BRICS+6 replaces what, in the hey-day of the G8, was the so-called ‘Outreach Five’. This was effectively the IBSA countries – Indian, Brazil, South Africa – plus China and Mexico. In the run-up to the G20’s elevation over the G8, there was much debate over whether the G8+ 5 shouldn’t simply become a G13. Indeed, a G13 might be considered much less unwieldy in coordinating global economic management than the current 20.
Two points to be made in this regard.
First, Germany, within the G8, was opposed to its expansion into a G13. Perhaps a Social Democratic government in Berlin might have had a different take on G8 expansion. This, along with debates over UN Security Council reform, had become an increasingly pressing issue of global reform along with needed changes in the Bretton Woods institutions. Given former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s support for a G13, such an incorporation of the Outreach 5 might have happen but for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opposition.
Second, whether a G13 would have been more manageable than a G20 is probably beside the point, given the core contradictions over managing global economic imbalances between the US, China and Germany. Given the magnitude of the global recession generated by the economic collapse of 2008, the exposure of western economic disarray and mismanagement made an expansion of the G8 unavoidable. The Outreach 5 were already impatient over being excluded from the decision-making substance of the G8. The Outreach 5 no longer had relevance with the G8 being superseded by a G20 in which they were now incorporated.
But incorporation amounted to little more than co-optation by a discredited west no longer enjoying legitimacy in managing a global economy in free-fall. The crisis of global capitalism unleashed by the collapse simply underlined the urgency of a renegotiated power-structure on matters economic. As it was, Russia, as a nominal member of a G8 which, in essence, remained a G7, was breaking rank in questioning the credibility of the US dollar as the world’s sole reserve currency.
The reserve currency issue became a Sino-Russian wedge in advancing a rival narrative in global political economy among the emerging powers. Thus, if the launching of the BRIC quartet in 2009 on the side of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) had not happened, something similar would have emerged in its place notwithstanding the marketing proprietorship of Goldman Sach’s Ron O’Neill! As the largest and most dynamic among the world’s emerging economies, China, India and Brazil, joined by G8 outlier Russia, were not about to be co-opted within a diluting framework which might otherwise blunt their momentum as a global change pressure group.
In any case, the existence of the G20 by no means pushed the G8 onto the margins. It has become a club governance ‘caucus’ as has BRICS. But the underlying dynamic of discord between the US, China and Germany over issues of stimulus, austerity and currency remains the salient fault-line within global economic governance. These tensions and more have stalemated global trade negotiations in the collapse of Doha WTO ‘development round.’
So, from the standpoint of global negotiations, whether it’s a G20 (as it is), or a G13 (as it might have been), makes little difference.
Nevertheless, on top of global economic governance there were unrealistic assumptions that BRICS was going to occupy a leadership role in matters of international security as well. This was a presumption made on the basis of all five BRICS becoming individual and collective focal points in United Nations decision-making especially on the UN’s Security Council. But, if anything, the cut and thrust of BRICS diplomacy within the Security Council over the past two years (and all five were on the Council in 2011) has exposed the non-alliance that is the BRICS.
While there is much to fault the P3 (US, UK, France) in their kneejerk tendency toward interventionism where complex conflict situations arise, the BRICS, both collectively and individually, have no normative coherence or consensual point of reference for facilitating serious conflict resolution or preventive diplomacy. The Syrian tragedy, and to some extent the Libyan and Cote d’Ivoire conflicts, underline this poverty.
At best, BRICS is what one Chinese analyst aptly described it as a ‘semi-alliance.’ One could go further and elaborate its identity as a semi-alliance of limited multilateral partnership and utility amongst a select group of emerging powers. They share a common interest in negotiating a more inclusive global economic regime. Now, if this alignment and its economically revisionist objective is combined with the economic challenges facing the Euro-American transatlantic, BRICS might be placed within a much bigger picture of global economic transition toward what will become a more structurally integrated international system, one reflecting shared sovereignty between great powers and regional and continental economic communities.
In geopolitical terms, the outlines of this emerging transitional global order might be viewed as comprising two sub-orders of alliances, semi-alliances, and alignments. Given the still salient post-cold war east-west, north-south dichotomies, the ‘incumbent’ sub-order groups together the US, the European Union (EU), NATO, and the OECD, within which are nested the club governance ‘directorate’ of the G7 and the democracy and governance monitoring role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The countervailing sub-order spearheaded by BRICS encompasses northern and southern alignments: respectively, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), co-led by China and Russia; and the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) trilateral dialogue forum.
These, in turn, merge into the respective regionalisms in South Asia and Indian Ocean such as the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation, the Southeast Asian ASEAN, the African Union (AU), and its regional economic communities, including the COMESA-SADC-EAC tripartite free trade initiative and, in South America, the ‘southern cone’ economic community of Mercosur and the continental Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Also located within this BRICS-led sub-order would be the older generation South multilateral groupings of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which is about to rotate under the leadership of an embattled Iran and the G77(+China).
These sub-ordered groupings should not, however, be perceived as polarized camps of geopolitical hostility as was the case during the cold war. There is a lot of strategic flexibility within and between them amid a third ‘swing cluster’ of states, many of which are also to be found within the G20. Hence, one could envision a BRICS+6 formation including NATO member Turkey, Gulf Cooperation Council leader Saudi Arabia, the US-aligned Republic of Korea (belonging to the ASEAN+3 with China and G7 member Japan), ASEAN’s regional leader Indonesia, Argentina, and NAFTA member Mexico bordering the US. Within the US-led sub-order, G20 members like Australia and Canada can similarly be placed within the fluidity of this swing clustering ‘third force’ between the two sub-orders.
Even Germany, the economic hegemon of the EU, has gravitated toward a more neutralist position. This is reflected on issues of military intervention that converge with BRICS proclivities. Berlin is on the same side with China in Beijing’s economic tensions with Washington (both Germany as well as China being export surplus economies), as well as being in strategic energy security partnership with Russia. Moreover, it isn’t for nothing that some within Germany’s foreign policy elite have promoted a ‘Gibsa’ idea that would align Germany with India, Brazil and South Africa in a bridging outreach to the global South that departs from Washington’s continuing emphasis on needing ‘allies.’
Matching Germany’s strategic autonomy within the US-led sub-order would be India’s converging strategic autonomy within the BRICS sub-order. India is close in its relations with both Germany and the US, Germany being the cornerstone of Delhi’s strategic partnership with the EU while there is a clear convergence if not alignment with Washington on security challenges in Asia centering around China. Sino-Indian relations, apart from the economic semi-alliance shared in BRICS, are ambivalent and fraught with strategic contradictions. Not the least is China’s strategic partnership with Pakistan.
The apex of the global order is a geopolitical muddle. Sino-American economic interdependence makes for a competitively cooperative relationship of selective engagement. It merges into a triangle of uncertain US-Russian ‘reset’, given Russia’s nuclear peer status. And while Moscow is co-leader of the SCO with Beijing, both jockey for position within it even as they collaborate in trying to check US/NATO encroachment on their central Eurasian space. Russia, moreover, has its own pan-European integrationist agenda offsetting its BRICS and SCO agendas. In addition to the geopolitical complexities, the transitional state of multilateralism pertaining to UN Security Council and IMF/World Bank institutional reforms reinforce the muddle at the centre of the global order in relation to its peripheral sub-orders.
So where does this leave South Africa and Africa?
Irrespective or maybe because of the competing alignments and their fluidities, South Africa, as the continent’s default leader might do well to follow suit in carving out for itself and Africa a posture of strategic autonomy. This means foreign policy independence for Tshwane-Pretoria within the context of both BRICS and IBSA accompanied by emphasis on promoting Africa’s continental sovereignty through accelerated pan-African integration. Why this is so has everything to do with a reading of where the global political economy is headed based on a reading of the crisis in Europe.
The Eurozone crisis, as serious as it is both for Europe and the world, may also reflect birth-pangs of an emerging new order; it is one taking shape in a manner wherein international relations moves beyond the Westphalian order of a system based on sovereignty of the nation-state toward one that might be described as incipient global economic federalism. Whether or not the Eurozone eventually breaks up, the successor arrangement could likely be one reflecting a core bound together more closely as a federal union in fiscal and banking terms while salvaging the EU single market for those among the embattled southern periphery who may exit the Euro. Call this variable geometric integration but integration none the less. Global economic integration eclipsing national sovereignty is already the reality.
It behooves Africa, therefore, to come to grips with this reality in fashioning its own inter-African system of closer economic and security communities under the AU umbrella. Hence, the timeliness of South Africa and SADC’s victory in Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma ascending to the chair of the AU. However, as a corollary to an ever more focused integrationist African agenda, South Africa needs to expand its BRICS strategy into a more dynamic BRICS+6 agenda that engages other emerging powers within the G20. This, in effect, means tilting the balance within the G20 toward more of a ‘middle power’ phalanx of middle-income economies that stand to be sidelined as spectators to the ‘G2’ tug of economic struggle between the US and China.
A BRICS+6 strategy leveraging IBSA stands to benefit Africa as many of the emerging 6 (non-members of BRICS) within the G20 are part of the ‘new scramble’ for Africa. Hence, a convergence in the AU’s integration agenda and the need for Africa to better manage this ‘new scramble’ while forging closer tricontinental links with the likes of Indonesia and the ASEAN in Southeast Asia and Argentina in the South American ‘southern cone.’
BRICS and IBSA, for South Africa, must represent means to an end, not ends in themselves. Africa must come first.
Francis A. Kornegay Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue, and a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The article was first published on 24 August 2012 by SABC news online http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/0587fe004c75f70f806cf8ebc20839bb/The-global-economic-power-structure:- toward-a-BRICS+6-20122408