The BRICS Summit is about to open in New Delhi with much fanfare. This conclave will provide the currently beleaguered government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh some much-needed respite from a spate of domestic political woes. It will also, no doubt, call for a greater voice for these emerging states in multilateral institutions and in forging the future global order. They may also take some steps toward institutionalizing this grouping of states all of whom share some misgivings about the governing arrangements in the current global system. However, beyond these developments, it is most unlikely that this curious agglomeration of states will be able forge a viable consensus to develop any novel mechanisms for global governance. The reasons for their likely inability to arrive at such an agreement are not far to seek.
At least three major factors will ensure that meaningful progress is effectively thwarted. At the outset, it should be obvious to even a casual observer that the five states for the most part are quite different both in terms of their political systems and their levels of economic development. Russia is lurching towards authoritarianism and China remains a harsh, authoritarian state. Brazil, India and South Africa, indeed, are all democracies. However, at least two of them, India and South Africa, face vast problems of governance which are sapping the capabilities of existing institutions. Only Brazil appears to have both stable, efficacious institutions which can cope with the myriad demands of governance, economic growth and social equity.
Apart from their differing political systems, institutional capabilities and levels of economic development, these states, for the most part have differing national interests. India, Brazil and South Africa, are, for the most part, not fundamentally hostile toward the Western world. In fact, they are also members of another organization, India, Brazil and South Africa. This mechanism has sought to coordinate national policies on various global issues because of common concerns on matters ranging from climate change to global trade negotiations. These efforts have met with mixed success. That said, their attempts at policy coordination and attempts to forge a common front is a far cry from the intransigence that Russia and the PRC harbor toward the Western world and a host of existing global institutions.
Furthermore, despite their fleeting moments of cooperation, two of the key members of this entity, India and the PRC, have fundamental differences ranging from an unresolved border dispute to a growing trade imbalance. They have also found themselves to be in competition in the current scramble to secure scarce petroleum resources. There is little reason to believe that this competition will diminish anytime soon. Russia, with which India had sought to restore a once-robust relationship, has been at odds with India on the critical issue of humanitarian intervention. Also, in recent days, it has been pussyfooting with India’s recalcitrant neighbor, Pakistan.
The stated goal of the BRICS, to make the global order and its institutions more representative, is desirable. However, it is far from clear that given their internal differences they will be able to make considerable progress toward that end.
*Sumit Ganguly is Professor of Political Science, Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations, Indiana University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk