The 8th annual BRICS summit in Goa showed that, despite any problems within member states and potential conflicts of interest between states, the organization cannot be dismissed as a full-fledged member of the international world order.

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa at the BRICS summit in Goa. Photo: Kremlin.ru

The annual meeting of the BRICS, which took place this year in India, always seems to be an opportunity for skeptics to question the long-term viability of this grouping of nations. From year to year, the picture does not seem to change much, with skeptics both inside and outside the organization opining that any BRICS summit is bound to be the last. And, with each passing year, there are suggestions that the BRICS are destined to cede their role to the G7 or G20.

Today, though, the growing consensus is that the BRICS are here to stay. By now, the BRICS should have convinced even the most ardent skeptics that the annual summits are more than just empty photo opportunities for world leaders. The BRICS have grown up, even if they are still relatively young. They have set principles and are eager to fight for them, but they also realize that things do not happen with a magic wand. The BRICS are in search of a new routine and structure, yet still possess the enthusiasm to come up with genuine new ideas and suggest new forms of cooperation.

There were several fears that this year’s summit could prove to be difficult at best. One fear concerned the BRICS host this year, India, which still seems to be trying to get too close to the U.S., which obviously doesn’t please the Big Five gathering at all. The other big fear came with the recent political turmoil in Brazil, the ouster of Dilma Rousseff and the rise to power of a more pro-Western successor – President Michel Temer. And the third factor was the unfavorable economic situation in at least two of the BRICS countries that are experiencing negative growth this year – Brazil and Russia.

India as host nation

So why was this year’s summit in Goa such a success? The main reason was the wonderful job India did hosting the event. India did a great job to ensure the success and sustainability of the BRICS format. To panic about slow-moving preparations simply meant a lack of knowledge of the realities on the ground. First of all, the Russian presidency only finished in mid-February and, thus, India couldn’t start earlier than that in getting ready for the summit.

The other peculiarity concerns the structure (or rather the size) of India’s External Affairs Ministry, which makes it necessary to take one important event after the other and not engage in extreme multitasking. The intensity, benevolence and high quality of the preparatory meetings and outreach activities of the Indian hosts left all the participants visibly impressed.

India not only continued with the already well-established formats of the BRICS Think Tanks Council (BTTC), Academic Forum and BRICS Business Council (BBC), but also built upon Russia’s initiatives last year of the Civil Forum, Parliamentary meeting and Youth gathering. Each of the outreach formats produced a set of high-quality recommendations further transferred to the Sherpas and presented to the BRICS leaders. In addition, the Indians came up with a number of new examples of innovative thinking. For example, they held the Economic Forum in a way that directly fed into the BRICS finance ministers’ pre-summit meeting.

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While Russia last year considerably stepped up the role of civil society actors in the preparatory and communication process, India made still another leap forward with the unprecedented level of involvement of the citizens of the five countries into a variety of cooperative activities. There were even meetings of female parliamentarians, and these meetings could give impetus for the next Chinese presidency to take up not only all previous initiatives, but also to step up the involvement of women in the BRICS decision-making process. The Chinese held the brilliant Women 20 event this year in Xian, and that could be a good starting point to include more women as part of the 2017 BRICS Summit in China.

And, yes, obviously India is pragmatic in terms of its national interests. That being said, having good relations with the U.S. could never mean hampered relations with the BRICS or one of the four nations from the group. The BRICS remain an integral part of India’s comprehensive approach to international development.

The Brazilian factor

Even Brazil and its political turbulence at home did not impact the BRICS summit. The Brazilian elites are obviously still very much interested in their Big Five counterparts, even if existing financial difficulties dampened their enthusiasm for the event.

None of Brazil’s leaders would be willing to allow marginalization of their country in the international arena and would certainly strive to further enhance (or currently simply sustain) its status as a regional power. This, despite the fact that there are other states in Latin America willing to join the BRICS in order to enhance their potential.

This seems to be at least one of the reasons for the new Brazilian President to go along with the Goa declaration, even with the rather controversial (from the Western point of view) commitments to “resolutely reject the continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II,” “compliance by all states with their international legal obligations,” and condemnation of the “unilateral military interventions and economic sanctions in violation of international law and universally recognized norms of international relations.”

Results of the summit

The preparatory process, the actual negotiations at the summit and the final document all demonstrated the resolution of all the BRICS countries to stand by their moral, political, socio-economic and developmental principles. While some Indian observers felt that the host nation fell slightly short of what was expected on the issue of terrorism – especially in terms of naming the country believed to have orchestrated terrorist attacks on Indian soldiers earlier this year, it should be mentioned in defense of the BRICS that the principle of friendly neutrality is paramount.

None of the BRICS should be allowed to become isolated in case of external pressure; however, bilateral military and political problems cannot be put on the table as a joint BRICS issue. It is enough to remember the cases of Crimea and the South China Sea in this regard. India did manage to showcase its displeasure with its neighbor by excluding Pakistan from the outreach meeting, inviting the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries to join in the partnership session with the BRICS instead of a wider South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

As for the other issues put on the table, they seemed rather balanced in nature and, in fact, much more thought through than the final documents produced by the G7 recently. There’s more than standard repetition of available clichés for each of the problems mentioned.

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The Afghan problem could see the wider involvement of other stakeholders active in the region; that is, in addition to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Heart of Asia Conference could play a role.

The BRICS countries also reiterated their common stand on the peaceful use of outer space, the need for strengthened efforts to keep terrorists from getting weapons of mass destruction, and the importance of different aspects of the information and communications technology agenda.

Moreover, the BRICS Economic Partnership started getting some “meat on the bones” that went well beyond just a declaration, to include meetings of trade ministers and outreach events like trade fairs. While the BRICS rating agency wasn’t established yet, it is clear that this issue needs additional expert input in order not to make a false start. In fact, more than half of the document was devoted to socio-economic, financial and developmental issues substantiated with follow up programs or working groups. And in fact, this is one existing fear about the BRICS - the incompatibility of the high levels of GDP growth of two of the BRICS with the negative growth rates of the other two member-countries.

The fluctuating nature of economic development is well-known, and all of the five countries expressed their resolute desire to continue cooperation and make sure different fiscal and monetary changes remain highly beneficial for each of the partners.

The BRICS, in fact, are about partnership, equality and equity, as well as finding the beauty in existing differences that enable them to become stronger. And that is exactly why any attempts to undermine the importance of this institution may ultimately go unrewarded - the BRICS is a youngster that is healthy, strong, kicking and full of enthusiasm. 

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.