The BRICS group that comprises comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, at its recent August meeting, decided to add six more members. These include Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina. It is so new that their website does not yet disclose this development. The BRICS member countries hope to ‘restructure global political, economic and financial architecture’ to be ‘fair, balanced and representative.’
The group first came together as four countries (minus South Africa) because an analyst at Goldman Sachs, investment bankers, saw them as fast growing with great investment potential. That’s what bankers do, find targets, and the acronym was catchy. The four countries took the idea up and started meeting formally in 2009. South Africa joined in 2011. Meanwhile, times changed and there seemed to be less economic logic to their sticking together as the economies of some of the members tanked. With less internal cohesion or commonality, but still large in size, they stuck together. Other countries started seeing the group with the potential of rivalling Western democracies. The only way that could be argued is by doing some contrived arithmetic, such as adding their populations, land areas, and perhaps bricks used in household construction to claim rivalry with the West.
The addition of the six new members provides more support for the arithmetically inclined but less logic. The 11-member group can now claim 46 per cent of the world’s population, 43 per cent of oil production and 37 per cent of the GDP, though how that matters is less clear. They are a mix of democracies, autocracies and monarchies. There is a wide range of per capita income within the group as well as serious differences on various issues. But yes, their bureaucracies will benefit with new departments created, and officials jetting across the world writing memoranda to be released. How they will work to reshape the global order will provide plenty of entertainment to columnists who also need something to write about.
Frozen in inaction
The new BRICS have a model they can follow for ineffectiveness. I bring to your attention a group called the SAARC — the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. This includes eight countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. If you find any common logic other than geography, please let me know. It remains frozen in inaction because its two largest members, India and Pakistan, can’t get along with each other. Their website says they have no upcoming events and their last press releases were in 2020. But ah, you can be sure there are government officials employed for not conducting events.
Although India-Pakistan disputes have stymied SAARC, Indo-China border skirmishes have not yet blunted their trade. That may provide some promise that BRICS (or whatever their new name will be) can stumble along. And they have a new development bank going too.
Although the original BRIC was put together by outsiders, they saw a role in calling from UN reform, and revising global governance structures, and not as an anti-West grouping. And so that should suggest to us that the emergence and mushrooming of these groupings signifies a different issue, namely, the growing irrelevance of the UN. The Secretary General regularly visits Ukraine, presumably to talk of Sustainable Development Goals, when there is a break in the bombing and drone attacks. Now there is a cause some one of these new groups can take up — peace in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, with all the glitz and glamor, the G20 ended with the promise that the African Union (with 55 member countries) will formally be joining the G20, presumably making it the G21. All these alphabet soups are being continuously stirred.
Meanwhile, the SAARC should be worried that it may soon be displaced as a model by the UN. And the UN is quickly racing to follow another model, the British Commonwealth. With 56 member countries, the Commonwealth does not have ambitious goals of reshaping the global order. They just believe in development, democracy and peace. Now, who wouldn’t? Gabon and Togo, their most recent members, joined in 2022. Like any other club, you are welcome if you wish to join. Just pull up a chair and read a newspaper.
The writer is an emeritus professor at Suffolk University, Boston