There is a reason why six new members were tapped to be added to BRICS in Johannesburg. There is a reason why more than 20 countries so far have applied to join BRICS. These national aspirations resonate with a theme of the creation of another world system. I will go back to one of the most important founding principles of BRICS to address the nature of this pending new world system, which is, I quote, “the shared commitment to restructure the global political, economic, and financial architecture to be fair, balanced and representative, resting on the important pillars of multilateralism and international law.”
In other words, the current incumbent world system is unfair, unbalanced, and is definitely unrepresentative. The unfairness, the lack of balance and the dearth of representation in the current system is not just a recent creation; it can be traced back hundreds of years. Four out of the five original BRICS members were victims of European colonialism for the better part of the past three hundred years. The period starting with the Age of Exploration in the 16th century and culminating with the end of the Second World War in the 20th century can be said to be one of the darkest, most grossly unjust chapters of human history, with the proliferation of sugar plantations, coffee plantations and slave trade at the hands of European colonists, even amidst the tremendous progress in science and technology, arguably also steered and led by the West.
The end of the Second World War didn’t change that status quo in substance, although the victors could have worked towards this. Even the subsequent establishment of the international institutions by the US-led coalition, including the United Nations, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and many others, not only did not correct a grotesque historic wrong, but on the contrary continues and perpetuates that historic wrong, albeit not via naked force and violence, at least not ostensibly.
Yes, we have a United Nations and its charter. But count how many times regime changes in foreign lands have been orchestrated by the United States without UN approval. Yes, we have a WTO. But count how many times the WTO dispute settlement panel decisions are outright rejected and ignored by the United States, and to the extent that the appointment of that panel’s succeeding members could even be blocked. Yes, we have an IMF. But count how many times the IMF rescue packages were acting as a political choke tool to encroach upon a sovereign nation’s political establishment because of some ideological penchant of some countries. Yes, we have a World Bank. But count how many real ports, bridges, railways and highways the World Bank helped build vis-à-vis the so-called capacity building it is so fond of indulging in.
The architects of the current global governance system have failed the world. Not only didn’t they redeem the sins of their ancestors, but we now have the leaders of the richest club in the world convening every year preaching to the rest of the planet about the rules-based order, while the rules are treated like tissues from a Kleenex box, usable at times but discarded when inconvenient. We are left with a compromised, negotiated division of power among a few Western capitals in the northern hemisphere. The vast majority, the Global South, the offspring of the victims of the colonial era, continue to be side-lined and marginalized in a global system that is working fundamentally at odds with their economic and political interests. A large number of developing countries in the South continue to struggle economically and politically as they did in the colonial era.
The root cause of the failings of the current system has everything to do with the unipolar world, or the almost-unipolar world after the Cold War. Unipolarity brews hegemony, and hegemony promises neither peace nor prosperity. The revered US statesman Henry Kissinger has this equilibrium theory for international politics. Those well-versed in game theory understand that there would be no equilibrium with a dominant player with a dominant strategy, which means he can act in his interest with no regard to other parties’ interests.
The rise of the BRICS and this year’s BRICS Plus expansion signify a new era coming, in which unipolarity no longer holds anymore, and in which the Global South calls for the end of the current, broken system. The endeavour of BRICS Plus to restructure the global political, economic, and financial architecture rests on the pillars of multilateralism and international law. BRICS Plus and the Global South in general do not seek a wholesale overhaul of the current system. It does not pursue a confrontational or revolutionary approach against the West to reach its goals. It recognizes and respects many of the international rules and laws developed over the last seven decades. It prefers a multilateral framework to work and cooperate with the West to gradually modify the shortcomings of the current system, in order to pursue a new system in which there is multipolarity, there are checks and balances, and hopefully there is a peaceful equilibrium.
In that sense, as scholars from the BRICS world, we call upon the leaders of the West to view the rise of the BRICS not through an antagonistic, geopolitical lens, but as an equal partner that deserves understanding and respect. The world has changed. No longer will the Global South accept the West’s pompous, condescending lectures. Today, BRICS Plus already represents nearly fifty percent of the world’s population and 36% of the world’s GDP. It is time to reflect on the true state of the world we are living in and act accordingly.
Let’s point to some concrete ways in which BRICS is developing, mostly from an economics perspective, as part of achieving the BRICS goal of achieving a new global order.
First, economic development underlies everything. In addition to making BRICS a political platform for advocating the Global South’s interests in dealing with the West, the NDB, which is the BRICS’ World Bank, needs to continue to make project loans, especially in infrastructure projects, at a relentless pace under its own set of loan standards.
Second, it must continue to support China’s Belt and Road initiative and other countries’ initiatives that provide infrastructure connectivity, connectivity in other soft infrastructure, and cultural, societal, and people-to-people exchanges. Needless to say, infrastructure provides the basis for economic development, which provides for economic and political power in international relations.
Third, find ways to facilitate trade and investment flows within the BRICS and with the Global South in general. Current global trade is undergoing a structural re-orientation, due to the conflict in Ukraine, America’s big power competition with China and other reasons. Sino-Russian trade is a very good example; it has been increasing by 70% year-over-year so far this year. This kind of intra-BRICS trade and investment flows strength BRICS’ economic base, which in turn translates into a political base.
Last but not least, the world’s financial system is in desperate need of some reform. We have seen enough of countries, companies and individuals that are subject to arbitrary sanctions due to one country’s unique role in the global financial system. There must be some initial developments within BRICS to circumvent that power, in terms of trade currency, currency transfers, settlement mechanisms, etc.
In short, the West’ dominance in world politics over the last few hundred years is fundamentally based on economic and technological dominance. For BRICS to truly be a force to be reckoned with in world politics, it needs to step up in these areas as well.