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BRICS: analysing the security dimension

By Vyacheslav Nikonov,
first vice-chair, State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Russia,
chair of the management board, National Committee for BRICS Studies and Russkiy Mir Foundation

The term BRIC first appeared in 2001 to refer to Brazil, Russia, India and China as a virtual country grouping, essentially just a label for an investment banking product. Nonetheless, in 2009 the first BRIC summit was convened in Yekaterinburg and two years later the broader BRICS emerged at the summit in Sanya, with South Africa now added. How did a virtual association become a real alliance? As the old Basque saying goes, everything that has a name exists. However, there were more serious reasons for the formation of this new alliance. Many relate to the security dimension.

With the end of the Cold War, it appeared that the prerequisites were in place for a bona fide equality of states and their freedom to choose their own models of development and formats of engagement in international affairs. But such a new world order did not emerge. The task of building it was replaced by an endeavour to propagate the system of western institutions. The bipolar system was supplanted by aspirations for unipolar domination, which was largely perceived as counterproductive and unjust and was accompanied by an increase in confrontation and military interventions. Simultaneously, new countries emerged as leaders of economic growth, which the crisis of 2007–09 highlighted. The limitations of the mechanisms created at Bretton Woods at the end of the Second World War became apparent. The unipolar system proved temporary and unsustainable.

It has become clear that no single state is capable of ensuring effective global governance. The global system is now settling into a more natural polycentric arrangement in which states are guided by national interests (untainted by ideology) and a common understanding of collective interests.

Such multipolarity is not automatically beneficial, as it entails a high degree of uncertainty and elevated risk. This, in turn, has amplified the demand for flexible, multilateral network diplomacy, for collective leadership of the leading countries of the world. Here a substantial contribution to the resolution of these issues can be made by the new centres of growth and political influence. Among such centres are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which have declared that established international mechanisms do not correspond to the realities of the 21st century. The formation of the BRICS is an expression of the will of these five countries to change the world, not to the detriment of anyone else but rather for the sake of a more equitable system of global governance.

In Brasilia in 2010 the BRICS leaders declared their support "for a multipolar, equitable and democratic world order, based on international law, equality, mutual respect, cooperation, coordinated action and collective decision-making of all states." The member countries are confident that the international community should rely on political and diplomatic solutions rather than the use of military force. There are no trigger-happy states among the BRICS.

The BRICS agenda has evolved to include strategic cooperation and dialogue on international security, considered in close conjunction with financial, technological, environmental and information security issues.

All five countries are interested in increasing to the maximum extent the role of the United Nations, in improving its mechanisms and in responding to global challenges and threats through multilateral diplomacy. The documents produced by BRICS summits show continued emphasis on members' readiness to consider comprehensive reform of the UN, including the Security Council. China and Russia support the aspiration of Brazil, India and South Africa to play a more significant role. These countries are considered potential permanent members of the Security Council in the case of its expansion (which is not yet on the foreseeable horizon).

The simultaneous participation of all five BRICS countries in the Security Council in 2011 provided a valuable opportunity for joint efforts on peace and security, reinforcing multilateral approaches and strengthening foreign policy coordination. All five countries are concerned about the volatile situations in various regions of the world, and share common principles: the importance of avoiding use of force and respect for the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of every state. On many issues — in particular those related to Libya, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and Somalia — the BRICS countries acted and are acting based on common or at least very similar positions.

When the Security Council took up the issue of Libya, the BRICS countries at the 2011 Sanya Summit showed their support for the African Union High-Level Panel Initiative on Libya proposed by South Africa, but did not veto the no-fly zone resolution. They later came to regret this decision when the resolution was used as a cover for a full-fledged foreign intervention, resulting in a large number of casualties and the destabilization of the entire region of North Africa. The BRICS countries learned a lesson from the Libyan crisis: in order to avoid further abuse of UN Security Council resolutions, a prerequisite is full clarity on all issues such as the nature of proposed sanctions, conditions for imposing them, sanction targets and the conditions for lifting sanctions.

This was one reason why, on 4 October 2011, Russia and China both vetoed the resolution on Syria, while Brazil, India and South Africa abstained. They are not proponents of the Assad regime, but the alternative to this regime seems much worse. The BRICS countries are calling on both sides to put an end to the violence and engage in dialogue. Moreover, the BRICS countries are against the use of the UN Security Council by western countries to topple disagreeable regimes and impose one-sided solutions to conflict situations.

The BRICS countries do not believe that the Iranian crisis can be resolved with the use of force, the consequences of which would be extremely difficult to anticipate. No one is interested in a nuclear-armed Iran. In recognizing Iran's right to the peaceful use of atomic energy in compliance with its international obligations, they are in favour of resolving the crisis through diplomatic means in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. BRICS countries believe that Afghanistan needs time, development support and cooperation, as well as preferential access to world markets and foreign investment. They are prepared to fulfill their obligations accepted at the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn in December 2011 and to support efforts under the Paris pact aimed at fighting illegal opium trade originating in Afghanistan.

The BRICS countries have categorically condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. At every summit they have affirmed that acts of terrorism cannot be justified. They are in favour of the speedy completion of work on and the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the United Nations. The prevention of acts of terrorism is just as important as the quashing of terrorism and its sources of financing. Practical cooperation in this area is already taking place among the Russia-India-China triad and within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The Sanya Summit had a discussion of the reinforcement of international information security, with a particular focus on cybercrime. Increasing attention is being given to the development of a universal convention on cybercrime under the auspices of the United Nations. The BRICS countries, with national space programmes, are progressing in space exploration cooperation and the development of a common global navigation system. All members are against the militarization of outer space. They are co-authors of draft UN resolutions on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities.

Nuclear nonproliferation and the peaceful use of atomic energy are becoming ever more important for the BRICS. All of the members possess uranium enrichment technologies. Russia and China are nuclear-weapon states under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. India is a de facto nuclear power. Brazil has experience in the development of a military nuclear programme and its subsequent dismantling. There is thus a broad platform for dialogue among the BRICS countries on the nuclear issues. This entails, first, the development of atomic energy worldwide, including joint projects and technologies for enriching nuclear materials. Second comes control over the export of sensitive technologies. Third is preventing nuclear terrorism. This topic has largely been monopolised by the West, yet each BRICS member is no less concerned about the threat of nuclear terrorism or nuclear anarchy. Each of the BRICS countries, albeit to different degrees, is interested in having a constructive arms control agenda. For now only Russia is participating in agreements with the United States on the reduction of nuclear weapons. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty should enter into force. Russia and Brazil have already ratified it. China and India could also join.

The main challenge to economic security is the imperative to form a new financial architecture. This seems highly unlikely without taking into consideration the opinions and without the resources of the five countries, which are putting forward a commonly agreed concept for reform of the world financial system. The BRICS supports the central role of the G20 in global economic governance. In comparison with previous formats, the G20 is perceived as a broader, more representative and more effective forum. The BRICS would like to facilitate the strengthening of the G8 through the creation of the G8+ (meaning the addition of China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa). Moreover, when participating in G8 summits, these countries are not inclined to put up with last-minute invitations simply to join for coffee.

The BRICS has achieved some success in advocating for a reallocation of voting shares in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. "Control rights in the IMF should stay with the net creditors," notes Sergei Guriev, head of the New Economic School in Moscow. "The difference is that now the net creditors are largely emerging markets, in particular BRICS. Emerging markets should not just obtain votes proportional to their weight in the global economy; they should get even more votes, because if BRICS cannot control how their funds are spent, they may simply refuse to increase funding to the IMF in the future … In the worst case, they will not provide any funding at all."

In the context of ensuring global economic security, the BRICS countries are examining problems of promoting development. Growing inequality represents a great threat to sustainable and stable development worldwide. Addressing this inequality is a high priority issue for all responsible countries. The BRICS countries are paying significant attention to countries suffering from poverty and hunger as well as lack of clean water and energy resources.

The future of international security depends to a large degree on relations between the BRICS and the West. In the capitals of the five countries there is a common understanding that in the near term western countries will retain their economic, political and military superiority. Each of the five countries is to a large degree interconnected with the United States and the European Union and is not interested in a further worsening of their economic problems. None is interested in confrontation with the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the same time the BRICS members will nudge their western partners towards multilateral approaches, compliance with international law and recognition of the pluralism of development models.

The BRICS countries have an understanding that infringement of the security of one of the member could negatively affect the security of the others. Given such thinking, is it possible that the BRICS could become a security alliance? This seems very unlikely. BRICS countries are situated on different continents and their security threats often do not coincide. In contrast to NATO, the BRICS does not have a clear leading country that could determine security policy and make decisions on military intervention. Each member has an independent foreign policy and places primary importance on national sovereignty, which implies retaining a free hand in military and political matters. Nonetheless, a situation might arise in which the BRICS countries could jointly use their military forces to address a common threat or challenge, for example, in joint peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the UN or in creating their own peacekeeping forces.

The 'gentle ascendancy' of the BRICS is not connected to violence, wars and hegemonic ambitions. Each of the five countries represents an entire civilization with its own unique cultural and political traditions as well as its own approaches to ensuring security. They see this diversity as an indisputable advantage. BRICS countries are not inclined to interfere in the internal affairs of each other or third countries; they accept their partners as they are today — states that have developed over the course of many centuries. The BRICS represents a chance to become a new model of global interaction built outside the context of the old dividing lines of East and West, North and South. Its members seek to participate in the creation of a multipolar and multi-civilizational world that will be based on the force of law rather than the law of force.

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