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1 Apr, 2012

Can the BRICS create change we can believe in?

Originally Published: 01 April 2012

The final outcome document issued after the March 29 summit of the leaders of Brazil, South Africa, Russia, China and India is officially known as the Delhi Declaration. It actually reads like a Delhi Declaration of Independence, a blueprint for the emerging new world order that will have a profound impact on global affairs over the rest of this century.

This process, now irreversible, has been signed and sealed by the leaders who claim to speak for 43% of the world’s population, possess the mindpower, manpower, markets and the money to create a new kind of change the world can believe in. They are now preparing to translate this newfound power into political clout.

The Declaration said, “We are convinced that there is a storehouse of knowledge, know-how, capacities and best practices available in our countries that we can share and on which we can build meaningful cooperation for the benefit of our peoples.” An Action Plan has been endorsed to do just that.

The Delhi Declaration is in reality an expression of frustration – frustration with what is known in Thai as the “doo thook” factor, the anger of being looked down upon; the same anger that drove the Arab spring and the perestroika revolutions and is now manifesting itself at the global level.

BRICS sees itself as “a platform for dialogue and cooperation amongst countries that represent 43% of the world’s population, for the promotion of peace, security and development in a multi-polar, inter-dependent and increasingly complex, globalizing world.”

The Summit’s overarching theme, “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity”, was carefully chosen for the simple reason that global developments are contributing to neither global stability, nor security and prosperity, and some kind of change is very much in order.

Said the Declaration, “Our deliberations today reflected our consensus to remain engaged with the world community as we address these challenges to global well-being and stability in a responsible and constructive manner.

“We envision a future marked by global peace, economic and social progress and enlightened scientific temper. We stand ready to work with others, developed and developing countries together, on the basis of universally recognized norms of international law and multilateral decision making, to deal with the challenges and the opportunities before the world today.”

Most of the international headlines on the summit were grabbed by the discussions on the formation of a new Development Bank and the shift towards using BRICS currencies to boost trade.

In fact, the entire Declaration reads like a compendium of all the key issues requiring change: reforming the international finance system, including the IMF, World Bank and the United Nations, mobilising more development finance, protecting the interests of the poor, strengthening the rule-based multilateral trading system, ridding the Doha round of multilateral free-trade talks of “plurilateral initiatives that go against the fundamental principles of transparency, inclusiveness and multilateralism”; intensifying intra-BRICS trade and investment flows, etc.

The declaration made clear that the BRICS see the advanced economies as being a part of the problem, and hence can lay no claim to being a part of the solution.

In the economic area, for example, it says while “the BRICS recovered relatively quickly from the global crisis, growth prospects worldwide have again got dampened by market instability especially in the euro zone.

“The build-up of sovereign debt and concerns over medium to long-term fiscal adjustment in advanced countries are creating an uncertain environment for global growth. Further, excessive liquidity from the aggressive policy actions taken by central banks to stabilize their domestic economies have been spilling over into emerging market economies, fostering excessive volatility in capital flows and commodity prices.”

Hence, those who are responsible for causing the problems should get their own house in order. Says the Declaration, “We believe that it is critical for advanced economies to adopt responsible macroeconomic and financial policies, avoid creating excessive global liquidity and undertake structural reforms to lift growth that create jobs.”

Says the Declaration, “Accelerating growth and sustainable development, along with food, and energy security, are amongst the most important challenges facing the world today, and central to addressing economic development, eradicating poverty, combating hunger and malnutrition in many developing countries.

“Creating jobs needed to improve people’s living standards worldwide is critical. Sustainable development is also a key element of our agenda for global recovery and investment for future growth. We owe this responsibility to our future generations.”

A critical element of this responsibility to future generations is avoidance of future conflict, especially in the Middle East. On this, the Declaration is also clear: No attack on Iran, no more attempts at regime-change in Syria and a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of the universally recognized international legal framework including the relevant UN resolutions, the Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative.

The wording of the reference to Iran is crystal clear: “The situation concerning Iran cannot be allowed to escalate into conflict, the disastrous consequences of which will be in no one’s interest.”

If the U.S. government is saying that “all options are on the table” when it comes to Iran, the rebuttal from the BRICS is also stark: “More conflict is not an option.”

Having made such an equivocal statement, the BRICS have put their credibility on line in the eyes of their people and indeed in the eyes of the world.

An attack on Iran will be yet another act of state terrorism, and if the “disastrous consequences” that the leaders warn about actually materialise, their people and the people of the world will be very well placed to demand accountability from the BRICS leaders.

The key question is whether the BRICS countries will be able to stay the course and ensure that their strategies are not derailed. Indeed, there will be no shortage of efforts to do exactly that.

Divide-and-rule strategies worked brilliantly in the colonial era. Even today, there is no shortage of ways to pit people off against each other in this vast teeming region of people with vastly different political, economic, social, cultural, ethnic and religious systems.

Confronting these designs will be the real challenge.