Amidst recent reports of potential membership expansions, BRICS, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, finds itself facing an identity crisis amidst evolving global geopolitics.

Initially founded upon economic collaboration and shared perspectives on global governance reform, the alliance now grapples with divergent views and conflicting objectives, presenting a pivotal challenge for Indian foreign policy.

BRICS had earlier agreed in August to extend invitations to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates in a strategic move aimed at recalibrating the prevailing Western-centric global order deemed outdated by the coalition.

No Joint Statement In The Recent Discussion

The leaders of the BRICS coalition, joined by nations set to join next year, recently engaged in discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a recent virtual summit. Despite the gathering’s aim to foster consensus, a unified declaration eluded the participating nations.

Facilitated under the leadership of current BRICS chair South Africa, this summit marked the first gathering of the coalition’s leaders since Israel’s incursion into Gaza following a deadly Hamas raid on Israel on October 7th. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa acknowledged the time constraints, noting that diplomats hadn’t had adequate time to craft a joint statement. “We’ve called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint,” he summarized from the discussions, reiterating the collective affirmation that a just and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be attained through peaceful means.

During the deliberations, different leaders highlighted varied perspectives. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero expressed recognition of Israel’s right to “legitimate self-defense while strictly respecting humanitarian international law.”

Meanwhile, China’s Xi Jinping exhibited a more empathetic stance toward the Palestinians, emphasizing, “The root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli situation is the long-standing ignorance of the Palestinian people’s right to statehood, existence, and their right of return.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attributed the crisis to the shortcomings of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. “We call for joint efforts of the international community aimed at de-escalating the situation, a ceasefire, and finding a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Putin urged, highlighting the potentially pivotal role of the BRICS states in this endeavor.

The absence of a joint declaration underscores the intricacies involved in reaching a consensus on such deeply entrenched global issues, signaling the challenges in forging collective resolutions among nations with differing viewpoints and priorities. However, this is not the first time that BRICS has had a fallout among the member states.

Erosion of Pillars

Brics was structured around three core pillars: political and security, economic and financial, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. While the economic and financial pillar significantly contributed through initiatives like the New Development Bank and Contingent Reserve Arrangement, the political and security aspects lagged.

Despite regular meetings to coordinate positions on global concerns, operationalizing new initiatives remains elusive, exemplified by the recent contradiction between rhetoric and action on joint counterterrorism efforts.

Despite its initial promise, the current state of BRICS reflects a narrative of disunity and divergent aspirations among its members.

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The BRICS alliance, initially heralded as a promising union of emerging economies, now finds itself navigating contentious waters, showcasing signs of fragmentation and discord. The recent rifts within the bloc become evident as geopolitical tensions and differing aspirations threaten its unity.

Anil Sooklal, South Africa’s ambassador to BRICS, highlighted the escalating requests for membership, with 19 countries vying to join the alliance before the 2023 summit. This surge in interest to align with BRICS underscores the changing geopolitical landscape, wherein nations seek strategic alliances and economic advantages.

The leadership of South Africa, the only nation admitted after the alliance’s formation in 2006, is set to steer this year’s summit. However, the forum’s unity faces challenges as countries like China and Russia champion the expansion agenda, while others, cautious of the repercussions, tread carefully.

Strained Cooperation and Rhetoric

Last year, the BRICS Security Advisers meeting chaired by China, where agreements were made to promote counterterrorism and cybersecurity cooperation, contradicted China’s subsequent technical hold on designating Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Abdul Rehman Makki as a “global terrorist” in the UN Security Council. This discrepancy underscores the divergence between rhetoric and practical cooperation within the security framework.

Ambassador Soumen Ray highlighted the cautious approach of existing members amid China’s and Russia’s persuasive campaign for expansion. Concerns loom over the potential dilution of BRICS’ core objectives and its transformation into a platform serving divergent agendas rather than collective economic cooperation.

China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Maritime Silk Road (MSR) underpin its strategic motives within BRICS, emphasizing economic and trade cooperation. However, this agenda potentially shifts the forum’s focus away from its original intent.

Presently, the alliance faces a critical moment as Beijing and Moscow seek to rebalance the economy-security dynamic. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address during the summit emphasized a world overshadowed by power politics and military alliances, urging Brics to support each other on core interests while rejecting hegemony and division.

Proposals to operationalize the Global Security Initiative, born out of opposition to perceived Western containment efforts, pose a significant challenge to the alliance’s original ethos.

Contrasting the narratives of China and Russia, the leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa continue to prioritize developmental aspects within Brics. However, India faces a potential isolation scenario if the alliance sways towards a security-focused agenda.

The recent Beijing Declaration, mandating clarification on expansion processes through consensus, postpones the issue temporarily. Nonetheless, an expanded Brics with an anti-Western tilt, as advocated by Xi and Putin, might undermine India’s influence and complicate its strategy of multi-alignment.

Amidst the clamor for expansion and differing motivations among member nations, India finds itself at a crossroads. Ambassador Soumen Ray accentuated India’s advantages within BRICS, acknowledging the forum’s significance in voicing its policies on global issues and providing economic alternatives for the global South.

Seshadri Chari, a foreign policy expert, cautioned against the forum’s transformation into an anti-Western platform, emphasizing India’s concerns about maintaining a rule-based order within BRICS. Chari articulated the need to guard against economic hegemony and divergent political agendas that may undermine BRICS’ foundational purpose.

The current state of Brics, characterized by discordant visions and objectives among member nations, suggests a crucial moment in its evolution. The alliance, once rooted in economic cooperation, now grapples with the divergence between economic aspirations and burgeoning security agendas.

As India navigates this challenging landscape, the potential dilution of its influence within an ideologically driven Brics poses an intricate diplomatic challenge, casting uncertainties over the alliance’s future coherence and purpose.

The geopolitical shifts and conflicts have cast shadows over the unity of BRICS, once viewed as an emerging force reshaping the global order. The alliance, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, faces escalating challenges amid evolving dynamics, evidenced by diverging interests, expansion ambitions, and geopolitical maneuvers.

Amidst brewing tensions and diverging priorities, the BRICS coalition encounters multifaceted dilemmas, including the push for expansion, diverse membership requests, and varying agendas among its member nations and potential entrants. These developments raise questions about the forum’s coherence and its original purpose as an economic alliance.

While the BRICS alliance initially held promise as an economic powerhouse challenging the Western-dominated order, its current trajectory showcases discord and divergence among its members.

The fervor for expansion and conflicting agendas raise concerns about the forum’s unity and the preservation of its original objectives. As geopolitical tensions and aspirations continue to shape BRICS, its future hinges on navigating these diverging trajectories to preserve its founding ethos of economic cooperation and shared prosperity.

Feature image designed by Saudamini Seth

Sources: The Times Of India, Al- Jazeera, Reuters

Find the blogger: Katyayani Joshi

This post is tagged under: BRICS, Brazil, India, Russia, China, South africa, expansionist, development, policy, summits, joint statements, experts, expert opinion, cracks in BRICS

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