Andrew F. Cooper
Associate Director and Distinguished Fellow, CIGI
While the BRIC group of states have grabbed a great deal of attention with their landmark leaders’ summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, 15 June 2009, their expanded G5 alter ego has been a significant force at this week’s G8 Summit in L’Aquila.
Coined by Goldman-Sachs, the original BRIC investment acronym has moved from a laudatory account of the rise of 4 big economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to a geo-political reality. Such a shift indicates the extent to which we are moving into a more contested global order. In many ways, the BRIC countries are more interesting for their differences than their similarities. Brazil and India are robust democracies. Russia is a managed democracy. China is a one party state. India has a fast rising population. Russia is in serious demographic trouble with a sharply reduced life expectancy. Brazil and Russia are resource rich. India and China are resource dependent.
Yet as exhibited by the Yekaterinburg summit, some degree of coherence is taking shape. When Goldman Sachs labelled the 4 states the BRIC, the focus was on their enhanced and successful integration into the world economy. The first leaders’ BRIC summit sent a different more contested signal. Meeting in back to back fashion with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (which includes Iran as an observer), the BRICs exploited the US’s relative decline in economic power by calling for a new multi-polar world order. Although more striking for its declaratory than operational force, the BRIC at least sets up a scenario in which the relationship between the West and a big state component of the Rest is based on competition not cooperation.
The formalization of the G5 meetings – or what we call the B(R)ICSAM group – establishes the possibility of a far more cooperative scenario. At odds with the myriad of failures attached to the L’Aquila G8 summit, the emergence of the G5 with some degree of collective identity via the Heiligendamm Dialogue Process (HDP) is a striking and largely unattached positive development. When the HDP was mooted at the 2007 summit, it appeared to be merely another form of ‘outreach’. Indeed Japan as host in 2008 consistently referred to this process in this manner, playing down the HDP and playing up G8-driven outreach.
This constellation shifts the focus from the centrality of Russia – a country with a markedly straddling status. If standing out as the putative leader of BRICs Russia is also different from the rest of BRICSAM because of its membership in the G8. Instead attention is placed on the other non-G8 countries, China, India and Brazil as well as Mexico and South Africa. Akin to the BRICs this grouping is highly divergent as illustrated by Mexico’s membership in the OECD and South Africa’s connections to alternative clubs ranging from the Commonwealth to the Cairns group. What unites them is a common sense that they are bridging countries, combining a dynamic image of global reach and a sense of attachment to the global South.
Arguably the most attractive feature of the L’Aquila summit is the consolidation of the HDP. At the German 2007 summit the B(R)ICSAM remained cautious to this initiative. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was especially sensitive to any sense that the G5 were being treated as unequals. Moving ahead as a structured dialogue rather than as a negotiating forum – as described by Ulrich Benterbusch in a video blog today – with an emphasis on specific topics did an impressive job of confidence building.
Instead of withering away the HDP has been endorsed by both the G8 and the G5 as worthy of continuation. The G8 Leaders Declaration on World Economy stated that the HDP should be embellished over another two year period. The G5 leaders have bought in to this novel form of partnership among ‘equals’.
As in the case of the BRICs, this evolution of G5/B(R)ICSAM is still very much a work in progress. However, it points to the space for cooperation on a functional basis, not only economic issues (most notably intellectual property and investment, and development), but on non-traditional forms of security. It also reinforces the idea that we could be moving towards a caucus system as the G8 rethinks its position in a world in which it is no longer enjoys primacy and the G5 juggles new responsibilities.
Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.