Since independence India has traditionally shied away from joining security based pacts or military blocks. Chanting the same mantra, India refused to join ASEAN when membership of the ASEAN was being offered to India as a founding member. India’s political leadership at that time naively but wrongly assumed that the ASEAN is a successor organisation to SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation). A non-aligned and pacifist India used to reflexively sermonise against military pacts in international fora. In the last decade or so, we have surprisingly grown fond of calling every bilateral relationship as “strategic partnership” devaluing the concept of strategic relations.However, this initial geo-strategic reticence and subsequent schizophrenia of Indianforeign policy is bound to change after the fifth summit of the BRICS in Durban, South Africa on March 26-27th 2013.
Starting from a catchy acronym (BRIC) coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, an international banker from Goldman Sachs, the grouping of 4 emerging economies has evolved and enlarged. Russia under Putin became the prime mover of the BRIC as previously in 1990s, former Russian Premier Yevgeny Primakov had already suggested formation of RIC (Russia, India, China) grouping directed against the US. Owing to divergences in respective national strategic interests, RIC never became prominent. Primarily the BRICS has remained merely as a “talking shop” with economic agenda hoping to replace the Western dominated Bretton-woods institutions. India has persistently articulated the need to establish a “BRICS Developmental Bank” but differences in perceptions and power motives have prevented it from materialising.
Last enlargement of BRIC to BRICS was smartly schemed by China during the Beijing Summit in 2011 in order to make IBSA (India, Brazil, & South Africa) grouping irrelevant. South Africa aspired to join the BRIC but was nowhere near any of the 4 emerging economies club members economically. China had felt excluded from the group of three large “developing democracies” and unilaterally invited South Africa to the BRIC summit. There are others who may be interested in joining the BRICS. Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi came recently to New Delhi seeking economic and defense cooperation with India. He also advocated for enlargement of the BRICS to include Egypt as well thereby changing the grouping to E-BRICS.
Divide Loyalties and Heterogeneity
BRICS is a serendipitously created international grouping without any serious initial thoughts about its charter. Having said that it is a reality now and we must maximise our participation and derive maximum geo-political benefit from it. The five members grouping inadvertently have two tiered membership de facto. Russia and China are the permanent members of the UNSC and the other three are aspiring candidates for permanent membership. Both Russia and China are major partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) an anti-West multilateral security framework in Central Asia. Both of them conduct joint annual military exercises under the framework of the SCO to develop inter-operability of armed forces. Russia is still China’s largest arm supplier as China remains under Western arms embargo following the Tiananmen Square massacre of protesting students. India has only an observer status with the SCO and has been made to wait on sidelines. China has steadfastly refused to increase the active membership of the SCO with a view to denying India a larger sphere ofinfluence. Since the strategic interests of these two dominant members of the SCO converge and their policies are much more harmoniously coordinated in the UNSC by virtue of their being permanent members, one wonders if these two SCO members will become the puppet masters of the BRICS driving its strategic and security agenda.