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Why the BRICS should not form an anti-US front
January 21, 2013, 2:14 pm

Can BRICS resist the temptation of becoming an anti-American bloc? While a rare unanimity on Syria got the BRICS countries together, this time around it is the souring US-Russia relationship that may be the decider. There is enough reason for the US to appear heavy-handed and put the screws on Putin, who, on the other hand, holds the key that could unlock US doors to the Middle East and Iran.

The US had expected a pro-US President Dmitri Medvedev to be  heading Russia. There were deals and assurances and hopes for a breakthrough. However, Putin’s emergence has clearly thrown a spanner in the works and given an inevitable edginess to the relationship.

The Obama administration had emphasised, ‘reset’ in its ties with Moscow but now Leonid Polyakov, head of the department of political sciences at the Higher School of Economics reveals, the word ‘reset’ in relations with Russia is seldom used.

“Today Americans prefer not to use this term. That means that the ‘reset’ word exists neither as part of the diplomatic vocabulary nor as a fact. We are entering the new reality, the reality the US did not want to have but in which Americans will have to cooperate with the Russia ruled by president Vladimir Putin. Cooperation between Putin and Obama is one of the decisive factors for building the world order in 21st century.”

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. [AP]

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. [AP]

The ground reality is more glaring after the Syrian resolution in the UN where both China and Russia vetoed the American resolution.

Is there more to come? Could the BRICS countries collectively create an anti-US platform? The answer lies in whether the US accepts new ground realities of engagement. There are certain red lines. An American intervention like that in Libya in the name of humanitarian assistance is no longer possible.

Secondly, the US can longer be the exporter of its own brand of democracy, which may entail support to fascist dictatorial regimes. These are realties, which frankly the Obama administration—unlike the Bush regime–has already factored in. Obama is committed to a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan by 2014 irrespective of consequences, a meaningful change from the age old US expansionist policy.

Another critical factor is that the Obama administration cannot afford to be inconsistent on human rights issues. Currently, it seems more concerned about human rights violations in Russia than China. But violations in Bahrain where the US has its naval base would never come up for discussion.

Analysts in the US feel that Obama is more realistic than Bill Clinton in dealing with human rights issues but the US loses its halo every time human rights is touted selectively.

The US position is a factor but more critical is the profile of the leaders of the BRICS countries. How far would they go? Are they motivated by their own sense of self-importance or are they motivated by an ideological need to fill a political  vacuum left by the collapse of Soviet Communism.

If one were to gauge the “anti- Americanism” in BRICS countries, Russia would head the list followed by Brazil and then China. India and South Africa would be next but their “anti-Americanism” if it can be called that, is linked more to domestic resistance to the opening of their markets and has less to do with anything political. Only two BRICS countries, Brazil and Russia appear to be engaged in anti-US rhetoric.

The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff has been in the forefront in her criticism of the US. She actually made president Obama wince when she pilloried the US policies at a joint White House briefing, sometime ago. Brazil wants US support for a UN security seat and it also wants to be seen as the only major play in Latin America.

But despite its rhetoric, its defence security is so intricately tied with the US that it may not seriously look at an independent course of action. The US Brazilian security pact, says a report on October 2012 by Peter Meyer for congress research service, is built on a solid foundation.

The defence deal that the United States has offered is unprecedented in the US-Brazil relationship and is ‘the same type of package that the United States provides its closest partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).’

More than Brazil, it is Putin’s Russia that may cause more worry for the United States. But there again, the recently appointed key advisers who would be driving Obamas foreign policy are those who favour a positive engagement with Russia. They include many who are considered Russian ‘doves’.

John Kerry has been nominated as the new US State Secretary. His view is that the deployment of ABMs in Europe, a sore point for Russia, would be irrelevant if Iran gives up its nuclear program. Chuck Hagel, who is likely to become the Pentagon’s new head, had produced a report that suggested further engagement with Russia.

As Valery Garbuzov, deputy head of the Institute of the US and Canada said in an interview with the Voice of Russia, “In general, Obama understands Russia’s concerns and personally he is committed to solve the existing issues. How it is implemented we will see in the near future. ABM is likely to be the main issue in the future relations between Russia and the US. It is obvious that Americans won’t give up the idea of ABM but how Russia will adjust its position is a different thing.”

China is the other potential anti-American exponent possibly tempted to use BRICS as a political platform. But here are some of the facts. Despite all its sabre-rattling, vis-a-vis China, where the US has accused China of currency manipulation, the economic interdependence is such that the China-US  ‘battle’ seems just a skirmish, more about economics and trade and not about dominance of the Indian Ocean.

The US needs China to keep buying US Treasury debt to finance America’s $1.16-trillion debt. At the same time, the US is the largest consumer of Chinese-made goods, second only to Europe. If the US buys less, China makes less. In other words it is in the interest of both China and the US to keep the US economy growing.

India, led by economist Manmohan Singh, is gearing itself for another slew of reforms to attract investment from US companies. There is little to suggest that India could be part of a platform that could be construed as anti-US in political or strategic terms. In fact, on Iran’s relations with India, the US understands that oil supplies are the key-determining factor.

The US too, under Obama, is seeking US withdrawal in Afghanistan, a less proactive policy in the Middle East and wants all its guns blazing elsewhere — to revive its economy.

Here is the big picture. The US under Obama does not  ‘export’ or impose its democracy. China, despite its communist regime, is dealing with ‘bourgeoisie’ democracies all over the world in order to spread its economic message. The writing on the wall is clear to all – ‘for super powers— ideologies are a baggage, keep them at home’. Even if nations are driven by their own self-interest, jostling for key positions and strategic groupings, the moves are no longer cloaked in ideological rhetoric.

The lesson to learn is there for BRICS as well. Syria could be a one-off aberration. In any case, the primary motive to help Assad’s Syria was self-interest—China remains one of the largest importers of Syria, and Russia has been selling defence equipment to the regime for billions of dollars.

In the new economic and political order in 2013, if there is one message that needs to be imbibed it is that the world has become less political. Good sound economics is going to drive new initiatives. BRICS is certainly a critical one. Its time has come. As long as there is no political content in the message, BRICS has come to stay!

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