If the BRICS are unable to reach consensus on issues such as reform of the UN, counter-terrorism and governance of the Internet, it will limit their political clout to shape the emerging world.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the BRICS / SCO summit in Ufa, Russia. Photo: AP
The recently concluded twin summits in Ufa – the summits of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – are a strategic milestone for the emerging global order. The outcomes of these summits also hold significance for India’s future role in it for several key reasons.
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First, host nation Russia sought to use the twin summits to vindicate and bolster its own global standing against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and highlight that it was not isolated either politically or economically, despite the sanctions imposed by the G7. This is reminiscent of the twin BRICs (South Africa became a member in 2010) and SCO summits that Russia hosted in Yekaterinburg in 2009, a year after Moscow faced international opprobrium for its invasion of neighboring Georgia.
However, just as in 2009, the efforts in 2015 are also likely to do very little to improve Russia’s international standing. In fact, they reflect Moscow’s diminishing role in shaping the emerging world order, which is increasingly being determined by other BRICS and SCO members, notably China.
Second, the inherent contradictions between the various BRICS and SCO members, particularly China and India, were also on display at the summits. For instance, while the wordy 43-page long Ufa declaration extols that “the UN has a central role in coordinating international action against terrorism” and that “terrorist threats can be effectively addressed through… the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” it does not deal with the reality of China’s “technical hold” against India’s move in the United Nations to challenge Pakistan’s release of Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008, even though this was discussed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping before the summit.
Additionally, contradictions among BRICS members on how the internet should be governed is papered over in an anodyne statement that, “It is necessary to ensure that UN plays a facilitating role in setting up international public policies pertaining to the Internet.” To address differences the declaration calls for the setting up of a “Working Group of Experts of the BRICS States on security in the use of ICTs [Information and communications technology]” to share information and best practices relating to internet security; effective coordination against cyber-crime; and the development of international norms, principles and standards.
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Moreover, India’s decision to join the SCO – disparagingly referred to as the “league of dictators” – as a full member is also in contradiction of the recent democracy promotion efforts of Modi. Perhaps New Delhi views the SCO merely as an opportunity to enhance connectivity and boost trade by easing barriers, particularly with the Central Asian members of the organization. However, it is worth nothing that the SCO initially focused on rationalizing and formalizing borders amongst its members, particularly with China. New Delhi would do well to use the SCO to encourage Beijing to resolve the disputed border.
Third, the Ufa declaration repeatedly stresses the BRICS’ “commitment to the United Nations as a universal multilateral organization entrusted with the mandate of helping the international community maintain international peace and security, advance global development and promote and protect human rights.” To emphasize its devotion to this notion, the document highlights UN peace and security efforts in Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Mali, Somali and South Sudan.
However, it makes no mention of the recently released UN report, Uniting Our Strengths for Peace—Politics, Partnership and People, which seeks to improve UN peacekeeping efforts. This disconnect between the centrality of the UN role and the reluctance to reform the UN Security Council is evident in the feckless boilerplate reference that “China and Russia reiterate the importance they attach to the status and role of Brazil, India and South Africa in international affairs and support their aspiration to play a greater role in the UN.”
While the formal establishment of the New Development Bank has made the BRICS a serious international actor in the financial arena, the inability to reach similar consensus on issues of UN reform, the governance of the Internet and even counter-terrorism will limit its political clout to shape the emerging world. India, which assumes the leadership of the grouping and will host the next summit, would do well to build a consensus to transform the BRICS into a significant strategic global actor.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.