The forceful and positive statement of intent with which Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa concluded their fourth annual summit on Thursday is entirely appropriate for five countries which between them account for 43 per cent of the world's population and 18 per cent of global trade, and attract 53 per cent of global financial capital. While the BRICS five have repeated their criticism of the slow pace of reform in the International Monetary Fund and called for modified international financial institutions which better reflect today's global pattern of economic power, their key Delhi move has been the plan for a new development bank modelled on the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank; major steps towards this are the respective agreements on credit facilities in BRICS currencies and on letters of credit. These are intended both to finance development and to reduce the vulnerability of member states to the vagaries of the currently under-regulated international financial system. The declaration explicitly notes the risks volatile food and energy prices pose for the world economy, as well as the problems of equally volatile capital flows caused by the “aggressive” actions taken by advanced countries' central banks in response to the world economic crisis. While the BRICS bank idea will likely take years to fructify, the key lies in deepening the channels of economic and financial flows within the five.
In political terms, the Delhi Declaration is a clear signal that the states concerned have global weight and mean eventually to use it. If the BRICS consensus on Syria evaporated during the initial Western push to pressure Damascus via the United Nations Security Council, the five countries now appear to be back on the same page. Russian determination to prevent enforced regime change of the sort that was brutally inflicted on Libya in 2011 has made the UNSC call for an all-party dialogue in Syria and the BRICS endorsement is a further shot in the arm for diplomacy. On Iran too, the five have emphasised the need for patient dialogue and warned the West not to pursue a path of confrontation. Of course BRICS' new energy is not boundless. Its members see and recognise the limitations of Western power but are, as yet, unwilling to push for new ideas and bold solutions to festering problems like, for example, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, or to insist on something so basic as merit being the sole criterion for choosing the next President of the World Bank. No doubt, the Delhi Declaration marks a definite new milestone for BRICS. But the grouping has some way to go before it becomes a real factor in international affairs.