Brookings India hosted a panel discussion on 30 June 2015 on the upcoming 7th BRICS Summit to be held in in Ufa, Russia. Ambassador Sujata Mehta, Secretary (Economic Relations & Development Partnership Administration), Ministry of External Affairs made the opening remarks, followed by a panel discussion featuring H.E. Mr. Carlos Sergio Sobral Duarte, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Embassy of the Federative Republic of Brazil, New Delhi; Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi; and Subir Gokarn, Director of Research, Brookings India. W.P.S. Sidhu, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings India moderated the discussion.
This year’s BRICS summit is being held against the backdrop of sanctions imposed upon Russia by the G-7 group of industrialized nations for Moscow’s intervention in the Ukraine crisis. Therefore, the Russia might perceive the BRICS summit as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that it is not a pariah in the international order, as the BRICS countries reject the validity of sanctions imposed by the G-7 countries. The BRICS grouping is part of a trend of “fluid multilateralism” where countries band together for certain common interests without having to display a group identity or complete cohesion of views. Therefore, while the BRICS nations collectively oppose sanctions against Russia, they might hold divergent views on other issues of international significance, such as reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
One of the most important agenda items for the upcoming BRICS summit will be the progress of the New Development Bank (NDB), which was established at the 6th BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil in 2014. The NDB originally stemmed from the growing frustration among BRICS countries with the Bretton Woods institutions, which are largely perceived to be inimical to the interests of developing countries and emerging economies. It is significant that international responses to the creation of the NDB have generally been positive, unlike responses to the China-initiated Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Nevertheless, the NDB and the AIIB are increasingly reflective of the power shift from the Euro-Atlantic bloc to the developing countries of Asia and Africa. Despite the positivity surrounding the creation of the NDB, it faces significant challenges going forward. An important identifier of power will be the ability of the bank to raise monetary funds from sovereign markets. The selection of criteria for prioritization of projects – right from raising capital to deployment of funds – is also likely to be a challenge. However, there is a general consensus that the NDB will finance projects in areas such as infrastructure development, poverty alleviation, and public health. Lastly, the NDB has not been developing as fast as the AIIB as a result of poor governance and a lack of coordinated framework, which might impede its effectiveness in the long run.
UNSC reforms is another important agenda item likely to feature at the BRICS Summit. The BRICS group has been fairly successful in its attempts to challenge the world economic order through setting up of alternate initiatives such as the NDB. However, its efforts on UNSC reform have been piecemeal at best, not only because of the complexities of changing the existing geo-political order but because of internal differences within the BRICS group. Given the intractable nature of UNSC reform, the panel expressed hope that the BRICS summit this year would concentrate not on reform per se, but on mutually agreeing upon issues to be presented before the UNSC, while working within the existing system. At the same time, there is hope that the BRICS countries will adopt a stronger sense of commitment to UNSC reform in general despite internal differences.
On the issue of cyber security, there is a general consensus among all BRICS members on the principle of multi-nationalism and the belief that the developing countries should have a role to play in the drafting of international norms on cyber security. There is also a general acceptance and concurrence on the issue of climate change among the countries, with four out of five BRICS members meeting at the ministerial level to consult on various issues in preparation for the December 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP21 in Paris. The willingness to discuss issues like cyber security, climate change, UNSC reforms and the desire to project a firm, unified voice in the international arena highlight the increasing political nature of this group.
Finally, the value of the BRICS summit lies in its ability to expand as one unit and bring together five, and possibly more, countries with inherently different foreign policy objectives and political standpoints to the discussion table, so as to influence the existing international order.
Nidhi Tambe and Kriti Sapra contributed to this report.