As part of India’s increasing defence ties with African countries, the Indian Army chief, Gen Manoj Pande, embarked on a four-day official visit to Tanzania, on Monday.
Why are 19 countries across Africa, Asia, and South America eagerly waiting in queue to join BRICS? That is the question posed in a recent essay, and it is a valid query given that the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa grouping is widely considered to have become ineffective in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Galwan clash, and the Ukraine conflict which resulted in increased global economic stress and confirmed Russia’s diminishing power. If the bloc has indeed lost its mojo, why are so many nations so keen to be admitted to it?
As Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia puts it in his essay, the broad idea behind the five leading emerging economies coming together ~ it would be a stretch to term it a foundational principle as disagreements even at the inception stage over whether a grouping which comprised non-democracies and democracies would gel ~ was to focus on articulating a cohesive non-Western geopolitical and economic narrative. It was a time when a multipolar world order was in the offing and the economic projects initiated by BRICS including the New Development Bank which committed $32.8 billion, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement to protect against global liquidity pressures, and the push to expand trade and investment among the five member-states were key aspects of the effort to lessen the dominance of Bretton Woods international institutions. But the negatives soon began to outweigh the positives.
First, the IBSA trio within the BRICS felt let down by the lack of substantive support from Beijing and Moscow for their attempts to secure membership of the United Nations Security Council. Then, China’s rise and accompanying assertiveness in all domains including the military-security following the 2008 global financial crisis made it the dominant force of the bloc. Now, the post-Ukraine consolidation of Russia-China ties has skewed the balance of the bloc even more. In effect, China has succeeded in its geostrategic ambition of making Russia its junior partner and its geoeconomic strategy of creating deep interlinkages with South Africa and Brazil. It is in this context that close to a score nations jostling to get into an expanded BRICS should worry India (and its strategic partner the USA) deeply. For among the countries that want to sign up are Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and Nicaragua from South America; Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Senegal, and Morocco from Africa; and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, and Bangladesh from Asia.
The harsh reality is that Delhi may not be able to do much, if anything at all, to prevent the next BRICS summit scheduled to be held in South Africa in August this year to take up the issue of the group’s expansion and the criteria for it. Tough times for India are on the anvil as China pushes forward relentlessly, through largely transactional multilateral and bilateral arrangements, to establish itself as the second pole of the global order. If Delhi has to exercise effective strategic options in the years and decades ahead, it has to first focus laser-like on its economic growth. Otherwise, nobody will listen.