that their forum doesn’t have the biggie in global politics – the United States of America. While Russia, China and possibly, South Africa, appear more prone to taking positions that might irritate the US, India and Brazil appear to be more careful.

As we head to the fifth BRICS summit, it’s clear that this forum has come to stay on the global stage and will, increasingly, count for more than annual statements and summits.

The forum, which owes debts to former Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov’s formative ideas about Russia-India-China cooperation (also a forum that exists) in 1998, and those of Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neil, who coined the acronym BRIC, has moved past the stiffness that its leaders displayed at their first summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in 2009.

As a correspondent who reported on the Yekaterinburg summit, one distinctly remembers that the BRIC leaders at the time simply chose to read statements, and took no questions.

They seemed at time to simply be sizing up the task they had set themselves. There’s little doubt that Russia has really pushed the BRICS idea along, something that should please Mr. Primakov.

During a visit to New Delhi, Mr. Primakov had said on December 21, 1998, “If we succeed in establishing a strategic triangle, it will be very good… A lot depends on the policy pursued by India, China, and Russia.”

At the time, it sounded like a fuzzy idea and not many seem to give it the time of day. The idea has not only transformed itself into a forum, but the obvious and growing economic clout of this group of five holds out hope to those who believe in the establishment of a genuinely multilateral and rule-based world.

Mr. Primakov’s triangle now has more than three angles.

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