The BRICS project represents an attempt to create a new model for international relations that would encompass both developed and developing nations.

The BRICS leaders at the 2013 BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa. Photo: Reuters 

BRICS’ transformation into an interstate association was the answer to an imbalance in the world economy and to political turmoil at the turn of this century. Had there been no Western dominance, the BRICS countries would not have felt the need to join hands to resist to it. 

But when analyzing BRICS, most pundits concentrate on the economy, which is misleading. Within BRICS, there are almost two dozen other channels for dialogue, ranging from safety to statistics and justice.

While finance and economy are certainly the most important areas, the phenomenon of BRICS cannot be understood (or its prospects evaluated) without perceiving it as a union of global governance reformers – not only economic, but political as well.

BRICS is an unprecedented example of “a soft ascension” of big nations that isn't connected to violence, wars or hegemonic aspirations for global influence. It creates objective possibilities for a partnership with the developed countries in an effort to create a balanced, poly-centric world. BRICS is not a weapon to be used “against somebody,” and should not be demonized as a force striving to become an anti-Western alliance.

BRICS countries hold the Western values, technologies and achievements in high esteem, and see modernization as their goal. BRICS countries’ ties with developed (Western) states are in fact stronger and more numerous than with each other.

It can be said that the BRICS project represents an attempt to create a new model for international, or even “inter-civilizational” relations, encompassing both developed and developing nations.

This new model, as BRICS countries see it, should be based on mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of each other, non-confrontation, openness, pragmatism, solidarity, a non-bloc nature and neutrality with regard to third parties.

We are so different

Could BRICS really fulfill this mission and become a united global player? Global media and Western experts seem to doubt the BRICS’ potential. Usually, they point out two factors: contradictions between BRICS members and a slowing rate of development. But this does not answer the question, and these factors, which surely do exist, are in fact irrelevant to the core issue of the BRICS potential development.

It is true that this grouping is not homogeneous. BRICS member countries have different levels of political influence: Russia and China are established global powers with permanent seats on the UN Security Council. India, Brazil and South Africa aspire to global influence, but are for now relegated to the position of regional powers.

Infographics by Natalia Mikhailenko

However, an analysis of BRICS should not divide the alliance into the “north” and “south.” Of course, the member countries have different regional agendas and therefore divergent geo-political stances on a range of issues.

Despite a common commitment to the principle of non-interference, BRICS countries do not see eye to eye on many international issues, their differences on Syria being the most vivid example. The border conflict between India and China is also the most cited example of an internal conflict, but in fact, every pair of BRICS countries has its own skeleton in the closet.

Economically, the association is not one of equal parties. It is now a star-like structure with China at the center, because the volume of trade and financial transactions between each country and China exceeds any other bilateral cooperation.

That puts China in a unique position to use BRICS to promote its own interests (for example, in pursuing manufactured goods exports, lessening the role of the dollar, etc), which may theoretically infringe on other countries’ long-term interests, especially those of raw material-exporting countries. The same temptation to pursue self-centered interests may also characterize the other members’ policies.

Yet so alike

Nevertheless, when analyzing BRICS it is important to understand that different interests do not prevent the countries from pursuing their common goals together, including reforming the existing international financial and economic architecture, responding to global threats, addressing numerous similar challenges and problems of modernization, capitalizing on the complementary nature of their economies and assisting each other in knowledge-driven development.

The driving force behind the BRICS’ evolution into a more coherent entity is the prospect of the BRICS nation-states attaining global political standing.

Tactically, it is easier to start with economics to build up the necessary synergy and master the mechanisms of joint decision-making. This would be the first phase of bringing the countries closer together, and in the realm of global governance economics is inseparable from politics.

The countries should capitalize on the shared desire to reform the international financial and economic architecture, taking the legitimate interests of all the other members into account, and work out non-contradictory suggestions for reforming the international monetary and financial system in order to create a more representative, stable and predictable system.

This would also reduce the risk of destabilization of monetary and stock markets related to the massive cross-border movements of capital. The success of this undertaking is also the prerequisite for the association’s enhanced political role in world affairs.

The BRICS’ “external” agenda should focus on finding a consensus and concentrate on non-contradictory areas. In the military area, for example, the countries could join efforts to strengthen the UN and the world order based on mutual respect and the rule of law.

Infographics by Natalia Mikhailenko

They could also jointly address issues of strategic stability, international and regional security, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, resolution of regional conflicts and maintenance of regional stability, as well as tackle new challenges such as terrorism, drug trafficking and natural disasters.

The crucial issue for the future of BRICS as a global player is its gradual transformation from an informal forum and an instrument to coordinate positions on a limited number of issues into a full-scale mechanism for strategic interaction on key issues of the world politics and economy.

There needs to be a system of political and operational mechanisms to enhance coordination in all areas, provide for continuity in the context of the presidency rotation, enhance dialogue on new ways and forms of cooperation and promote inter-parliamentary contacts.

BRICS should also develop its external relations with an emphasis on promoting dialogue with major international and regional organizations, the leading "emerging economies" and developing countries. It should also coordinate efforts undertaken in third countries.

At the same time, BRICS should not expand artificially, though I would suggest to eventually include Indonesia as a representative of the Islamic world and a future key player in the Pacific.