From investment destination to new power centre: The journey of BRICS (Book Review)

Title: The BRICS – A Very Short Introduction; Author: Andrew F. Copper; Publisher: Oxford University Press; Pages: 160; Price: Rs 225

With India’s recent bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group failing not only due to the opposition of China, but also due to issues raised by members like Brazil and South Africa, all its partners in BRICS, does this most singular multinational grouping have any rationale – or future?

Multinational organisations’ genesis – and success – is usually based on contiguity of member countries, a shared set of values, and/or common intentions, but by these yardsticks, BRICS hardly seems viable. Its five members (also including Russia) are dispersed over four continents, have polities ranging from democratic to authoritarian, variant global status (two are UNSC’s permanent members and the others aspirants) and differing, even competing, views and aims in global affairs.

And it is possibly the first grouping that may owe its origin to a report by an investment bank (Goldman Sachs).

How did BRICS actually come up, what is its nature, its strengths and weaknesses, can it go on and actually amount to something, and if so, what is the way ahead? Dealing with all these questions but in a concise and accessible manner is Canadian political scientist Andrew F. Cooper in this slim and small volume.

A professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the Department of Political Science in Canada’s Waterloo University, Cooper holds that “for an invented concept the BRICS has made a serious impact on global politics” and its importance “lies both as a symbol of and an instrumental vehicle for change in the global system”.

But as he argues that while BRICS has become “synonymous with a shift in power in the 21st century”, its nature “is not well understood”. And even as there is “no lack of commentary about the rise – or putative fall – of the BRICS” but these mostly focus on its economic profile and not its “diplomatic and geostrategic implications”.

It is this deficiency Cooper aims to address here – and does accomplish quite well.

Among the subjects he examines are the impact of issues between India and China on the grouping, what Russia may seek from it in light of its growing estrangement with the West, and what it means for other existing combinations of participants (like the India, Brazil, South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA) or the Russia, India, China trilateral) or the members’ other linkages.

Cooper, whose previous works include those on the G20, Latin America and the Caribbean, global governance and health issues and so on, also dwells upon whether BRICS will help its members as well as benefitting others of the global South, or in its own way, “reproduce the exclusivity built on the status quo”, if will it remain confined to the governments or expand wider to provide a role to their societies and other actors.

Not left out are the prospects of any expansion or any competing organisations on the same principle, like the Boston investment group’s ‘MINT’, the Economist Intelligence Agency/HSBC’s ‘CIVETS’ and even Goldman Sach’s followup Next-11 and ‘MIST’.

In his sketch of BRICS’ evolution, he starts from the original conception (as BRIC) in a 2001 Goldman Sachs’ report (later he also mentions what its author Jim O’Neill thinks now) to these countries arriving at a loose arrangement at a G-20 meet, the consolidation of the group’s activity and identity, especially after the 2008 financial crisis, and subsequently, belying criticism of its being a mere “talking shop” with the coming up of the New Development Bank.

Cooper, who admits he views BRICS in a “generally positive light”, gives some well-considered and valid views about its staying prospects, but does warn that its basic rationale (“a logical and justifiable response to the patterns of the power asymmetries and marginalisations of the past”), also has potential of its shift “into the very different – and more alarming terrain of geopolitical conflict”.

But then who can accurately predict what the future may hold.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in )

–IANS

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