While the G7 group of countries (Canada, France, Germany Italy, Japan. the UK and the US) together with the EU met in Germany on June 26 to 28, BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met in China on June 23 and 24. The former is a grouping of powerful industrialised Western nations who command immense power and exert influence across the world, the other is a grouping of globally most important emerging market economies wanting to have a much larger say in global affairs as well as foster global development with special emphasis on the Global South.
The G7 and BRICS nations also differ in other ways also; the former (including the EU) has a population of 987 million with a GDP of US$33.93 trillion while the latter has a population of 3 billion with a GDP of US$23.5 trillion. The G7 is largely a group of white majority countries, gathered to discuss security and containment strategies against China and Russia. BRICS, a multiethnic coalition of nations, gathered to address the economic challenges of the Global South. While the US has been the dominant member throughout the G7's existence (i.e. since 1975), there is no such dominant member in the BRICS (established in 2009).
Around the same time this year, Western nations also had two other summits; the EU Summit in Brussels from June 23 and 24 and the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 29 and 30. The G7 led by the US is determined to continue with the existing rule based international order, while BRICS countries are committed to uphold international law and the central role of the United Nations in the international system.
In the context of the competing views on the international order, it is important to understand what is the rule based international order as against universally recognised the UN based international law guiding international relations. The rule based international order emerged in the early 1990s under the shadow of the liberal international order, a term widely used during the cold war period to describe the order that liberal democratic (read Wester countries) states created among them. These two terms are now often used interchangeably.
Therefore, the term "rule based international order" is the US-led post-cold war world order. Western countries led by the US have taken it for granted that they are the world's norm-setters, influencing other countries policies, especially countries of the Global South through the "Washington Consensus" (a consensus reached among the World Bank, the IMF and the US Department of Treasury) which refers to market-based economic policies and a limited role of the state.
This Western liberal approach underpins the work of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. In fact, the US led rule based international order was conceived in far more ambitious terms to enable the US to remain the only super-power in the world or more precisely a unipolar world where the US remains the only hegemon. Therefore, the rule based international order, from the G7 perspective, is centred around the US and directed by whatever US foreign, global and domestic policies are at the time. In short, the US sits at the apex of the system, exercising control over the sovereignty of many countries.
No wonder the US led NATO sees more assertive China and Russia presenting systemic challenge to the rule based international order, in particular China. That view was echoed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Also, NATO secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that "for the first time, we will address China and challenge it poses to our interests, security and values".
But from the BRICS perspective, BRICS countries do not provide a normative model to be followed elsewhere apart from their defence of multipolarity. They are also looking for a more inclusive role in global affairs. China is the second largest global economy. Therefore, that also calls for reform of global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF based in Washington D.C as well other global institutions. The BRICS partnership is not only more geared to provide a counterweight to the G7 but also to strengthen the individual countries diplomatic and security efforts around the world.
On the other hand, under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), a body of international law has been developed which is central to promoting economic and social development as well as advancing international peace and security. The international law is in enshrined in conventions, treaties and standards. BRICS countries and countries in the Global South are committed to international law and the UN.
In essence, the US-led the rule base international order differs sharply from the UN-centred international system and the international order underpinned by international law. As such BRICS countries pose a challenge to the US-led Western unipolar neoliberal global order. Therefore, the G7 and the BRICS provide two very distinct global governance propositions.
As the world economy is undergoing major transformations in recent years on the back of the increasing geopolitical divisions, the vision of economic development and globalisation is also changing as well. In a time of change, new perspectives seem to be more necessary than ever. BRICS nations clearly understand that changes are vitally important in order to deal with the changing global dynamics.
But the G7 appears to be determined to continue with the exiting world order as formulated by them. In fact, it is increasingly becoming clear that the G7 and NATO are working together to prevent the integration of Asia and Europe with a particular emphasis on encasing China and Russia. Also, the EU is having a hard time adapting to the changing global political landscape due its reliance on the US for its policies notwithstanding its serious internal democratic deficit.
The G7's launch of the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative as an alternative to China's Belts and Road Initiative (BRI) reeks of power politics instead of a genuine desire to help the Global South as was made clear by Kori Schake of the American Enterprise that "We'd get so much more mileage if we even pretended the initiative was to encourage development rather than to counter China".
The back-to-back meetings of BRICS and G7 last month have new significance for the Russia-Ukraine conflict in the background. Western nations led by the US have been pressing countries in the Global South to take a side in the conflict but that did not happen. Instead, many countries in the Global South either abstained in their votes or outright supported Russia.
Western leaders' pretension that they bear no responsibility for events happening in Ukraine is quite misleading. Over the last 25 years or so Russia has warned that expansion of NATO closer to Russia's border would have consequences. And that's what the West did. Also, Russia is furious over a blatantly-broken promise made to Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in the early 1990s by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and US Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton that the NATO would not expand east of Germany. No wonder Russia considers the current Russia-Ukraine conflict as a proxy war with NATO.
The NATO summit in Madrid held during June 28 to 30 and decisions taken there will lead to the NATO-isation of Europe as Russia was declared the "most significant and direct threat ''to its members' peace and security". Also, for the first time, the new NATO Strategic Concept document describes China as a 'systemic challenge' thus extending NATO's operational reach to incorporate Asia. In fact, NATO has been involved in the US led wars of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq.
The West's attempt to weave an anti-Russian narrative couched in terms of imperialism has miserably failed as most countries in the Global South who were colonies of G7 countries rejected that characterisation. They view the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a dispute between two countries.
While G7 countries have been largely united in their response to Russia and followed the US lead in imposing sanctions on Russia, BRICS countries refused to criticise Russia. They also have traditionally opposed sanctions and often spoken out against the US imposed sanctions against Cuba and other countries like Iran and Venezuela. From the BRICS' perspective, pushing countries against the wall is rarely the most constructive approach.
The West led by the US is only engaged in moral posturing. It criminal activities in the recent past in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Libya are glaring examples of leaving these countries in economic ruins and political crises. The US in particular continues to provide military and political support to the apartheid state of Israel to continue to grab Palestinian land.
The West led by the US instead of showing some humility from its recent military defeats, its virtue signalling about the Russia-Ukraine conflict is rather very hypocritical. More alarmingly, it also indicates that the West is back to its old ways and refuses to take lessons from its historical past. The West in general and the G7 in particular pose a serious security threat to the Global South as it continues to pursue unilateralism and global hegemony.
It is to be noted that the BRICS initiative was not without precedents. The other notable such initiatives include the Bandung Conference in 1955 and the establishment of the movement of non-aligned countries in 1961. The US led unipolar neo-liberal international order gave rise to neo-liberal globalisation and many consider it as the West's new civilisational mission having recolonising characteristics. It is argued that the existing power asymmetry is essentially the consequence of the colonial past of countries belonging to the Global South and as such the BRICS perspective poses a challenge to the West.
However, the BRICS potential to challenge the US led global order is undermined by the internal make up of the group. BRICS countries lack ideological homogeneity and capacity to develop a collective foreign policy, other than common opposition to US hegemony. More importantly, other than forming a development bank, they have done very little policy coordination to foster their collective economic effort. China is the only BRICS country to have surpassed its growth projections but India still remains a very poverty stricken country with a per capita income of US$2,277 in 2021. Brazil, Russia and South Africa also have not seen their nominal GDP shares in US dollar to grow not much relative to ten years ago.
It may be recalled that Indian elections in 2014 and 2019 were won by right-wing Hindu supremacist Narendra Modi who distinguished himself to earn the title 'butcher of Gujrat' because of his involvement in the anti-Muslim drive in the Indian state of Gujrat in 2002, and Brazilian election of 2018 was won by the far right "Trump of the Tropics' Jair Bolsonaro. Former South African President Jacob Zuma alleged that the West arranged to have him replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa because of his decision to join the BRICS in 2010.
Narendra Modi and Cyril Ramaphosa were guests of German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz at the G7 Summit held last month at a former Nazi-linked castle in Germany's Bavarian Alps. This must have caused some unease in Beijing and Moscow that these two BRICS members could be wheeled by the G7. To forestall such a possibility BRICS seems to have adopted a policy of "talk left, walk right" to accommodate a right-wing Hindu supremacist Modi and a pro-Western element within it such as Ramaphosa.
The July 2022 cover of Harper's Magazine declares that "The American Century Is Over", adding an all too obvious question "What's Next". The answer is a difficult one, yet despite the lack of internal cohesion, the BRICS still represents both a developmental and geopolitical challenge to the US led G7. This is because of the rise of China-led non-capitalist market oriented development alternative to the Washington Consensus.