The club of emerging political and economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa in response to new global challenges is famously known as BRICS. Since its inception in 2006, it has been a platform to highlight the prominence of multi-polar world order challenging the collision of G-7 members. These five countries account for 20 percent of world GDP and 40% of the world population. Further, they hold 40 percent of gold and hard currency reserves. Being collectively the largest market, their cumulative GDP has tripled in the last ten years.
With the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on 28th October 2018, many are skeptical about the future of the BRICS as he comes from the far-rightwing camp which seems to be antagonistic to the BRICS. Brazil is the most populous nation in South America with the world’s eighth-largest economy of the world. Bolsonaro wants Brazil to be great as Trump wants America to be great. Even during Bolsonaro’s campaign period, he has reiterated that his foreign policy would be changed from his precursor. Further, he is a follower of conservative Christianity who profoundly believes in restoring Judeo-Christian tradition against communism.
With this scenario, the future of BRICS has been subjected to controversial as to Jair Bolsonaro would lead Brazil to exit the BRICS moving towards the pro-western camp. Another argues that this collision would last long due to their close trade relations.
The Origin of BRICS
In 2001 the term BRIC was firstly coined by Jim O’Neill, a British economist in a paper written for ‘Global Economic Paper’ of Goldman Sachs using the acronym stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The first summit was held in 2009 at Yekaterinburg, Russia emphasizing the need of reformations to be made to the international financial institutions. In 2011, South Africa became a member of this group at the third Summit held at Sanaya, China making BRIC into BRICS. The primary purpose of BRICS is to broaden the cooperation among members and enhances the support for multipolar world order. It is mainly an indication of the movement of world power from the west to the South. Since the inception BRICS conducts its annual summit of heads of the states to youth forums though the members don’t have their own permanent executive body or a secretariat.
Functions of BRICS
Two main functions of the BRICS are, to 1) liaise with meetings and international organizations such as IMF and G-20 Grouping and to 2) design a framework for BRICS members for multi-sectoral cooperation. Today it covers more than 30 sectors including agriculture, science and technology, culture, outer space, think tanks, Internet governance and security, social welfare, intellectual property, health, and tourism. The forum called BRICS Business Council promotes and strengthens business, trade and investment ties amongst the business communities of the members. Think Tank Council formulates long term economic strategies of the members.
Further initiatives have been made for establishing New Development Bank (NDB) to finance the infrastructure projects in emerging economies and developing countries and also for entering into Contingent Reserves Arrangement (CRA) to promote mutual support among the members in situations of instability in the balance of payments. Demands have also been made to reformulate the IMF but, they were not yet successive because of the resistance caused by the Western power. Moreover, the BRICS are open to cooperation and constructive engagement with other countries, as well as open with international and regional organizations in dealing with current global issues.
Despite this, one of the vital political demands that the BRICS has made to the United Nations Organization is to expand the number of members of the Security Council covering the BRICS members and making decisions of the UNO more democratic and accountable. This shows the importance of BRICS to balance the prevailing world order and also to voice for the global south in international relations.
However, as it is mentioned the foreign
policy of Bolsonaro is opposite to the leftist approach which was a blessing to
accelerate the activities of BRICS. It is more similar to the protectionist
approach followed by the US President, Trump. Once, Bolsonaro said at a press
conference as “It is about aiming for a great Brazil like that – the way Trump
wants America to be great”. This approach is contrary to the joint statement
made at the 2nd summit of the heads of the states held at Brazil
where the members pledged to resist all forms of protectionism and fight
disguised restrictions on trade. Further, criticisms made concerning
multilateralism and pulling out Brazil from Global Compact for Migration also
support Bolsonaro’s protectionist approach. With respect to the crisis in
Venezuela, Bolsonaro supporting the USA rejects Nicolas Maduro as the duly
elected President, while all other BRICS members accept Maduro as
democratically elected president.
Moreover, distant relations between China and Brazil also a reason to make BRICS in a more controversial position. With the Xi Jinping’s rise in China from 2013, China took the leadership of the BRICS group and proposals were made at the Fortaleza Summit in 2014 to establish NDB to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies, as well as in developing countries. However, Bolsonaro’s far right and anti-communist ideology is contrary to fundamental policies of China. His early visit to Taiwan and South Korea and China’s reaction on his visit has greatly influenced on assuming Bolsonaro would choose between BRICS and OECD members.
Nonetheless, since 2009 China is the top trading partner of Brazil and on the other hand export of soy to China from Brazil is as crucial as the arrival of Chinese investment into Brazil. According to a recent study carried by the Started Charted Bank, China will become the largest economy of the world in 2020. Hence, though there is much ideological dissimilarity, both the countries are dependent on each other concerning their trade relations.
If Bolsonaro is more driven by his far-right ideology than by pragmatism, he will not deal closely with the BRICS members. However, it is difficult to assume that he will abandon this BRICS group as Brazil is highly dependent on Chinese imports. It would be challenging for him to dramatically shift in his trade relations having with China and also with Russia. More importantly, in the middle of this year, it is Brazil’s turn to host the BRICS summit of 2019. Though there are no valid reasons for BRAXIT, i.e. for Brazil to exit from BRICS, Brazil would not be an active player in BRICS making BRICS into the most powerful allies of the South as it happened during LuizInácio Lula da Silva’s tenure. Skepticism arose even when Narendra Modi appointed as Prime-Minister in India coming from the far right wing that how BRICS is going to maintain cooperation among members with the rivalry between India and Russia. Further, Brazil was not prominent in BRICS during his predecessors Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer’s period. Conversely, it’s not only stance of Brazil has been changed even China doesn’t seem to be willing to invest much on the BRICS as in the past. As Lord Palmerston once stated, “in international relations, there is no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies. Only the interests are eternal and perpetual”. Hence, BRAXIT seems to be far away than we assume.
Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?
With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.
Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.
Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.
In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.
Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?
In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.
This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.
President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.
What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.
If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.
Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit
Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.
A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.
I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.
The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.
But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.
Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.
Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.
Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.
For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.
This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.
Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.
Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?
Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.
The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.
Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.
Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.
First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.
Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.
Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.
These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.
First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.
In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.
Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.
Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.
Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.
Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.
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