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The recently concluded twin summits in Ufa, Russia—of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization)—are a strategic milestone for the emerging global order and India’s role in it for several reasons.
First, host Russia sought to use the summits to vindicate and bolster its own global standing over the Ukraine imbroglio and highlight that it was not isolated either politically or economically, despite the sanctions imposed by the Group of 7 countries (G7). This is reminiscent of the twin BRICS (South Africa became a member in 2010) and SCO summits that Russia hosted in Yekaterinburg in 2009, a year after Moscow faced international opprobrium for its invasion of neighbouring Georgia. However, like 2009, the efforts in 2015 are also likely to do very little to improve Russia’s international standing. In fact, they reflect Moscow’s diminishing role in shaping the emerging world order, which is increasingly being determined by other BRICS and SCO members, notably China.
Second, the inherent contradictions between the various BRICS and SCO members, particularly China and India, were also evident at the summits. For instance, while the wordy 43-page Ufa declaration extols that “the UN has a central role in coordinating international action against terrorism” and that “terrorist threats can be effectively addressed through…the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”, it does not deal with the reality of China’s “technical hold” against India’s move in the United Nations to challenge Pakistan’s release of Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks; even though this was discussed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping before the summit.
Additionally, contradictions among BRICS members on how the Internet should be governed is papered over in an anodyne statement.
Moreover, India’s decision to join the SCO—disparagingly referred to as the “league of dictators”—as a full member is also in contradiction of the recent democracy promotion efforts of Modi. Perhaps New Delhi views SCO merely as an opportunity to enhance connectivity and boost trade by easing barriers, particularly with the Central Asian members of the organization. It is worth nothing that the SCO initially focused on rationalizing and formalizing borders among its members, particularly with China. New Delhi will do well to use SCO to encourage Beijing to resolve its disputed border.
Third, the Ufa declaration repeatedly stresses the BRICS’ “commitment to UN as a universal multilateral organization entrusted with the mandate of helping the international community maintain international peace and security, advance global development and promote and protect human rights”. To emphasize its devotion, the document highlights UN peace and security efforts. However, it makes no mention of the recently released UN report, Uniting Our Strengths for Peace—Politics, Partnership and People, which seeks to improve UN peacekeeping efforts. This disconnect between the centrality of the UN role and the reluctance to reform the UN Security Council is evident in the feckless boilerplate reference that “China and Russia reiterate the importance they attach to the status and role of Brazil, India and South Africa in international affairs and support their aspiration to play a greater role in the UN”.
While the formal establishment of the New Development Bank has made BRICS a serious international actor in the financial arena, inability to reach similar consensus on UN reform, governance of the Internet and even counter-terrorism will limit its political clout. India, which assumes the leadership of the grouping and will host the next summit, would do well to build a consensus to transform the BRICS into a significant strategic global actor.
This column first appeared in Mint, on July 19, 2015. Like other products of the Brookings Institution India Center, this is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues. The views are those of the author.