PARIS — The late 1990s anti-globalization movement that protested against summits like the World Trade Organization in Seattle and G8 in Genoa used the slogan: "Another world is possible." Is this "other world" now being constructed before our eyes by the BRICS, as the emerging countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have come to be known?
In early July, the leaders of these countries held a summit in Ufa, Russia. It was the seventh such gathering for the BRICS, which is looking more and more like a legitimate parallel world organisation and less like the simple acronymn first coined by a Goldman Sachs analyst.
The BRICS group, which represents 40% of the world's population and 20% of its GDP across three continents, is the first attempt at creating alternative authorities to the West since the fall of the Soviet bloc and the Berlin Wall.
It has its own annual summits, will have its own non-dollar-dependent development bank by early 2016, and is even linked militarily through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a "cousin" organziation launched in the mid 1990s by Moscow and Beijing. The SCO ties together all of central Asia and India. It also includes Iran, which has observer state status.
"The BRICS and the SCO work hand-in-hand to go further," reads a recent headline of the People's Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. The SCO had its own summit in Ufa, held immediately after the BRICS gathering.
Even though they undeniably form a bloc meant to thwart Western, and especially U.S., influence over major instituions such as the IMF and World Bank, the BRICS nations are by no means a homogenous entity. While member states Brazil and India have bonafide democracies, Russia and China are under the thumb of different shades of authoritarian regimes.
Room to breathe
In economic terms, the BRICS all have market economies that are more or less controlled. As such, the countries can easily step on each other's toes and create conflict, espeically given the heavy protectionism in place in China and Brazil.
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Rousseff (Brazi), Modi (India), Putin (Russia), Xi (China) and Zuma. (S. Africa) Photo: Kremlin
Still, the emergence of the BRICS does serve as a counterbalance to the all-powerful United States. Russian leader Vladimir Putin, for example, has been able to lean on his "friend" Xi Jinping of China for relief from the asphyxating economing sanctions applied by the West since the Ukrainian crisis. The soon-to-be world power China, in turn, sees this group as a way to breach what is sees as a Cold War-like containment policy carried out by the U.S.
Military cooperation between BRICS states, furthermore, could be the only alternative to NATO, which has dramatically expanded its zone of action since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Despite their limitations, contradictions and weaknesses, the BRICS do affect international power relations — and in a way that does not favor the U.S. The group is not, however, following the same Cold War logic of bloc versus bloc. Nor is it creating "another world" in terms of models and values. If "another world is possible," as the Seattle protesters insisted, it won't be the BRICS that bring it about.