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This year has proved to be a turning point for many components of global development, with BRICS being no exception here. More recently, experts have wondered whether this association is able to proceed from the extensive development pattern established in the first decade of its existence, to focusing on the most overarching global challenges, thus engaging in the formation of a new world order instead of the obsolete unipolar liberal one. Reality has outlined the beginning of the second BRICS decade as a milestone of entirely different unprecedented changes, and Russia as BRICS 2020 chairman was at the forefront of developing a reaction and faced unexpected challenges.
Initially, organizational rather than substantive problems seemed to be the major ones. BRICS is still basically a dialogue format, so the main thing is an interlocution between the relevant organizations, structures and representatives of the five countries, as well as the creation of a network of personal contacts. At first, such a network was formal, and it was only recently that some solutions were developed on this basis. The coronavirus pandemic has so far completely stopped face-to-face interaction, except for video communication activities. But still, the value of meetings and events is not only in what is pronounced from the tribune, not only in public discussions, but also in the backstage exchange of views, in personal contacts, agreements, acquaintances that have a much greater influence on subsequent decision-making and compromise solutions than most people think. I hope that the second half of the year will witness at least some of the activities envisaged in the extensive program of the Russian presidency implemented in real life, not in virtual space.
Nevertheless, the substantial part is more important. Unfortunately, BRICS, like other international formats, has failed to develop an adequate joint response to such an unexpected challenge as the coronavirus pandemic. However, it must be admitted that this reproach applies both to the BRICS and other well-established structures and formats with a rich history. The UN was only able to carry out monitoring functions, while its special-purpose entity – the World Health Organization (WHO) – generally took back seat because of the United States. Even such articulated, integral Western unions as NATO and the EU appeared absolutely unprepared for this turn of events and did not even develop a joint strategy. Therefore, the relatively young format of BRICS cannot be blamed for not showing itself in the most decisive way. And still, it should be noted that countering pandemics, vaccination, joint medical programs, including telemedicine, have been prominent on the BRICS agenda for years. So the direction was chosen correctly. But so far, efforts to prepare a joint response have proved sour.
During the first collapse period of the habitual mode of life, contacts within the BRICS were mainly bilateral, and admittedly the five countries were not a top priority at least for Russia, even though it was implied by its BRICS chairmanship. By force of habit, discussing crucial issues and even providing symbolic assistance were still focused on the "frenemies" as represented by the Western countries. This means that BRICS' foreign policy priority in Russia, as well as in other countries of the association, is still declarative. For this very reason such format has yet failed to take the desired place in the new global governance framework, which, let's be candid, was the main purpose of its creation.
These errors need to be corrected.
Today is the best time to contribute to the development of the following in the new era coming with the coronavirus epidemic and the unprecedented challenge humanity faces:
new goals and priorities for ensuring the existence of humanity;
new goals and priorities for socio-economic development based on waiving an uncontrolled growth in consumption and resource destruction;
new forms of global cooperation on a non-competitive regulated basis;
new types and forms of globalization;
new priorities and forms of ensuring international security.
At a time when responding to critical challenges has shown the irreplaceable role of nation states, it is BRICS that can make a decisive contribution to solving these problems.
BRICS is an attempt to create a new type of international association, with its members building their strategy upon respect for sovereign equality, not interfering in each other's internal affairs, and seeking full equality in relations. What's interesting, this equality is not declarative (as in many international organizations), but real, supported by the comparable potential of the five countries.
This type of relationship is different from others, where the grouping organization of countries (for example, Western) is vertical at the end of the day. It turned out to be unable to exclude dog-eat-dog national egoism or ensure a response to the challenges faced by humanity. The United States did not play the role of a leader but displayed ugly selfishness. The EU has just virtually collapsed.
So right now, BRICS can assert itself as a structure that can offer new approaches and a new paradigm for international cooperation in these areas.
This may decidedly prove easier for BRICS than for other international formats. First, it is global. Secondly, it is civilizational. It is at this level that the response to non-traditional global challenges and the strategy for their prevention should be formed. Along with that, certain forces, including those among globalized elites who have taken over legal power in some countries, exploit the situation to strengthen total control over the population, to expand information capture, to strengthen regulatory actions, and to deprive humanity of its freedom of choice. Of course, these are phenomena that should not be tolerated.
And it is not the "authoritarian nature" of the BRICS states that is to blame for this, which Western opponents are so fond of faulting them for. In fact, the same reaction was observed in the most democratic countries, where the fig leaf of democracy was dropped when a real threat to the existing order of things had appeared. We have also observed military and police patrols, severe restrictions on rights and freedoms, and whistle blowing.
So the BRICS becomes a general focus of attention from a good starting position. The West's favorite thesis that the BRICS countries are "totalitarian" and therefore cannot be a norm or vie for a discrete role in global governance, does not work any longer due to these tragic phenomena.
However, an immediate response is needed. While Western unions and international organizations are in a state of paralysis and prostration, a window of opportunities is there for BRICS to swiftly pull itself up and exhibit effectiveness and declare its new place in the system of international security and development in a generalized sense. Especially attractive amid the financial and economic crisis unfolding over the pandemic is the sphere of global finance. For the time being, there is a good chance that a new Bretton Woods based on the new realities of economic life of the 21st century and no longer resting on the dollar alone, is going to appear.
It is time to move to a new paradigm of consumption and socio-economic activity, including allowances for ecological fundamentals. Nature seems to have sort of warned that the planet could not sustain endless economic growth, which is the only one we have.
The very concept of global security is also changing. The threat to the existence of man and humanity has now arisen not because of lacking missiles or nuclear weapons, but due to the forces of nature that were previously discussed by left-wing intellectuals alone. Generals are always prepared to fight the last war, but the enemy is different now. They proved totally unprepared for a war against the forces of nature, and the BRICS may set an example here and offer new ideas and measures.
In the near future, the processes of globalization will deepen. BRICS should be ready for this. New administrative tools and technological capabilities must not be used to deteriorate positions, much less to impose restrictions on rights and freedoms of individuals. BRICS could set new standards here. This should be done on a multilateral basis – something that the five countries have been lacking so far.
Specifically, new approaches to information security (which has unveiled its power during the crisis) and goals in the field of science and education are essential. The sphere of new technologies has revealed its comprehensive and overwhelming role in the organization of the present-day human society. Here, the BRICS countries can also act independently – for one, it would be possible to consider the necessity of measures to close borders and restrict traffic flows through the contacts of agencies responsible for transport, and take appropriate decisions within BRICS, without waiting for the mighty to decide.
We urgently need to remedy the situation of lacking high-level contacts during these tragic events. Even within the virtual G20 framework, a meeting of BRICS leaders was not organized, although it would seem that there was supposedly every reason for this. There is a need to right this ship.
Why not offer a format that can really contribute to security at an inherently global level "above the barriers", leaving aside all the inter-country and inter-ethnic strife and excluding attempts to play the cards for domination?
For example, why not think about calling an urgent summit of the leaders of BRICS + US + EU (as an organization), i.e. the regions that have been hit by the virus to the greatest extent and that can offer a response to these and similar challenges? After all, they possess a really significant share of global resources and population affected by this disease. Unlike the G20 summits devoted to financial and economic issues, this format is able to quickly respond to major global non-systemic challenges.
Such a virtual-real summit could be summoned on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September this year. In the year of the 75th UN anniversary, it is time to think not about preserving the balance of power of the last century formed after the World War II, but about a new architecture of international communication and global responses. This is how the "discontinuities" of the historical process pass; so and in no other way a new world order can develop – in a peaceful, accommodating manner – to emerge from the ruins of the former one.
It is important for Russia and its BRICS partners that an initiative to this effect would provide for neutralizing the already habitual opposition of the outgoing hegemon to the growth of new forces. The US and the EU will have to accept the helping hand – so far we are talking about a real issue of a rather narrow sphere of activity, that is the fight against this pandemic and subsequent ones, in order to try to develop a joint response, a joint strategy in such an area consistent for all the countries.
If this kind of BRICS + US + EU mechanism arises, I think it will be able to handle more ambitious tasks either. We are talking about large civilization blocks. There can't be many of them. This is the "BRICS +" in a truly global format. It is also important that within this kind of format, a genuine and legitimate global elite can be formed, comprising representatives of elected and authoritative figures and organizations within their national framework, who could confront the former closed financial and economic elite represented by transnational corporations and international financial organizations, that now have significant uncontrolled power and whose interests do not necessarily coincide with the interests of humanity in a broad sense.