Although the BRICS countries are growing stronger, the image they cast following the meeting of representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, Cina, and South Africa recently in New Delhi, is increasingly one of powerlessness.
When the term “BRICS” was coined in 2008 by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, nobody could have foreseen the acronym’s rise to prominence. What had initially seemed to be nothing more than a cheerful marketing catchphrase has now become a group of countries that theoretically represent an alternative – if not an opponent – to Western-style development, a bloc of emerging political powers with growing economic influence. Based on their success, the countries have built a network that has been a counterpoint to the declining G7 since 2009, one year before the Yekaterinburg summit.
As expected, the tone of the New Delhi meeting was hardly friendly towards the West. The closing remarks expressed concern for the international financial situation, and called for strong reforms: “The excessive liquidity stemming from the aggressive measures taken by the central banks to stabilize their economies has affected emerging countries, creating high volatility in the movement of capital and in the price of raw materials.” Under accusation is the drive for speculation on currency and bonds of the BRICS countries, where foreign capital has been attracted by high interest rates. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was even more explicit against the measures taken by the industrialized nations, that “caused a monetary tsunami, leading to a war of the currencies and perverse new forms of protectionism.” Even India’s more cautious Manmohan Singh was firm in his assessment: “the institutions of international governance were created 60 years ago and have not kept pace with a changing world.” Forty percent of the world’s population lives in BRICS countries, and together they are responsible for 28% of global GDP. They demand a new equilibrium with more efficient institutions that represent the BRICS’ size accordingly, and that aren’t creations of the industrialized world.
Despite strong words, the BRICS do not hold a cohesive position and are intercut with still insurmountable differences. China’s GDP is greater than the other four countries’ put together, it sits on the UN Security Council, and is undeniably a stronger political force. It is the herald of the other emerging nations, but at the same time it is feared because of its overwhelming size and pragmatic nationalism. All of the BRICS countries have very different societies, political systems, and cultural histories. Their alternative model may set them apart, but it does not bring them together. Their lack of a common candidate, necessary if they wish to replace Zoellick at the World Bank, is an indicator of the division that belies the unified criticism of the institution. Despite many declarations of principle, the BRICS have not yet been able to join in a single political direction, a clear sign of growth but not yet of maturity.