Normally, loose economic blocs do not assert their political clout in matters which are handled by UN or the group of five established powers. But it now seems that BRIC which refers to the countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, (South Africa will join soon) which are all deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development, has decided to come out of just economic closet and start talking politics. They see their opportunity to assert themselves in the Libya intervention of the West, which they have dared to criticize. According to a paper published in 2005, Mexico and South Korea were the only other countries comparable to the BRICs, but their economies were excluded initially because they were considered already more developed, as they were already members of the OECD. BRIC countries are developing rapidly and by 2050 their combined economies could eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world. These four countries, combined, currently account for more than a quarter of the world’s land area, more than 40% of the world’s population, and hold a combined GDP (PPP) of 18.486 trillion dollars. On almost every scale, they would be the largest entity on the global stage. These four countries are among the biggest and fastest growing emerging markets.
BRICs could not organize themselves into an economic bloc, or a formal trading association, as the European Union has done. However, there are some indications that the “four BRIC countries have been seeking to form a ‘political club’ or ‘alliance'”, and thereby converting “their growing economic power into greater geopolitical clout”. These are not a political alliance (such as the European Union) or any formal trading association, like ASEAN. Nevertheless, they have taken steps to increase their political cooperation, mainly as a way of influencing the United States position on major trade accords, or, through the implicit threat of political cooperation, as a way of extracting political concessions from the United States, such as the proposed nuclear cooperation with India.
And they have demonstrated their political ambitions in their abstention failing to support UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which raises serious questions about the future functionality of the multilateral system – a system in which the BRIC countries aspire to have a stronger voice. Effectively, the BRICs sent a message of opposition to allied intervention in countries experiencing fundamental political change. Their vote was an implicit acknowledgement that such collective action often has unintended consequences, and that it can result in one side being given an undue advantage over another. But a less obvious driver for their position is also the notion that one day such a vote could be cast against one of them.
It is premature to conclude, says a report in Foreign Policy Journal that the collective opposition of the BRIC countries to allied intervention in Libya represents a formal coalition between these countries. While China and Russia have used their Security Council veto with frequency, aspiring permanent Security Council members Brazil, India, and South Africa are still finding their footing on the global stage, appear hesitant to blatantly oppose the collective will of the established five power permanent members of the Security Council. What they share is a long-held mistrust of Western-led military action and a more general stance in favor of non-intervention.
One of the major criticisms of the West’s decision to intervene in Libya by these countries has been the perceived hypocrisy of ‘selective intervention’.
One will find it quite interesting that India, together with other three countries of the bloc has found it expedient to criticize West’s intervention in Libya even though it also has a history of armed intervention in erstwhile East Pakistan. The Maldives and Sri Lanka have all experienced intervention by Indian military forces. Likewise, South Africa, the soon to be “S” in the “BRICS” has intervened numerous times in its post-independence history, most prominently in the Angolan civil war in 1975/6 and in the post-Apartheid era, and participated in multilateral intervention in Lesotho in 1998. After vocally supporting the principle of non-intervention, it eventually voted in favor of allied action in Libya.
The escalation of the Libyan conflict has surely prompted some of the BRICS countries to contemplate what is involved in having a seat at the world’s top table. The Libyan case further highlights the limitations of a global order struggling to reconcile principles of national sovereignty with principles of multilateralism. The modern history of the world has shown that there will always be crises that require multilateral action. The question has become when the BRICS will be willing to step up to the plate and place idealism above self-interest – an admittedly lofty ambition for any nation-state. Not that the U.S. and European nations have a pristine record in that regard, but they certainly do have substantial economic interests in Libya. The difference is that they have proven willing to sacrifice that interest to participate in sometimes distasteful and necessary political decisions. When was the last time the BRICS countries did that?