An emerging new global order
The challenges and conflicts of the 21st century will have to be solved through cooperation between many nations. BRICS has a key role to play in that landscape
BRICS is one of the most important institutions in the multipolar system which will be the world order of the 21st century. The BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — account for 42 percent of the world population and 32 percent of the global economy. BRICS brings new dynamics to the international landscape and gives strength to developing countries in a world order that until recently was dominated by the United States and the other Western countries.
BRICS obtained its present shape in 2010, with the admission of South Africa as a full member. It was crafted at the unipolar moment after the Cold War when the US alone dominated the world. Perceived as a reaction to the US military's unilateral campaigns in Iraq and other places, BRICS can more importantly be seen as a response to Western economic dominance and Western resistance to reform of the World Bank and other financial institutions under their control. BRICS represents a strong force, aiming to rebalance a world which, in the words of Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar, is "leaving too many nations at the mercy of too few".
Together with the G20, the Belt and Road Initiative, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and other elements, BRICS is part of a wider framework reflecting the world of the 21st century, a multipolar world where all critical issues such as the environment, climate, terrorism, regional wars, economic development and pandemics call for international cooperation.
These institutions jointly mirror the needs of a rapidly changing world and provide an answer to the very slow pace of reforms of the UN and the global financial institutions. While we need a UN-led world order, the UN is largely on the sidelines of most critical global issues. It remains stuck in 78-year-old paradigms. No headquarters of any significant UN institution is located in East and South Asia where half of humanity lives. Even their staff members are overwhelmingly Western.
BRICS started with the vision of creating a fairer world order, with a proper representation for the Global South. In the early days, the focus was on promoting economic growth, while very rapidly the subjects covered have expanded to security, health, education, the environment, counter-terrorism and many others.
Since last year, the world has seen a strong movement from the Global South for creating an alternative to the US dollar as the global currency, and BRICS has been at the forefront of promoting the idea of de-dollarization of the world.
In 2015, BRICS created the New Development Bank, which is headquartered in Shanghai. Former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is its current president. Along with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it forms a supplement to and a different narrative from the West-dominated banks.
BRICS may give the impression of being an artificial group, because the BRICS nations have little in common. They represent different versions of human civilization with different political systems. They are located in four different continents. Economically, China is much bigger than the rest. What brought them together was the desire for a more just world order with a stronger voice for the South. BRICS has shown remarkable resilience and a continuous momentum. The 15th BRICS Summit is being held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Aug 22 to 24.
Interestingly, BRICS has not developed as a platform against the West, but more as a platform where the members seek freedom and autonomy of thought and action. It also functions as an intellectual hub for debates and dialogues outside the West-dominated spheres.
BRICS is meeting at a time when the Ukraine crisis is on top of the global agenda. No BRICS nation has joined the West-led sanctions against Russia. But they all support the territorial integrity of Ukraine. BRICS nations are among the most likely candidates as peacemakers when the conflict comes to a negotiated settlement.
The issue of expanding the grouping will take the spotlight at the summit. It seems all BRICS nations are in principle open to adding more members. Very recently, Naledi Pandor, South Africa's minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said 23 countries have formally submitted an application to join BRICS. These include incredibly important developing nations such as Indonesia, Argentina, Egypt, Mexico, Vietnam and many more. A particular game changer would be Saudi Arabia. The country would add more financial resources to BRICS. In addition, it would also strongly underline the new world order if a traditional US ally such as Saudi Arabia joined BRICS.
An interesting area for a stronger BRICS footprint is the environment. I participated in a BRICS Environment Ministers' Meeting in Tianjin a few years ago. This forum plays an important role in advancing environmental cooperation among the BRICS states. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently suggested a BRICS' work stream on global development of green rail. The BRICS members are world leaders in green development. China alone accounts for 60-80 percent of global solar, wind, hydropower, electric cars production and high-speed rail. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has just put Brazil in the front seat on protecting the Amazon, bringing deforestation to a seven-year low just after half a year in office. India will soon be the second biggest solar power in the world after China and is launching green plans by the day.
Looking back on the US foreign policy after the Cold War, Richard Haass, a US foreign policy expert, said it was "squandered", mainly due to the US' wish to dominate the world and insensitivity to others.
Whatever the 21st century brings in terms of challenges and conflicts, one thing is for sure. They will all have to be solved in a multipolar context, through cooperation between many and very different nations. BRICS has a key role to play in that landscape. The call of the time is dialogue and respect. Let's respect each other and find common ground through dialogue.
The author is vice-president of the Green Belt and Road Coalition and former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
Contact the editor at email@example.com.