Stuenkel, Oliver.The BRICS and the Future of Global Order. 1st ed. Lexington Books, 2015. 213pp.
In a world in which there is an ever-growing discourse about a “Post-American/Post-Western World”, a natural interest arises in any government groupings that escape the United States-Europe paradigm, and the BRICS, which is formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, are at the centre of this interest. Simply put, the BRICS is a semi-formal bloc that unites countries considered, arguably, rising or emerging powers, in their interest to reorganise the world order in favour of the entire world, and not only of the so-called “Western Powers”, thus enhancing multipolarity.
The group has been subject of countlessarticles and books so far (written by academics and journalists from “Western Powers” and the BRICS countries alike), which however usually hold the position that due to their different interests in global politics, different regimes, economic and social situations, to name a few of the basic criticisms, the BRICS have no chance in being relevant or succeeding in their endeavours.
The BRICS and the Future of Global Order, by Prof. Oliver Stuenkel, attempts, quite successfully, to explain in detail the origins of the group, their increased cooperation and future aspirations, thus providing a pioneer defence of the BRICS’s place in the world order and attempting to smooth out the dissonance regarding the bloc’s future.
Beginning with the birth of the term BRIC by the hands of Goldman Sachs’s economist Jim O’Neil, and accompanying in detail the first efforts by the countries themselves to initiate talks that would eventually culminate in ministerial meetings and leaders’ summits, it also provided a thorough account of each of the leaders’ summits, focusing on specific evolutions such as the membership of South Africa in 2011, the New Development Bank and the Contingency Reserve Agreement and the group’s joint efforts within the United Nations and the Security Council, to name a few.
Despite being a book that ultimately defends the existence and relevance of the BRICS, the author does not fail to present the pro-arguments side by side with the challenges faced and to come, as well as general criticisms, points of divergence within the group and other dividing issues, all of which, when possible, are either acknowledged or refuted with solid arguments, thus offering a complete view of both sides of the discussion regarding the group’s existence.
One example of this is when Prof. Stuenkel addresses South Africa’s entrance into the group. He builds a strong case in favour of the decision of accepting South Africa in detriment to other faster growing or larger economies, ultimately calling it mutually beneficial, while at the same time acknowledging the challenges this membership has so far posed for the country in regard to its neighbours and other BRICS countries, discussing in some detail the African versus the BRICS identity of the country and how they have clash or are poised to clash in certain issues.
What is particularly interesting about the book is the reasoning presented behind the BRICS countries taking ownership of the term out of the hands of Jim O’Neill’s analysis, and why did it work. Prof. Stuenkel argues that, before the first BRIC talks were initiated, the BRICS countries were cooperating in diverse issues in different formations such as the RIC – Russia, India and China – on security, the BASIC – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – on climate change, and the IBSA – India, Brazil and South Africa- on development, military, education, etc. This allowed for the countries not only to already perceive some areas of possible future cooperation, but most importantly to start off with significant trust in each other.
Moreover, when the BRIC countries started seriously mobilizing themselves in 2008-2009, they were able to gain momentum in their claims – namely the reform of the current international financial institutions in order to achieve a more egalitarian structure – due firstly to the Goldman Sachs stamp of approval that came with the term, then for their resilience face the current worldwide financial crisis, and for the decay of United States’ legitimacy after the failed military campaigns and part in the financial crisis, among other blunders. This very specific scenario allowed the BRIC countries to act as agenda-setters in the international system: their recommendations during the first G20 Summits were one of the strongest reasons behind the IMF reforms of 2010, for example.
Apart from this strong historical timeline, in its last chapters the book presents the many areas of cooperation currently or formerly in place within the BRICS growing institutionalisation and partnership, their particular stance relating to Responsibility to Protect, but also a very critical approach as to the possible paths the group may follow in the future and how this institutionalisation may grow further (or not). Recent reports on the grouping that came out in the last months after the book was finalised could maybe have an impact on the rather lukewarm expectations for the BRICS presented by Prof. Stuenkel for the future.
For those wishing more depth into specific topics, this book is a plate-full of references allowing for further reading and research.
Prof. Oliver Stuenkel is an Assistant Professor at Getúlio Vargas University (FGV) in São Paulo. He has completed his Master’s degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, United States, and his PhD at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. He also currently coordinates the School of History and Social Sciences at FGV, as well as its executive programme in international relations. Prof. Stuenkel is one of the main authorities concerning the BRICS and emerging powers in Brazil, and has participated in track II meetings of the group in New Delhi and Chongqing. As the book reflects, Prof. Stuenkel is a defender of the BRICS existence while also aware of the group’s challenges and criticisms. His other research interests are mainly the trilateral cooperation group IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and R2P/RWP (Responsibility to Protect/Responsibility While Protecting).