The BRICS just became impossible to ignore. At the close of the Fifth annual BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa last week, there was little question that this group of five fast-growing economies was underwriting an overhaul of the global economic and political order.
The eThekwini Declaration issued at summit’s end was couched in non-confrontational language, but it was manifestly clear that western hegemony and unipolarity were being targeted at this meeting.
The BRICS hit some major western sore spots by announcing the formation of a $50 billion jointly-funded development bank to rival the IMF and World Bank. Deals were signed to increase inter-BRICS trade in their own currencies, further eroding the US dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.
A series of unmistakable challenges were dealt to old world leaders: reform your institutions and economies – or we’ll do it ourselves.
Intent on filling a leadership void in global economic and financial affairs, the BRICS also began to draw some firm political lines in the sand.
For starters, the summit was focused on development in Africa – a resource-rich continent where competing economic interests have drawn increasingly polarized geopolitical battle lines in the past few years. The BRICS were invited to the African table via their newest member state, South Africa, and have used this opportunity to fully back the African Union (AU).
The AU has been Africa’s attempt to integrate and unify the continent economically – via the establishment of a single currency and development fund that could bypass the very punishing IMF – and militarily – via the establishment of security/defense organizations and joint military forces, among other things.
AU success would necessarily mean less old-style western imperialism in the region, reducing exploitative foreign economic activities and excluding foreign forces like the US military’s African Command (AFRICOM) from engaging in the African military theater.
At the heart of the Summit’s agenda lies the BRICS’ determination to anchor any emerging global order in “multilateralism” – whether by demanding permanent seats within the UN Security Council, forging alternative economic constructs that will shift the balance of power their way, or proactively influencing outcomes in global conflict zones.
Syria and Iran
The Durban summit therefore was not going to ignore the two most prominent issues on UN Security Council’s docket – Syria and Iran.
Last week, the BRICS collectively rejected any further militarization of these problems, advocated political solutions negotiated through diplomatic initiatives, expressed concern over unilateral sanctions and warned against infringement on the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of these nations.
The eThekwini Declaration says about Iran:
“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue.”
And on Syria, the BRICS fully backed the Geneva principles as the framework for resolving the two-year conflict:
“We believe that the Joint Communiqué of the Geneva Action Group provides a basis for resolution of the Syrian crisis and reaffirm our opposition to any further militarization of the conflict. A Syrian-led political process leading to a transition can be achieved only through broad national dialogue that meets the legitimate aspirations of all sections of Syrian society and respect for Syrian independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty as expressed by the Geneva Joint Communiqué and appropriate UNSC resolutions.”
The BRICS positions on Iran and Syria cannot, however, be viewed solely within the parameters of the summit’s declaration. For starters, the statement is nothing new – the BRICS have been advocating these points in some form or another since they issued their first foreign policy communiqué in November 2011.
To understand the depth and breadth of commitment behind these Mideast stances, one needs to look beyond the sanitized, diplomat-speak of the summit environment. India, Brazil and South Africa, for instance, don’t offer up much commentary on Syria and Iran – they leave that to their UNSC permanent-member colleagues in Russia and China, who are the BRICS’ front-men on these issues.
Earlier in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow on his first foreign trip as head of state, and told audiences there: “We must respect the right of each country in the world to independently choose its path of development and oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”
A clear warning against aggressive western interventionism, Xi’s visit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of their “strategic partnership” in geopolitical affairs.
On Syria, in particular, Russia has taken the BRICS lead with the blessing of its fellow members – including China – so Moscow’s view of the situation is a critical one to analyze.
The Russians have recently released a concept paper on the importance of their participation in the BRICS – a view that is likely to reflect similar priorities at the highest levels of fellow member states.