HERE COMES THE GLOBAL SOUTH – BUCKLE UP FOR THE RIDE!
As I read about the recent developments of BRICS (an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) at its 15th Summit held in August 2023 in Johannesburg under the chairmanship of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, I came across a depressing report entitled “Prospects of a Disaster State". The article referred to South Africa. It is almost 30 years since Apartheid ended in 1994 and yet, the nation remains locked in a state of disaster, struggling to emerge from many years of brutal repression and discrimination. Unemployment is at 32% but 60% among the 15-25 age group. The author concludes with a touch of optimism, saying South Africa could be a paradise for tourists and a model for humanity and nature existing harmoniously, “but only if appropriate policies are implemented”.
Russia’s President Putin attended the Summit by video link, staying away to avoid the risk of arrest by the International Criminal Court, accusing him of war crimes in Ukraine. Russia was represented at the Summit by its Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. However, the next BRICS summit is scheduled to take place in Russia, where Vladimir Putin will almost certainly host that meeting.
The Aims of BRICS
The theme of the Johannesburg BRICS Summit was “Inclusive Multilateralism”. BRICS has embarked upon a new chapter in its effort to build a world that is “fair, just, inclusive, and prosperous”. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres supported the call for a less exploitative global order.
Countries are drawn to BRICS because it offers the alternative of a fairer, more diverse, multipolar world. The G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and United States) is politically, economically and ideologically homogenous. It projects its model onto the rest of the world, whereas the BRICS countries embrace the diversity of different civilisations and cultures and look towards a better-balanced world order. Since its first Summit in 2009, BRICS has become a real challenger to institutions dominated by the United States and Europe.
At its August meeting, BRICS agreed to admit six new member nations from 1 January 2024, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopian, Egypt, Argentina, and UAE, while leaving the door open to further expansion. Three of the new members, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran are the world’s biggest oil producers. The 11 member countries will together have a population of 3.7 billion, nearly half the global population. Almost 40 other nations have expressed an interest in joining BRICS. Notably, the Global South contains the vast majority of humanity and includes almost all nations other than Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, New Zealand, South Korea, the United States, and European countries. Despite that, the needs and goals of the Global South have been largely ignored.
BRICS is often compared to the G7. In 2002, the G7 countries accounted for 42% of global GDP, but 20 years later they have fallen to only 30%. During the same period, the BRICS share of GDP has increased from 19% to 31%. Continued expansion of BRICS countries and the steady rise of its global influence marks the advancement of the Global South and the potential reshaping of the world order. The “Global South” refers to nations which are emerging and developing, and are usually, but not always located in the South – typically Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most, but not all are poor or middle income states.
BRICS has gained in status and influence. In 2008, US financial and regulatory failures fuelled the global financial crisis. Poorer economies struggled but were ignored by the developed world. In 2015, BRICS established its New Development Bank thereby creating an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF to better support countries in the Global South.
The Weaponised Dollar
A large part of the enthusiasm for joining BRICS is the need to escape US dollar hegemony which is used by America as a coercive political tool. The Washington-based Centre for economic and Policy Research finds that US sanctions have increased by 933% in 20 years, but practically all states in the Global South have rejected the sanctions regime adopted against Russia. Some have increased their trade with Moscow, greatly undermining the efficacy of Western sanctions. In 2022, Russia’s trade with Turkey increased by 87%, by 68% with the UAE, and 205% with India!
In a perceptive paper by Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar [https://johnmenadue.com/petrodollar-be-warned-three-persian-gulf-energy-powers-just-joined-brics/] he comments that what truly stood out from the BRICS conference is the new member states from the Persian Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran are three of the world’s most important energy superpowers and all three are open to trading in non-dollar currencies. What the US did to Russia in 2022 by seizing its billions of dollar reserves sent shockwaves across the petrodollar states and beyond. Putin warned that there would be a heavy price to pay for those “sanctions from hell”.
New settlement mechanisms will gradually dethrone the dollar, liberating the world economy from the clutches of the US Fed. The possible creation of a single BRICS currency was canvassed at the Summit. As Bhadrakumar observed, the emergence of the “Global Majority” can only be addressed by Washington through reconciliation with Moscow and Beijing and it will have to begin with an end to the proxy war against Russia and an abandonment of the attempt to fuel tensions with China over Taiwan.
The BRICS countries have significant differences in their political, economic, social, and cultural situations. However, the BRICS guiding principle is not idealism, but realism and national interests. What they all have in common is that they have been exploited by Western imperialism, colonialism, and racism. Now they look to a world which is more equitable, balanced, and inclusive. These countries share the belief that they have been badly served by the rules of the global order created under US leadership after World War II.
China’s Global Development Initiative strives for more development, poverty alleviation, and improved health across the developing world and works to identify the adhesive ingredients which glue these countries together. Foremost is “True Multilateralism” which works by consensus, with one vote per country irrespective of size, as well as a strict commitment to “non-interference” in each country’s internal affairs. As the African ambassador to BRICS said, it is incorrect to label the group as “anti-West”, adding, “What we do seek is to advance the agenda of the Global South and to build a more inclusive, representative, just, and fair global architecture”.
It is not only about BRICS. In 2001, China and Russia founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) with the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined in 2017 and Iran joined in 2023 while Belarus is expected to join in 2024. The SCO also invites “dialogue partners” to take part in discussions and more than a dozen countries have that status. The one thing all have in common is that they have been affected by coercive policies imposed by the developed countries – the “Global North”.
The US and the West regard “Democracy V Autocracy” as a critical issue, but countries in the Global South focus instead on development, poverty alleviation, food, energy, health, climate change, and peace, while seeking a greater role in international affairs and the construction of a new, fairer international order. The BRICS mixture of authoritarian and democratic governments, focusing on their National Interests allows more space for their different ideologies. This approach differs sharply from that of Washington which portrays the war in Ukraine as a choice between “good and evil”.
“Active non-alignment”, is a foreign policy approach in which countries of the Global South refuse to take sides in conflicts between the great powers. This is not the same as “neutrality”. An active non-aligned policy allows a nation to take a position closer to one country on one issue and a different position on another. They are not compelled to act in unison. Most prominent amongst them is India which refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion, while increasing its imports of Russian oil.
As recently reported in the South China Morning Post, there is a clear message for the West: BRICS sees itself as “A champion of the needs and concerns of the peoples of the Global South”. An expanding BRICS may be what the world needs. Forget fighting and focus instead on development and cooperation, despite differences.
“AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM” – HEAR THE OTHER SIDE!