Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Indian delegation to the 10th BRICS summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 25-27 July, 2018. BRICS leaders have met annually since their 1st summit in Russia in 2009. Clearly, its member-countries are taking the process seriously; hence, regular annual summits. Hence, also a large array of official and non-official engagements among them. After ten summits stock taking is needed. Indeed, BRICS leaders should commission such an exercise themselves.
The idea of the coming together of a group of large emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India and China—was first advanced by a British economist in 2001. The foreign ministers of these countries first met in 2006. The global financial and economic crisis of 2008 demonstrated that these countries had common interests especially regarding the management of the world economic order. After World War II the United States and its west European allies had established the financial, economic and commercial rules of global management. The Bretton Woods institutions—the IMF and the World Bank—among others were set up to operate these rules. They are dominated by the western world.
The 2008 crisis was the gravest international economic convulsion after the 1929 global financial meltdown which had led to the Great Depression. It was a failure of regulation and ethics. The US, at this stage, took the lead to bring together a group of the leading 20 world economies to avoid a repeat of the 1930s situation. The west gave an indication of openness for more inclusive management of the international financial order. To use the opening and look at their coinciding interests the leading emerging economies realised that BRICS (South Africa joined the group in 2010) could become a vehicle for the exercise of collective pressure. However, the objective pf having a real and greater say has not been realised. Once the advanced countries had absorbed the shock of the 2008 crisis they did not want to give up their privileged positions.
BRICS member-countries have coinciding interests but in many areas their interests diverge. Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council. In that capacity along with the US, France and Britain they manage the world's political and security order. They have shown on real enthusiasm for India, Brazil and South Africa to become permanent members of a reformed Security Council. India, in particular, is by now acknowledged to fulfil the criterion for permanent membership but it is unlikely that Security Council reform will take place soon. Despite these shortcomings BRICS is a valuable group for it seeks to break the old patterns of world order which dominated the colonial age and which continue today too in many forms.
While pressing for a more inclusive world order BRICS countries are also seeking to generate more interest and awareness among themselves regarding their institutions and nationals. The obvious hope is that through such mutual knowledge the natural attraction of the west in influential segments of their populations will wane and they will look at each other. This will have to be a long drawn out process that will have to be driven by BRICS governments for the foreseeable future. It will need to focus on language and culture of the member-states.
Groups like BRICS also show the complexity and the fluidity of the current global order. The world is no longer organised in the relatively simple manner it was during the colonial period nor in the aftermath of World War II. In the former age international relations essentially consisted of the interplay of European colonial states and the colonies had no voice at all in global affairs. After World War II as decolonisation resulted in the emergence of new states the world was divided into two camps and India, along with some other newly independent states, sought to maintain their strategic autonomy through remaining non-aligned. International rule making still remained the preserve of the first and the second worlds.
After the end of the cold war in the early 1990s a host of regional, issue-based, denominational organisations either came up or became strengthened. Member-states of these organisations found that their interests converged in some areas but were significantly in conflict others. The age of rigid alliances was over. A time of greater than ever before simultaneous cooperation and confrontation and conflict among states and regions had dawned. As a group BRICS illustrates the present time as few groups do.
As after the previous summits the 10th issued a comprehensive communique containing views on current global economic, political and security related trends and action points for their future cooperation. Among these is a focus on an area with far reaching potential. This relates to the 4th industrial revolution. The leaders decided to establish a BRICS partnership on New Industrial Revolution PartNIR. The leaders hope that PartNIR will deepen cooperation in "digitalization, industrialisation, innovation, inclusiveness and investment to maximise the opportunities and address the challenges arising from the 4th industrial revolution".
The idea that the world had entered the 4th industrial revolution goes back only to 2016. Scholars assert that it will involve artificial intelligence, robotics, greater internet connectivity, and technologies that will lead to greater interaction and fusion between "physical, digital and biological spheres". The new industrial age will transform the international governance and commerce. Those countries that miss these developments will lag behind. Can India rise to these challenges?