The Philosophy of the BRICS
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra
As one of the most crucial centres of world politics, the five-year old, five-member group has long innings to play in international political and economic arenas.
The rise of BRICS has not taken place in a vacuum. The fragile word situation has certainly played a role in its rise. As one of the most crucial centres of world politics, the five-year old, five-member group, BRICS has long innings to play in international political and economic arenas. Its life will spread at least decades as all the members are steadily rising and their rising in part has played a role in providing economic and political directions to the world. The rise of BRICS is one of the epochal developments in the first decade of 21st century. As any path-breaking organisations, BRICS has its underlying philosophy or rather guiding principles. From these principles the body draws its sustenance and from which its policies and actions emanate.
In this article, I attempt to identify the overarching philosophy of BRICS. It may be constrained to identify in detail all the components of BRICS philosophy in a short piece, but an outline of it will certainly help in the understanding of organisation of the body, its rise, its utility and relevance in the world scene, and also help in clearing the mist that clouds the understanding of other groups which perceive the body primarily in antithetical terms.
BRICS is based on the principle that there is not a single power or a group of powers including the body itself that dominate the world scene. Applying the philosophical jargon: ‘the universe is but a multi-verse,’ the core assumption on which the body is found is that in the new world there are multiple centres of power spreading across continents. The governing principle of these centres is not a realist notion of power as reflected in defence preparedness or economic might, but fair play in international politics in a framework of dialogue and cooperation, not competition. The first philosophical element of BRICS is: the world is multi-polar, the game is non-zero sum, and the means are mutual understanding and cooperation. The noted Russian scholar, Andrei Volodin in one of his recent articles titled ‘A Global Stalemate’ articulated how the world is no more ready to tolerate a uni-polar world. The current situation is characterised by “the inability of the monocentric/ ‘unipolar’ system for self-development and self-correction (resulting in a permanent systemic crisis); economic de-industrialisation in the absence of a real rival-‘stimulator’; and the de-democratisation of public life after the disappearance of an alternative political system and its global ‘gravitational field’.” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s argument perhaps reflects this philosophical element of multi-polar cooperative order vividly. Before the Durban Summit of the BRICS he gave an interview to ITAR-TASS, in which he argued, “We do not view BRICS as a geopolitical competitor to western countries or their organisations — on the contrary, we are open to discussion with any country or organization that is willing to do so within the framework of the common multi-polar world order.” This is the core philosophical elements of BRICS, from which all other elements flow.
As BRICS believes that dialogue and cooperation are requisite means to address global issues, it is an avid supporter of the international mechanisms – particularly the United Nations Organisation (UNO). The UNO, found on the debris of the Second World War, aimed at checkmating the nations’ proclivity to war. The United Nations Charter articulated how the international body, representing all nations of the world, is the most appropriate forum to ensure international peace and security. The UN General Assembly granted all member nations equality in decision making process. The similarity between the UNO and the BRICS can be traced to their common belief that through dialogue and cooperation global issues, whether climate change or terrorism and religious fundamentalism, or drug trafficking, can be resolved. The second philosophical element, hence, of the BRICS is to work through international bodies like the UNO, rather than through mechanisms of a particular nation or group of nations.
The third philosophical element of BRICS is gradualism and incremental change. BRICS abhors hasty action, or any change wrought by violence, impinging on a country’s independence and sovereignty. Heavy-handedness is pariah to BRICS principle. This principle applies to their international postures as well as to their internal workings. China’s emphasis on its ‘peaceful and harmonious rise’ implies that it is interested to sort out differences with neighbours and rivals in a peaceful way. At the sidelines of the Durban summit, leaders of India and China met and pledged to resolve differences including the border dispute through dialogue and cooperation. This is a welcome sign. Whether intra-group differences or differences with other groups the emphasis on gradualism will help the BRICS steer ahead of other groups. This principle can be applied to the much debated BRICS bank, which is an apt case of this gradualism. The leaders announced the bank and allowed their ministers to develop details in coming months. This gradualism principle also applies to BRICS’ approaches to international conflicts whether in Syria, Iran or North Korea. The body at Durban harps on the role of the UN and Arab League mediator and the Geneva communiqué to address the conflict in Syria. It has resisted any armed intervention in the war-torn country as it believes armed intervention will bring in its train sufferings that will far outweigh any advantage of the intervention. Syria is already a sectarian time bomb, already ticking to explode. Any armed intervention will hasten this process of explosion. BRICS can play an effective role in the conflict by harping on the UN role and by providing a roadmap while keeping in view the UN guidelines.
BRICS abhors statism. As the world is changing fast in both political and economic profiles, the body argues that the world bodies must reflect the change. Applying the Hegelian philosophy, though in a different context, the world spirit is moving from the west to the east and the world order needs to reflect this movement. The fourth philosophical element of BRICS, hence, is reform of international bodies to reflect the change and make the world a level playing field in which fairness, not ideology or sheer military muscle or economic power, will be the key guide. Applying this principle, the body will be interested in the reform of international bodies and organs like United Nations Security Council, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, etc. These bodies reflected the power dynamics that prevailed six decades ago. In the past six decades significant changes have taken place. The world is no more bipolar or uni-polar, the economic hubs are no more confined to the north, the powers and aspirations of nations in the east have grown and need representation in these bodies. BRICS embodies the aspirations of rising nations. In order to accommodate these aspirations it is necessary that international bodies accommodate these emerging nations.
BRICS Bank has generated lot of debates in various circles. On principle the BRICS’ leaders agree that in the prevailing world situation, in which economic instability is a major concern, the establishment of the bank can play a dynamic role in stabilizing economy, particularly of the developing countries. As BRICS is away from promoting a particular country’s national interest at the cost of sacrificing fair and just principles, it is interested to promote the interests of the group and also of other countries in tandem. In this sense, innovation is the fifth philosophical element of BRICS. Whether it is establishment of BRICS bank, or Business Council or Think Tanks Council– these are novel measures to address pressing global issues. The countries of the grouping enjoyed average GDP growth rate at 4 per cent in 2012, while the G-7 countries had GDP growth rate at 0.7 per cent in the same period. As Putin in his interview argued, global economy is interconnected and as a result the economic volatility of the west has also affected economic growth of the east. The interesting sign is that the west is gradually coming to grips with the changing power equations in the world. The World Bank in a recent statement welcomed the BRICS bank idea and expressed interest to work with the new bank. The innovations of the BRICS, with cooperation from bodies outside, can play a positive role in salvaging the world from multiple sclerosis.
I must sound a crucial caveat in this BRICS philosophy. As I have hinted earlier, this philosophy applies equally to the internal functioning of the group as well its outer policies and actions. The philosophy does hold no ground, and also provide much fodder to the detractors of the group and adherents to statism, if the members do not coordinate their positions and stand in unison. BRICS is a golden opportunity to reshape the world order. But it can be a fallen promise. The BRICS family, hence, must first develop strong family bonding.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include India-Russia relations, conflict and peace, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.