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Updated: April 10, 2012 01:11 IST

Delhi could be a turning point

Prem Shankar Jha
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The Hindu

From being dismissed as a catchphrase to emerging as a comprehensive challenge to the West, BRICS has come a long way.

India hosts scores of international conferences every year and nine out of ten do not get even a passing mention in the international press. But the BRICS summit that concluded on March 29 broke the mould. In just two days, March 29 and 30, it was reported in no fewer than 624 major newspapers and TV newscasts around the world. What brought about this sudden change of heart? The short answer is that the international media have sensed a challenge to the two-century-old hegemony of the West over the modern, increasingly interdependent, world.

A challenge to American, and more generally western, hegemony has been building for some time. It is reflected in China's growing determination to keep the South China Sea free from foreign military and economic influence; it has been visible for much longer in the militant Islamist challenge spearheaded by the al Qaeda. It was demonstrated most recently by Russia and China's vetoes of Security Council resolutions seeking to legitimise the ouster of the Assad regime in Syria. Against this background, the Delhi meeting acquired a special significance.

But the extent to which Delhi saw the consolidation of this challenge seems to have taken the West by surprise. Only three days before the summit, a columnist writing in the International Herald Tribune had dismissed BRICS as “an artificial bloc built on a catchphrase.” Unlike NATO, ASEAN, and other such groupings, he pointed out, there is neither a regional nor a trade-related justification for BRICS. On the contrary, all of its members have their primary economic links with the West. Even the acronym was coined by an executive of Goldman Sachs whose aim was to drum up new business for the company in advising trans-national corporations on how to expand business in the parts of the world which were still enjoying rapid economic growth after the onset of globalisation and the gradual de-industrialisation of the West.

More than an acronym

But today BRICS has become far more than an acronym. The Delhi declaration contains not only the most comprehensive criticism of the failures of the West that has been voiced by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War, but also the outlines of an alternative blueprint for managing our increasingly interdependent world.

The need to draw up such a blueprint has been thrust upon BRICS by the West's failures. Both the financial meltdown of 2008 and the global recession that set in during the following year were products of capitalist greed and mismanagement, given full reign by governments that scrambled to deregulate all markets, domestic and international, in the name of economic freedom and productivity. What they succeeded in doing was to turn the marketplace into a hunting ground for economic predators.

Not surprisingly, therefore, BRICS first demands, in June 2009, all related to reforms of the international financial institutions, a restructuring of the financial system, energy security, climate change and trade. The tone of these demands was cooperative: their goal, the assembled heads of government hastened to reassure the West, was to “expand strategic consensus, consolidate mutual trust, coordinate to cope with the global financial and economic crisis” and lay out a blueprint for the future development of the international economic and financial system.

But as the chaos deepened and spread from the global economy to the global polity, BRICS was forced to widen its agenda and sharpen the tone of its declarations. It crossed the line from economics into politics at its third summit in Hainan, China, last April, when its leaders expressed their “deep concern for the turbulence in the Middle East” and promised to “continue their cooperation in the Security Council over Libya.”

But NATO chose to learn the wrong lessons from Libya. Instead of realising from the aftermath of its aerial invasion that forcibly removing an authoritarian regime does not lead painlessly to democracy, freedom and peace, but to a power vacuum that is inevitably filled by the most brutal and bigoted elements in that society, it came away with the belief that it had at last discovered a cheap “new way of war” that had made regime change affordable even for economically bankrupt powers. So Libya was followed by Syria, and Syria is in danger of being followed by Iran.

It is this deeply unsettling prospect of spreading chaos and war that has given BRICS challenge to the hegemony of the West the fully matured shape unveiled in Delhi.

A critique

The Delhi declaration poses this challenge most unambiguously in six of its 50 paragraphs. The first is a critique of European and, by implication, American monetary mismanagement, which has plunged both continents into irredeemable national debt, created an overhang of international liquidity, and severely exacerbated a global recession. The second provides an equally sharp critique of the West's political mismanagement of the Middle East. A third paragraph reminds the U.S. and the EU that peace in the Middle East cannot be obtained without a “comprehensive and long lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute” and commits the signatories wholeheartedly to helping them to finding it.

A fourth unequivocally reasserts the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states, but with specific reference to Syria. The signatories express “deep concern over (the assault on the sovereignty of ) Syria”, call for “an immediate ceasefire” and wholeheartedly back the six-point plan proposed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, and “a Syrian-led inclusive political process” to create “a new environment for peace.”

The declaration saves its most trenchant observation for the end: “The situation in Iran,” it says, “must not be allowed to escalate into conflict. We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran, and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions.” These observations fall just short of being a barely veiled warning.

The paragraphs on Syria and Iran constitute the most unambiguous rejection to date of the doctrine of “peace through pre-emptive attack,” that was formulated by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, and whose repeated use since then has been justified on the grounds of not only fighting terrorism but also defending human rights, promoting democracy and exercising the ‘Duty to Protect'. The plain truth is that from the liberation of Kosovo in 1999 to the destruction of Libya last year, every such action has been a violation of Article 2, the most fundamental clause of the U.N. Charter. The Delhi declaration is therefore a reaffirmation of the continuing validity of the U.N. Charter, and therefore a warning to the West against using the institutions of the United Nations — notably the Security Council — to destroy the U.N. itself.

Even the two concrete economic initiatives it has outlined, the development of a system of international payments among the members that bypasses the dollar and the creation of an alternative international bank, have not only an immediate economic purpose — to shield their economies from the currency instability of the West, but the longer term political purpose of freeing themselves from subservience to an international banking system that has become the West's tool for imposing sanctions, sequestering funds and thereby strangling smaller countries into submission to its dictates.

Muted response

The western response to the Delhi declaration has been muted so far. Robert Zoellick, the President of the World Bank, and renowned economists Nicholas Stern, Matthia Romani and Joseph Stiglitz have all welcomed the idea of a BRICS bank, remarking caustically that “such a bank could play a strong role in rebalancing the world economy by channelling hard-earned savings in emerging markets and developing countries to more productive uses than funding bubbles in rich-country housing markets”. They could as easily have added “or accepting paper securities of dubious value as payment for their exports”.

But a conservative reaction is bound to follow and, if highlighted by the media, it could easily elevate what is at present only an admonition of the U.S. and NATO, into a threat. It is imperative for BRICS to ensure and the world to perceive, that the Delhi declaration is not the beginning of a new Cold War.

Today the disorganisation of domestic and international economic systems caused by globalisation has spread to the international political system. BRICS has found its raison d'etre in trying to arrest the spread. It is not likely to be left to do this alone. To quote Diena, a Latvian newspaper published in Riga, “It would be an exaggeration to say that this more or less informal alliance is aimed against the United States. These countries all understand that they want to live in a polycentric world, not a monocentric one that is dominated by the United States.” Latvia is a member of the EU.

(The writer is a senior journalist.)

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A excellent article by P.S.Jha, I thank him for it, and also his clear statements on last night's ABC Radio National Late Night Live (presented by Phillip Adams) program regarding dodgy reportage on Libya and Syria, and the role of Indian and other journalists in trying to bring clarity to what is actually going on in the middle east.

The crucial issue of current geopolitical geostrategy is the fact that the UN is 'held captive' in New York where it is easy for the US and Israel to compromise and buy out delegates to get the votes they want to smear their neo-imperial criminality with a veneer of 'international' recognition.

The trick for BRICS would be to re-form a new 'UN' replacement body in a new more neutrally secure location where it would be possible for it to carry out the 'will of the people' for the vast majority of Earth's population whose future under the aegis the US-NATO axis of evil currently looks so grim...

from:  Carlo Canteri
Posted on: Apr 19, 2012 at 20:44 IST

It still does not say - what BRICS has done / doing - which helps BRICS economy and it's people. Can Hindu help knowing us in more details?

from:  Avinash Baranwal
Posted on: Apr 11, 2012 at 17:37 IST

I couldnt disagree more with the writer. This ofcourse does not mean that I dont appreciate the article or its author. As an Indian I find it shameful to stand in the company of China and Russia, purely on the grounds of principle. To disregard the West and form a union against it is a negative campaign not a positive change. It's also shameful for India to talk about UN Security Council resolutions where it responds cowardly at worst and unimaginative at best. I am dreading the fact that BRICS at some point will muster a parallel political powerhouse and dictate the international policies. Sure there are many many problems with the West but I would anyday bet on them over the BRICS which have seriously poor history of Human Rights, Democracy, Economics and worst of all foreign policy.

from:  Kruttik Aggarwal
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 23:42 IST

The longevity of BRICS will be determined by a common vision towards improving the
standard of living of not only their member countries but also to help those outside the ambit
of developed nations, and not by a sole desire to challenge the western nations. And who is
to moderate the hegemonic ambitions of a rapidly expanding military might and hegemonic
ambitions of its own elephant in the room?

Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 22:59 IST

well good article.But before BRICS work on their agenda, they should have improved ties among them.As far as economic trades in international market, key relations are among west and each BRICS country.As we can see recent incident where China(one of the major player in BRICS) warns India to stay away from China Sea.
May be West dominance is the only reason BRICS unity.

from:  gagan mishra
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 21:57 IST

Clearly , the rising power of BRICS and the uncertainty in the actions
of the west has been aptly highlighted in the article. In times to come,
BRICS will be one of the defining organisations of the world . It will
keep a check on undue use of power by the west The crash down of economy
due to west's improper decisions and lesser dependence on dollar by the
BRICS contries will be beneficial for all the world.

from:  Roma Srivastava
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 18:56 IST

What a anachronistic article. The author seems to still live in the kumbayaa world of NAM.
UNSC reforms: The Chinese don't want India in there (we don't deserve it is another matter). Russians + Chinese don't want more parties with veto.
Terrorism: The Chinese would try their best to protect their "paw" the military-jihadi complex of Pakistan.
Trade: The Chinese will do anything to continue their export oriented growth. If required at the cost of India & Brazil.
So essentially the BRIS in general and we (India) in particular seem to be the "useful idiots" to China.
I fail to see why we should feel nostalgic. Unless the nostalgia is for the Bandung Conference and its aftermath

from:  Yogesh P
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 18:45 IST

Thanks to Mr. Prem Shankar Jha for such a nice read. The west from the onset always try to make things happen according to their wish and benefits. All this led to disbalance of world economy and trade. US with EU are economic predators.
The initiative of having a BRICS bank would be an option to reorder the global economy and international relations for the mutual benefit of humanity.

from:  Ramendra
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 18:27 IST

while brics has potential,i dont think we shud put all our eggs in one
basket.we have pblms with china.brazil is too far away.relations with
russia present their own complexities..the world order is not going to
chang too soon..we must cultivate our ties with us,continue to grow and
be more relevant ourselves and any grouping we become a part of. i do
think justice is not not going to be as pervasive as it needs to be if
the present world order and institutions persist...we should work
towards bringing that change,but we should not rush towards it...

Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 17:14 IST

All the points brought forward by writer is quite rightly in the favor of better tomorrow. The way U.S. has been handling the affairs and dictating small nations via World bank is really frustrating. THE Prospects of having a new alternative bank to world bank is a real winner.
Only concern is that these summits and proposals don't turn into a paper work only. As we have in India. Just having a communion and passing new resolutions won't help. The cornerstone of all these are the implementation of these proposals. Hope BRICS do justice to all his promising promises.

from:  Aditya Abhinav
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 16:15 IST

I completely agree with the writer,that west is acknowledging BRICS more
than just an acronym. BRICS nations have come up and shown their
proactive role whether it is the issue of Syria, Iran or Sri Lanka.This
acronym is reflecting that developing economies are no longer to
suppress under the west hegemony .The decision of BRICS bank and BRICS
stock exchange definitely proves to be sanguine for this acronym

from:  ravinder singh
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 14:52 IST

What one can notice from the article is that, the author is hinting that the hitherto world order is on path of change. But, even if this is true, the timelines are a conundrum. BRICS as a grouping have considerable clout, nobody denies that, but do they have leverage? perhaps one cannot nod his head in confidence in this matter. I agree that China and Russia have been stead fast in oppossing any west backed resolution towards war or regime change but one cannot paint it with the picture of BRICS when this decision was taken. It is true that a majority of the trade is still happening with US and EU amongst the BRICS. The Delhi declaration is only a starting point, a splinter which will take time to grow, the communique itself has said that this declaration is in no way posing a challenge to the existing world order but only a measure towards the growth and consolidation of the five economies in the group. To think of this as a parallel is only a farce.

from:  bharath
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 14:44 IST

I feel BRICS is absolutely indispensable in today's scenario.BRICS member countries need to co-operate with each other more and more because these countries are the BACKBONE of world economy and the onus lies on these countries to keep the world econnomy safe from any danger.But we should not forget that with india and china both there in BRICS,it would be hard for these countries to work in close cooperation with each other.The competion and enimosity between these two might create hurdles.These two must realize their importance in world economy.If they are able to do so,BRICS will,indeed,become very powerful with the world's 2 fastest growing economies working towards a COMMON GOAL-never allowing the train of world economy derail.

from:  himanshu khandelwal
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 14:29 IST

Before i begin any comments i would like to thanks Prem Shankar Jha for his wonderful article.There was a time when the west dominated us in every field but now it's our turn to show them our true potential and the decision of the BRICS countries is just a beginning.

from:  Gaurav Pandey
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 13:47 IST

BRICS can become a global force to reckon with, if it is able to keep
bilateral differences aside and focus on issues of common interest
like trade, terrorism, UNSC reforms, IMF-WB-WTO reforms, climate
change, sustainable development, Syria-Iran situation etc. The
grouping has a potential to emerge as the sole spokesperson of
developing world but its interests should not become antagonistic to
G8 or G20. There is enough space for many aspiring nations to
peacefully co-exist and rise. But to realise such a dream, BRICS
should setup a charter and a permanent secretariat first. In coming
years, it can expand its membership to other developing nations as

from:  sanjay
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 13:08 IST

The recent BRICS summit held at New Delhi is getting a lot of media
attention. This is seen as a challenge to the centuries old hegemony
of the West in general and the US in particular in World organizations
like the UN, World Bank, IMF etc. This marks the shift in the economic
and political equations from the West towards the East. These are the
fastest growing economies and represent 25% of the World's GDP. The
organization was created as a measure to check the financial
mismanagement created by the West following the economic recession in
2008. The political clout is also increasing as the nations have gone
forward with the oil imports from Iran notwithstanding the economic
sanctions imposed on Iran by the West. The UN Security Council sought
to pass a resolution to oust the Assad regime in Syria which was
vetoed by China and Russia. The nations have also agreed to carry out
bilateral trade in their local currencies as an alternative to the
foreign trade carried out in dollars.

from:  atishay
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 12:43 IST

I feel the most important fact that will decide the future of BRICs
and even the entire world will be the matter of consensus that we are
heading towards a multicentric world. The important thing is the
western powers will have to accept it whole heatedly on one side and
on the other hand we have to try to incorporate trust in the BRICS-
west relation.And its also very important that the rise of parallel
powers shouldnt be felt by USA as a possible pay back time ..because
that will be a havoc and a starting of a new cold war. The fact is no
matter how civilized we humans are there is always an animal instinct
with in us..which is predominantly triggered by "fear" leading us to
disastrous situations..and this applies even for the countries ..and
the only way to avoid this will be to build "trust". so that there is
no fear...

from:  Dinoop Ravindran Menon
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 11:25 IST

Great Article. Cleared many concepts.

from:  Pankaj
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 11:18 IST

All we learn from Prem Shankar Jha is that BRICS countries are good at criticizing the West. And Jha thinks THAT is a great achievement? What positive thing has BRICS actually done? Just talk? No action? If criticizing the West is the only goal of the BRICS summit, then BRICS is a roaring success!

from:  K. Raghunathan
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 08:04 IST

First of all, it will be unjust to say something before thanking the
author for his exceptionally good article in the Hindu. His thought
provoking and intrinsic knowledge of the geo-political and wold
economy in incredible.
The BRICS, association of five major economies of the world i.e.,
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is a clear signal for
the re-odering of the world economy and the geo-political power
balance in the modern world. The dominance of the western countries
must be checked and an internationally accepted monetary regime free
from the clutch of a country-specific currency like dollar must be
developed. The charter of the UN must implemented in true spirit of
term. The long delaying of the reforms in UN can be compensated by
BRICS. The sovereignty of many small Asian and African countries are
at stake at the hand of the two-century-old hegemony of the West over
the modern world.

from:  Shashikant Nishant Sharma
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 06:48 IST
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