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  5. Adrian Severin: The Debate with International Participation “TO BE OR NOT TO BE BRICS: THAT’S THE QUESTION!”

Adrian Severin: The Debate with International Participation “TO BE OR NOT TO BE BRICS: THAT’S THE QUESTION!”

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For the moment BRICS cannot be seen as a product, but as a process. It is a process reminding the one that led, through crises, increases and decreases of powers, additions and exits of members, from the European Coal and Steel Community to the (con)federal formula of the EU today.
An old saying goes that “Rome was not build in a day.” Undoubtedly, even BRICS cannot be built, as a finished product, in a single day. When the product will be closer to maturity, we will be able to more accurately assess its ability to perform. Until then we can and must identify its goals, as well as the alternative routes, of course full of pitfalls and obstacles, that lead to them.
Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of today’s EU, said that the process of European unification will advance not based on a political project, but at the behest of necessity. It can be said that the BRICS process will also advance not according to the agendas of its initiators, however visionary they may be, but under the pressure of necessity. A necessity which, by the way, also determined its start.
What is the necessity that led to the triggering of the BRICS building process? The first impetus was given by the exhaustion of the old-world order (we could also call it the “still current world order”) known as “pax americana“. This order can no longer either inspire the peoples or manage their needs. It can no longer ensure either peace or security (individual and social, national and international), nor well-being nor development; the fact being all the more serious because in the world, including thanks to the contribution of the American peace, emerging powers of various sizes have appeared, whose just and rational aspirations are greater than in the past and who see that they can realize their dreams, consistent with their own cultural traditions, through their own forces or through other mechanisms of transnational integration than those specific to the order built by the USA on the ruins of the Second World War and the Cold War.
But there is also a more pressing need than that of filling the place left vacant by a dying global order. This consists in the refusal of the US to accept the end of the order it conceived and to assume the obligation to contribute to the building of a new order, placed on entirely new foundations. The entire current foreign policy of the USA, in support of which it has mobilized all its potential allies, consists in the effort to prevent the emergence of a new order that would challenge its position as the first leader of the world, its supremacy in the hierarchy of global power.
The US accepts the reset of the world order only if it is based on the rules established by it and agrees to give up the pax americana only on the idea that everything must change in order to change nothing. This is called a “cheetah shift”.
In this sense, on the one hand, the US returns to the policy of containment and deterrence, practiced in the Cold War, which it applies in the relationship with rival emerging powers (e.g. China). On the other hand, the US limits the development of its own allies, so that they do not end up emancipating themselves in the relationship with it and entering into competition with it (e.g. Japan and the EU).
This American policy is taking place, however, in conditions where the new or rehabilitated powers in Asia, Africa and Latin America are no longer in a position to submit to American demands. They now have the economic, geographic, demographic, cultural and even military arguments to refuse to follow the path indicated by the US and the international order based on its rules, circumscribed by the culture and civilization of the Euro-Atlantic collective West.
If in the past Japan, a great rising power in the camp and under American security guarantees, agreed to go into economic crisis because America asked it to diminish its ability to compete in the world market by overvaluing its currency, China, a power on the rise even more spectacular and durable than Japan’s in previous decades, which is not in the American camp and is not dependent on American security guarantees, is not willing to follow Washington’s similar dispositions. That is why Washington started an economic war against China, discouraging American investment in China and placing tariff barriers on Chinese goods in the American market. At the same time, it moved to form alliances in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions designed to lead to China’s military encirclement.
In the same context, the old policy of “divide and conquer” / “divide et impera” is practiced. Thus, the USA is fueling the escalation of the old dissensions between India and China, between Iran and the states of the Persian Gulf, between Ethiopia and Egypt, etc., promising economic and military support to one or the other of the parties, or sometimes even both, so that the possibility of their solidarity in a bloc, such as BRICS, to oppose American unipolarism to be minimized.
The European Union was at its origin a union of fear, and not a union of values, of ideologies. What united the Europeans just emerging from the nightmare of the Second World War was the fear of war and the fear of hunger, of poverty.
The BRICS, the five original members, the six who have joined it and those who are considering joining, are united, like the members of the EU at its origins, not by a history of friendship and peace, nor by a common ideology, not by their religious identity or that of their political regimes, but by fear. It is about the same fears as those of Western Europeans in the 1950s: the fear of war and the fear of poverty, to which is now added the fear of the dominance of America and its allies, former colonial powers. The dominance of the collective West is also seen as a cause of the inability of the states in question to emerge from the burden of poverty, despite the natural resources at their disposal.
The BRICS Cassandras talk about the “impossible allies” that form this association, to argue that under such conditions the project is unrealistic and has no prospects. “Impossible allies” were, however, also France and Germany, which did not stop them to become later together the essential engines of the EU. “Impossible allies” were Turkey and Greece, to later become NATO members. Politics is the art of the possible. It makes impossible alliances possible when the advantages of solidarity outweigh the benefits of division, when the strategy of common projects brings greater profits than frozen conflicts. If both the EU and NATO are in crisis today and face the possibility of falling into irrelevance (if not even extinction), the fact has completely different causes than the presence of “impossible allies”.
The history of the Habsburg Empire also offers interesting examples. That empire reached exceptional achievements in terms of integration: a single currency, a single internal market, a single passport and thus full freedom of movement of its subjects within its territory, a single army and a single foreign and defense policy, a single budgetary and fiscal system, a unitary policy in the social field, a single concept regarding administrative organization. The EU has never been able to live up to all these achievements although it has tried to follow in their footsteps. This splendid political performance was reduced to zero because cultural diversity in its political expression was not accepted. The empire, based on its imperial logic, remained unipolar. Towards the end of his history, refusing to understand the source of his main crisis, he accepted bipolarism, but this was only a form of rejecting multipolarism, and therefore it was too little. When, at the end of the First World War, the emperor offered “his peoples” the idea of a federal-type multipolar union (an idea that the Romanian Aurel Popovici had advanced some time before, as an advisor to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, under the name “The United States of Greater Austria”) was too late.
BRICS is not an empire seeking to save itself through multipolarism. It is a group of states that seek to defend themselves through institutionalized solidarity, while preserving the individuality of each; a solidarity circumscribed by a multipolar order. As long as this order, opposed, as a matter of principle, to the current unipolar world order, is preserved, BRICS will avoid the fate of the Habsburg Empire.
The same Cassandras of BRICS warn that the multiplication of poles, as a result of the expansion by admitting new members, as well as the amplification of diversity in the wake of this expansion, will make the common denominator of interests smaller and smaller and the ability to decide in the optimal time more and more problematic. For EU members this is a “déjà vu”. In its best days the EU prided itself not on its ability to avoid crises, but on its ability to solve them. The history of the EU is also a history of solved crises.
The history of BRICS will follow a similar path as long as the main criterion of cohesion – the fear of the dominance of the collective West – will exist, and especially if, through political negotiations and not war, prosperity will be reached, national dignity will be safeguarded, and civil liberties will be strengthened along with state sovereignty.
The experience of the EU also shows that, advancing under the rule of necessity, towards an ever deeper political integration, the interested states have found that each step taken requires the next one, without it having been planned. The European Community moved (as far as it did) from “Europe-market” to “Europe-power” not necessarily because that was part of the original plan, but because the development of the market and the defense of the interests of those who are its players required the intervention of the political power. That this power has slipped into hegemony and discrimination, endangering the entire European project, is another discussion. BRICS will have to learn the European lesson.
Like the EU, at its inception, BRICS is an economic and commercial association. The intensification of commercial exchanges will require the unification of customs policies and at the same time the creation of a coherent transport network. For trade balances to remain still under the conditions of exchange liberalization, it will be necessary to move to the coordination of economic and monetary policies. This will make it necessary to ensure financing and therefore to be equipped with an integrated banking system. It will not be possible to appeal to the current international financial institutions, but as to an exceptional subsidiary, since they have been “militarized” by the USA.
No one should propose the de-dollarization of the world economy. Some BRICS members do not even consider it desirable and certainly do not prioritize it. However, the dollar was also “militarized”. By “militarization” in this context is meant the use of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), as well as the “dollar – global reserve currency” as a “weapon”, similar to those of mass destruction, in the war to preserve the unipolar world order. Then, whatever the cost, the BRICS + states and those who will want to establish exchange relations and economic cooperation with them will be forced to resort to their own currencies, both as currencies of account and as currencies of payment. At some point it will appear safer to use a basket of currencies, so that in due time not only the idea, but also the practical possibility of adopting a single / common currency will be born. When some “dreamers” first thought of a single currency of the European Community, it was a long time before the emergence of the euro and the idea was dismissed as utopian. The idealists of yesterday have become the realists of today, and if the euro has problems, it is not because of the principle, but because of the wrong way of managing the monetary policy of the EU, including under the political pressure of the US dollar.
An economic and monetary union, as well as a single market, ultimately demand a single foreign policy, whose last argument is inevitably the military policy. We cannot even know today how far BRICS will go on this road, at what speed it will move and what detours it will take. The details of the journey are impossible to predict. It is certain, however, that BRICS has begun the march and that its adventure has an intrinsic logic that cannot be escaped. The economic instrument will become the political instrument no matter how little this end can be glimpsed today.
Analysts who denounce the systemic inability of the BRICS states to make political decisions together, highlight the fact that the Summit in South Africa did not provide any such decision. They do not notice that the very organization of the Summit was a political decision. To it is added the decision of great political courage and diplomatic mastery regarding the expansion of the group including states that have a history of bilateral relations full of controversies, as well as new members that until recently were in the exclusive camp of the world supreme leader, the USA, or in its area of “exclusive” strategic interest.
By expanding its presence in Latin America, BRICS took the decision to defy the Monroe Doctrine.
Even though this does not mean either that US allies entering BRICS turn their backs on America, nor that BRICS understands to accept association with the US, the mere assertion of strategic autonomy in the context of a unipolar world order or in relation to it represents a major political decision.
In principle, the transition to a common foreign policy would have required much more time. The lack of decisions in this area should not have been surprising. However, tacitly, at the BRICS Summit, two political decisions of the utmost importance were adopted or at least reconfirmed, namely: The BRICS states do not join the US, NATO, and the EU in the economic war against Russia (regardless of the views towards conflict in Ukraine, nobody accepts to impose economic sanctions on Russia, as the US imperatively demands); ii. the BRICS states do not join the US and AUKUS in encircling China and do not support their Indo-Pacific strategy (even if India, for pragmatic reasons, states, otherwise ambiguously, the desire to cooperate with the US especially in the field of technological development).
If Rome was not born in a single day, she did not die in a single night either. The Roman Empire, which was believed to be eternal, did not die of a single disease and its demise was not recorded on a specific date. It gradually died out under the blows of a complex of crises ill-handled because the leaders of the empire did not accept that the pax romana had not only a beginning, but also an end, and that a new order must follow them; an order that, if it was not to be built with the support of Rome, raised against it, precisely at the moment when the internal diseases no longer left it the power to impose its will outside.
The US repeats this history. Which from the BRICS perspective means that until the end of its decline, American power will defend itself furiously and give heavy blows to those who challenge its supremacy. Faced with these blows, some BRICS + member states could retreat for a while, accept tactical compromises, or allow themselves to be pushed into the trap of reawakening old conflicts between them.
However, the US cannot make any strategic offer to the BRICS+ states; that is, an offer that is congruent with their strategic, vital, and long-term interests. This is one of the great problems of the US today: the incompatibility of its vital interests with those of the states of the collective South in general, and the BRICS+ members in particular.
Many of the BRICS+ states have major problems with poverty eradication. (Not that the US doesn’t have it, but in a liberal and inequalitarian system it simply doesn’t care, the priority being given to the consolidation of military power.)
To take the example of India, for it, in the fight against poverty, in the short term, it will be important to obtain the necessary external support for development both in financial expression and in the form of access to advanced technologies. The US can provide both. In the long run, the price will be, however, the transformation of the Hindu sub-continent into an outpost of the Anglo-Saxon powers and their vassal in the war with the emerging powers of Asia. Which India cannot and will not accept as it is not in its vital interest.
The top two front-runners in the upcoming elections in Argentina have stated during the ongoing election campaign that they do not agree with their country joining the BRICS, preferring that it maintains its old relations with the US, the IMF and WB; this without specifying whether, in case of winning the elections and inaugurating their mandate after Argentina has become a member of BRICS, they will proceed with its withdrawal. In this context, it cannot be ignored that statements made during election campaigns do not coincide, most of the time, with post-election deeds. If, however, with the change of political power in Buenos Aires, Argentina withdraws from BRICS, BRICS will continue to exist just as the EU survived after BREXIT, and surely other Latin American states will take its place. Nevertheless, it is important to note that such electoral disputes take place and behind them it is easy to guess the action of Washington.
A candidate for the presidency of the USA, in a recent pre-election speech, launched what he called the “new Monroe doctrine” and, in accordance with it, proposed to Russia that America withdraws its support to Ukraine, while promising that Ukraine it will never become a NATO member, in exchange for the withdrawal of BRICS from Latin America and Moscow’s commitment not to support the sovereigntist policies of Latin American states. Even though the promoter of this idea has little chance of being elected president of the USA, the idea was launched, to the applause of the audience, and now it has a life of its own. Will Russia bite from this nada? Is this an offer you can’t refuse? Hard to believe.
The expansion of BRICS in Africa will be likely to cause the US, beyond direct opposition to it and direct actions aimed at stopping it, to try to dislodge the former European colonial powers from the African continent and install in their place, following from these positions to counter the offensive of the member states of the aforementioned grouping, respectively both Russian geopolitics and Chinese geoeconomics (see the recent examples of Niger and Gabon). It is predictable, by way of consequence, that in the coming period Africa will know a long series of coups both “anti-neocolonial” and “pro-neocolonial”, “anti-American” and “pro-American”. The BRICS group will be forced to manage this situation.
Observers who want to minimize the strategic importance of BRICS in the current global context have launched, in the new wooden language of political correctness, the well-meaning but senseless thesis that “BRICS does not want to replace the West”, but only to expand their room of maneuvering and diversify their international relations. What could this mean? “The West” is a geographical concept, and certainly the BRICS states cannot move into a different geographical space than the one to which they objectively belong.
If a political connotation is attached to the geographical West, then what is at issue is the international order created by this West, within which the USA holds the position of supreme command. The slightest attempt to relativize, by assuming strategic autonomy, the world order of the West, i.e., the system of international relations based on the rules dictated by this collective Euro-Atlantic West, essentially unipolar, means no more and no less than the replacement of an order with another. If the nature of the multipolar order is not changed by the appearance or disappearance of one of the poles, the unipolar order does not accept pluralism and competition. In the case of the latter, a new pole, even if of lesser power, but autonomous, means the change of that order.
If the bipolarism that characterized the world of the Cold War was the order of a single world supported on two pillars, whose durability was guaranteed by the balance of power between them, the emergence of BRICS + outlines the fracturing of the universal history into two different and systemically opposed worlds, one of which, in decline, will remain unipolar for a while, and another, in ascent, will be multipolar. The balance of power between these two worlds is a precarious one, insofar as it is real. Looking ahead, there is every reason to believe that this balance will eventually break completely in favor of the emerging multipolar order.
For the states that are part of the collective West – for the USA in the first place – the question arises whether such a perspective is acceptable; or more precisely, if taking the risk is tolerable. The alternative of the Euro-Atlantic West is either to continue the rearguard fight in defense of an unsustainable unipolarism or to join the vanguard forces of global multipolarism, so that the new order is designed together with it and taking into account its values, traditions and aspirations.
If we cannot make this choice together, we will have to make it separately. BRICS success is not guaranteed; the disappearance of the unipolar order is certain.
The parallels that can be drawn between the history of the EU and the much shorter history of the BRICS, with all the hopes and all the fears related to the evolution of the latter, record both similarities and some essential differences, namely: i. the BRICS states will take over naturally from the EU the original idea of soft power that ensures world peace through solidarity and development, through economic, social and territorial cohesion, and not through the action of military (hard) power, grafting it with the Asian vision of universal harmony; ii. the emergence of BRICS means the denial of neoliberalism and neoconservatism that characterized, under American influence, the last decades of European history; iii. BRICS will take over from the Europeans (as well as from the Americans) the mechanisms of the market economy, but its capitalism will be a state one; iv. BRICS will also adopt democratic social organization, but in the illiberal formula of sovereign democracy.
Starting from such comparisons and predictions, it could be considered to set up a group of European consultants to transfer to the BRICS decision-makers the know-how acquired in the process of establishing and functioning of the EU, so that the European experience becomes a source of inspiration both in making the right decisions and in avoiding the mistakes that seriously affected the progress of the European project

by Prof. Dr. Adrian Severin

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