BRICS — Another Debating Forum

BRICS struggles to achieve tangible outcomes amid rising tensions between its members and increasing doubts about its relevance in a world of shifting alliances.

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Arrival of the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Joko Widodo [Photo: BRICS]

With the United Nations Organization steadily losing its relevance and no longer enjoying the confidence of the global community in its ability to ensure world peace and international cooperation, it is widely viewed that the UN General Assembly has become primarily a platform for discussion. In this context, several international forums have emerged over the years, including NATO, G20, G7, QUAD, SAARC, ASEAN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the African Union (AU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, OPEC, and others. These organizations convene periodically to discuss various issues without necessarily involving the UN.

BRICS is one such forum, consisting of five member countries that meet regularly, similar to the other forums mentioned above. The most recent meeting took place in Johannesburg. What is particularly surprising is that, while BRICS has been active for several years, it has not been known to achieve any significant tangible outcomes. Reportedly, a few other countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS, and some of these interested countries have been shortlisted. However, it remains unclear what criteria are used to admit some countries into BRICS while excluding others.

Furthermore, both existing and new member countries of BRICS are also engaged in various other global forums where discussions may touch upon matters that are not agreeable to one or more BRICS member countries.

If one were to closely examine the discussions in the recent BRICS meeting in Johannesburg, it becomes evident that the speeches made by the leaders were largely superficial, concealing more than they revealed. The proceedings appeared routine, marked by customary handshakes, and were somewhat tedious for observers.

India and China are both BRICS members, but their relationship has become increasingly hostile in recent times. Their military forces have faced off along the border, resulting in multiple clashes with casualties on both sides. India claims that China has occupied thousands of square kilometers of Indian territory, while China asserts ownership of Arunachal Pradesh in India. In various international forums, China has consistently opposed India on several issues. Consequently, it seems far-fetched to expect substantial cooperation between these two countries within the BRICS framework. In fact, when Prime Minister Modi met with Chinese President Xi in Johannesburg for discussions, it raised eyebrows in India, and many questioned whether Mr. Modi should have avoided such a meeting. Furthermore, there is a controversy over who initiated the meeting, with China claiming that India did, while India disagrees.

Russia is another BRICS member, but the Russian President chose not to attend the Johannesburg meeting, possibly deeming it a low priority. It is widely known that Russia and China, two BRICS member countries, are forming a kind of alliance to counter NATO countries and the USA in various ways. Other BRICS member countries, namely India, Brazil, and South Africa, are likely uncomfortable with such an alignment.

Given these circumstances, the potential for cooperation among BRICS member countries appears limited. Leaders of these countries go through the motions of meetings to maintain the existence of BRICS, even though its actual value remains uncertain.

Member countries are likely to make decisions based on their individual interests rather than being heavily influenced by the positions of other BRICS nations. In essence, the Johannesburg BRICS meeting appears to have yielded little of substance, and its absence would likely have had no significant impact.


N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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