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Can the Brics create a new world order?

March 29, 2012
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Source: Guardian

Today's one-day annual summitof the so-called Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has received scant attention in the west. That may be because the grouping has achieved little in concrete terms since its inception in 2009. Critics deride it as a photo-op and talking shop.

But this neglect, or disdain, may also reflect the fact that the Brics, representing almost half the world's population and about one-fifth of global economic output, pose an unwelcome challenge to the established world order as defined by the US-dominated UN security council, the IMF and the World Bank. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in-between. The five national leaders – presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and Jacob Zuma of South Africa and their host in Delhi, India's prime minister Manmohan Singh – are not noted for iconoclastic radicalism.

Rousseff has been the most outspoken, insisting that developing countries must be protected from the global "tsunami" of cheap money, unleashed by the US and the EU in the wake of the financial crisis, that was rendering their exports less competitive. "We will defend our industry and prevent the methods developed countries use to escape from crisis resulting in the cannibalisation of emerging markets," she said this month.

Brics boosters project a grandiose vision. India's commerce secretary, Anand Sharma, said this week the group sought nothing less than "to create a new global architecture". But commentators interpret such ambitions as essentially anti-American hot air. Pointing to a signal lack of substantive policy agreements, they suggest a desire to counter Washington's global dominance is the Brics' sole unifying objective.

"There are calls to establish a permanent secretariat and even a development bank in an effort to bolster the grouping's political impact," wrote Walter Ladwig of the Royal United Services Institute. "But this focus on institution-building is misplaced. It is the fundamental incompatibility of the Brics nations, not their lack of organisation, which prevents [them] acting as a meaningful force on the world stage". Ladwig continued: "Beyond the issues of economic governance, in many key areas the Brics nations are actually in strategic competition. Within Asia, India and Russia are potential obstacles to China's presumed regional dominance. At the international level, Russia, Brazil and India desire the emergence of a multipolar international system in which they are major actors, with the latter two seeking membership in an expanded UN security council.

"In contrast, China aims for a bipolar world in which it serves as the counterbalance to American power." So far, Beijing has opposed India's bid for a permanent security council seat.

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