Last month they banged their fists on the table and shouted No! The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not the exclusive domain of the old powers of the North, of Europe, they said, demanding that control of the recently beheaded international organization go instead to one of the emerging new powers, the so-called BRICS countries.
The press release was released in Washington, the seat of the IMF, and has five signatures, those of the BRICS member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The day after former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahns resignation, the five-member club joined together to rebel and claim their due.
Two weeks earlier, while gathered together in Sanya, China, in the province of Hainan, BRICS leaders formally adopted an official statement, a sort of charter of their demands. South Africas Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Hu Jintao of China, Indias Manmohan Singh, and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev demonstrated their will to carry more weight in all of the international organizations.
Together they are demanding a political role proportional to their economic importance. They want to be the spokespersons of an emerging group that is challenging the old order, the remnants of a time when the world was still dominated by the United States and Europe. They denounce the tradition adopted at the time the IMF and World Bank were created, in 1945, that dictates European leadership of the first and American control of the second.
And yet several weeks later, the name being aired as Strauss-Kahns most likely successor doesnt hail from India, Brazil or anywhere else in the developing world, but instead from France: Christine Lagarde. Why? Because the emerging nations, while agreeing on the one hand to challenge the old world order, havent actually been able to agree on how they might go about it. A clear example is their failure to reach consensus on a single candidate for the IMF post.
This matter goes beyond the case of the IMF. For the most part, the BRICS are indeed emerging powers. But they have neither the political uniformity nor enough common interests or values necessary to form a bloc. In reality, the group of five exists only on paper. They had enough time for a meeting and a family photo in a seaside city in China, but not for much else.
Some analysts are interpreting this change in geography and economic power as the beginning of a split into two political orders. On the one side, the triumphant South, on the other, the tired defensive West. This view is hardly accurate. Beyond a shared rhetoric inherited from the Cold War, the South is deeply divided.
In an article entitled Do the BRICS exist? from the excellent Telos-eu.com website, political scientist Zaki Laïdi observed that the emerging nations are a force when it comes to making demands and protesting. But, explained Laïdi, they do not offer any real proposals. Instead they remain bogged down in their established regional rivalries.
In the race to become the next director of the IMF, it is difficult to imagine Brazil openly supporting the only real candidate from the South, Mexicos Agustin Carstens. Call it a case of Latin egoism. Likewise, it is difficult to imagine India defending a Chinese candidacy.
The same goes on the political front. The BRICS Sanya charter glosses over certain divergent attitudes. At this time last year, China and Russia were the first to reject attempts by Brazil and Turkey to bring Iran to the table to discuss its nuclear program. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Counsel, Moscow and Beijing have their own prerogatives.
China is incapable of forming a united Asian front behind it. The governments cantankerous demands on a number of islets in the South China Sea terrorize Chinas neighbors, who gathered behind Vietnam (the irony of history), and called for support at all costs: that is, for American reinforcement.
Russia, meanwhile, is stuck between two worlds. A sort of honorary member of the BRICS countries, it is not necessarily an emerging nation, but rather a floating one. As a member of the G8, which is supposed to be made up of the old industrial nations and democracies, Russia can barely be considered a legally constituted state. While the real emerging powers have powerful technocratic elites, the Russian sherpas pass for amateurs within the halls of global governance.
When it comes to the worlds contemporary problems, the emerging nations do not have any concrete plans. They have nothing to say on the fight against nuclear proliferation, the battle against sea pirates, destabilization in the Middle East, or global climate change. Much of the work on those issues is still done by the old world.
The emerging powers could generously participate in developmental assistance, here and there, at a bilateral level. But they defy anything that resembles a multilateral front in the affairs of a state. The old world, in other words, isnt going anywhere.
Photo - dilmarousseff