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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 29/05/2012

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(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Declining economic growth in most of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa) countries is not the ideal time to sing praises about this evolving bloc.

But since even their current growth rates are beyond West's dreams, it is not improper to do so either.

For those cynical or sceptical about BRICS as a formidable economic force of the 21st century, try indulging in a newly-coined phrase and book " "Breakout Nations" " by Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley, which is creating a buzz in the biz world.

But, before getting entangled in catchy phrases (BRIC in 2001 was also a banker-economist's phrase " Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs), it is important to see BRICS beyond its economic identity. Like it or not, BRICS' relatively good economic performance has given these countries ample scope to pedal a political agenda. If calibrated well, it can serve as a viable alternative to the current world order.

Either way, the writing on the wall is clear " the West's hegemony over the global economy is a thing of the past. By the same logic, its political influence in global affairs is on the decline, and is likely to recede further.

As a sample of their effectiveness, compare the outcomes of this year's BRICS and G-8 summits. While the former ended on a note of tangible optimism, the latter ended with "artificial hopetimism". The BRICS shift from an economic to political grouping in 2009 has had an insightful effect on the shake-up of international relations. The proposal at the 2012 summit " to start a development bank " not only challenges the World Bank regime, but the politics surrounding it too.

While the global economic crisis and reforming the international financial institutions have been topics of focus during BRICS meetings in the past, the bloc's leaders have also been focussing on food, energy and climate change issues, which have assumed a political tinge. They have also called for greater say on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

For those who cite their political inexperience, two of the BRICS countries are permanent members of the UNSC; all are members of the G-20, NAM and G-77; and each is a key member of their respective regional groupings.

At the end of the first summit in 2009, the group's leaders urged a "multipolar world order", and creation of "conditions for a fairer world order". These assertions were construed as "a diplomatic code for a rejection of US's position as the sole superpower".

But China has stressed that BRICS is an "ad hoc political club" of developing economies, with no political agenda to become an anti-US bloc.

It is important to note that BRICS is not an exclusive or closed group. It has already expanded, with South Africa's inclusion. As we move on, why not expand it further by including other thriving economies, which are searching for a voice in world affairs, and even rename the bloc appropriately?

With efforts to reform the United Nations meeting resistance from the waning powers, this could be the only way that rising economic powers can transform into influential political actors.

A few countries that fit this bill include South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey and some of the Gulf countries, among others. ("Breakout Nations" include Indonesia, Poland, Philippines, Nigeria, Turkey, South Korea and Thailand.)

As much as this list includes allies of the United States, BRICS must conduct itself in a way that they are encouraged to join the bloc for its potential and not be discouraged because of a perceived conflict of interest with that of the United States.

The real strength of BRICS or any similar organisation in future would not lie in its exclusiveness, but in its inclusiveness. In fact, the bloc should be open to include the United States at some stage.

While it may be premature to write the epitaph of the West's economic, political and security influence, it would be immature not to explore viable alternatives. In this, some of the BRICS countries' quiet and unassuming growth and influence could be their greatest virtue.

What all this means is that any new alternative must not be viewed as a competitor with the United States. It should be viewed in the spirit of cooperation in a 'post-US world', which is necessarily not an 'anti-US world'.

Dr N. Janardhan is a UAE-based political analyst and author of "Boom amid Gloom: 'The Spirit of Possibility in the 21st Century Gulf'


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