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A Global Forum for the New Generation:
The Role of the BRICS and the Prospects for the Future

Vadim Lukov, Ambassador-at-Large,
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Coordinator for BRICS Affairs
January 24, 2012

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the establishment of the BRICS — with Brazil, Russia, India, China and, later, South Africa — initiated in 2006 by Russia has become one of the most significant geopolitical events of the new century. This institution has become a powerful factor in world politics in a short time.

Informal global institutions such as the G7 and the G77 existed before the BRICS. However, the BRICS differs from them in a variety of ways that allow it to be defined as a global forum for a new generation.

This group of five major economies reflects an objective trend of global governance towards a multipolar international relations system and the strengthening of economic interdependence. Within the framework of this system, non-institutional structures of global governance and network diplomacy are resorted to more and more widely.

The basis of BRICS influence in the international arena is the growing economic power of its member states, their important (and in some cases irreplaceable) role demographically and their natural resources. In 2011 the BRICS's share of global gross domestic product (GDP) based on purchasing power parity amounted to about 25%; they occupy 30% of the global territory; and they are home to 45% of the world's population. The contribution of the BRICS countries to global economic growth over the last decade has reached 50%, which makes this group of states the leading power in global economic development.

There are prerequisites for maintaining this trend in the foreseeable future. By 2018, the cumulative GDP of BRICS countries will exceed that of the United States and, by 2030, that of the G7. This growth will result in the further strengthening of BRICS economic power and the group's role in addressing the key issues of global finance and economy.

The political influence of the BRICS is determined first of all by the participation of Russia and China as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In addition, BRICS members are active participants of the leading international organizations and structures (the United Nations, the G20, the G8, the Non-Aligned Movement, the G77). They are also members of regional associations: Russia is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc); Russia and China are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum; Brazil is a member of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and Mercosur; South Africa is a member of the African Union (AU) and the South African Development Community (SADC); and India is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The growing potential of BRICS as a factor of global significance is accepted now in the West, although there has recently been an inclination "not to notice" the establishment of this group of five countries or to expect its quick demise. "BRIC is rather a state of mind," said one British member of the European Parliament sarcastically to this author at the conference in Brussels in November 2010. A year later it is now possible to speak of an obvious evolution in the opinions of the European Parliament members themselves as they prepare their report on the European Union's foreign policy towards the BRICS and other emerging powers (see the Committee on Foreign Affairs 2011 draft report of the EU policy).

The prospects for the BRICS have also changed. Indeed, the opinion of former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is typical: he believes that the BRICS "can occupy a proper place in the global governance system both by means of economic levers and diplomacy" (Le Monde, April 21, 2011). The Italian Institute for International Political Studies and the Farefuturo (Create the Future) fund presented to Italy's Ministry of Foreign Affairs a report titled "BRICS and Us" in which, in particular, they point out that "today the power of the BRICs is mainly economic, but that is transforming into political power, with predictable, significant impacts both on globalization and on regional economies" (Italiamagazine, December 1, 2011).

Common Strategic Interests: The Basis of BRICS

The basis of the BRICS is the long-term common interests of the member states. For the foreseeable future, those common interests are the following:

In an interview after the BRICS summit in Sanya, China, on April 14, 2011, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said that "apart from economic factors [such as high growth rates], there is a bigger similarity between our nations, and that is the fundamental outlook on the future of global development, international cooperation, world economic system, and in general the way life should develop on our planet."

These interests determine the principles of relations among the BRICS countries and their contacts with other countries, as set out in the Sanya Declaration:

However, it is wrong to believe that the development of the BRICS does not face any problems. There are other centrifugal forces, defined by differences in culture, social and economic development, and models for modernization and political systems, as well as not fully compatible foreign policy priorities, limited potential for economic cooperation and heavy dependence on economic relations with the western countries.

These factors must be taken into account in shaping the concept of BRICS development in the coming years. At present, however, the main priority should be to consolidate the BRICS in its current composition, harnessing resources and the effective functioning of the existing formats and mechanisms for cooperation, rather than expanding the BRICS membership.

Main BRICS Actions: Achievements and New Opportunities

Cooperation within the BRICS is one of the key objectives of Russia's long-term foreign policy. Russia's membership allows it to make a solid contribution to the formation of a multipolar world that embodies the equality of states and the supremacy of the principles of law should be embodied more comprehensively than did the international system of the last century.

By jointly promoting reforms of the international financial architecture, the BRICS members help themselves, including Russia, to create more favourable external conditions for reaching large-scale social and economic objectives. Participation in such a global institution strengthens the political position of each members in the international arena.

Sometimes BRICS members are criticized for their aspiration to revive a "bloc" approach. The response to such a reproach is simple: everything depends on the purpose of establishing an association of states. The BRICS members have set the objective to promote not only their individual interests but also those of a wide range of emerging and developing economies. The BRICS as a group declares its readiness for cooperation on a purely pragmatic basis. An illustration of such engagement is illustrated by the "coalitions of variable geometry" that form within the G20; in this framework, BRICS members form alliances on specific issues with various different countries.

With regard to the role of the BRICS in the world, the position of a bridge or intermediary between the North and the South is hardly acceptable for a group of states with a population of almost 3 billion people. Such a role would obviously limit BRICS's capacity to carry out independent policies in the international arena. The role of the BRICS as a new model for global relations, one that overrides the old East-West and North-South barriers, is substantially more rewarding.

On the International Political Stage

The BRICS as a group has already accumulated valuable experience in coordinating actions with regard to several major global political problems, beginning with 2011 when all members of the BRICS were also members of the UNSC in 2011.

The BRICS's deeper engagement with the UN will aim to preserve and strengthen the central role of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security. The BRICS will also seek to prevent the use of the UN, especially the UNSC, from disguising attempts to overthrow regimes that have fallen out of favour or from dictating the unilateral resolution of conflicts. This will remain a main priority for BRICS countries.

The development of common approaches in special UN bodies and institutions, such as the Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), UNESCO and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), becomes an ever more important area of interaction among the five members.

In the future, regional networks and alliances in which the BRICS countries can act as leaders can be established.

On the International Security Stage

With regard to international security, the format of the BRICS does not provide for deliberating military and political issues and developing mechanisms for military cooperation. However, there are regular meetings of the high representatives of the members on security issues, including strategic stability, international and regional security, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the settlement of regional conflicts.

BRICS members pay close attention to coordinating their approaches to strengthening the UN's central role on fighting international terrorism, implementing the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopting universal antiterrorist conventions and complying with the relevant UNSC resolutions. Coordinating their approaches to fighting illegal drug trafficking, including taking joint steps in the framework of the UN and regional organizations, also seems quite promising.

One important area of interaction for the BRICS is international information security. A possible platform for such cooperation could be the Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, established by a resolution of the UN General Assembly.

Given the common interests of the BRICS countries, each of which is a large maritime power, strengthening cooperation to fight piracy and consolidating joint efforts to create an international mechanism to prosecute and punish pirates can become significant in providing secure navigation.

On the Economic and Financial Stage

The interaction of BRICS members on reforming international financial system will likely remain a key priority in the mid term and perhaps also in the long term. This is where they have the greatest degree of common long-term interests. They have already achieved real results, such as agreements on reforming the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and strengthening global authority.

Several vital areas of BRICS action are the group's contribution to strong, sustainable and balanced global growth, finishing the current phase of the IMF reform on time and according to the conditions agreed to within the G20, supporting the reform of the international financial architecture to make it more representative and stable and to establish a predictable reserve currency system, and reducing the risks connected to massive cross-border flows of capital for BRICS members as well as other emerging and developing economies.

These objectives can be attained mainly through G20. Thus a comprehensive strengthening of the G20's role as a main forum of international economic cooperation of its members is an important practical issue for cooperation among the BRICS countries.

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