Tuesday, April 20, 2010

International Relations: Seeking global governance that inspires and unites

By Ernest Corea
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) – Two acronyms in the alphabet soup of world affairs received heightened attention in mid-April when IBSA and BRIC met in Brasilia to review past performance, assess present needs, and work out their plans for the future.

Both meetings were scheduled to take place at the summit level. Although nature intervened to some extent, when an earthquake in China compelled President Hu Tinjao to cut short his BRIC engagement and rush back home, both meetings provided yet another reminder to the established economic and political order that new forms of cooperation and collaboration among nations have emerged and are growing. Where that will eventually take the peoples of the countries involved is yet to be seen.

IBSA and BRIC differ in membership, structure, and objectives. Both, however, appear to be united in their commitment to core principles, and in their optimism about the effectiveness and impact of their efforts.


The India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA) was formed in 2003, “to contribute to the construction of a new international architecture, to bring their voices together on global issues and to deepen their ties in various areas. IBSA also opens itself to concrete projects of cooperation and partnership with less developed countries.”

IBSA sees itself as “an instrument for connecting India, Brazil and South Africa at all levels, aiming not only to increase these countries projection on the international scene but to strengthen the relations among themselves.”

In addition to regular consultations among heads of state and government, foreign ministers meet periodically, and working groups involving a variety of players, including academics, businessmen, journalists, and parliamentarians, seek opportunities for identifying programs of common interest and working on practical forms of collaboration.

As well, IBSA has established a fund for alleviating poverty and hunger to which each member country contributes $1million a year.

BRIC, as the acronym suggests, brings together Brazil, Russia, India, and China in a consultative group that focuses much of its attention on economic issues. The current international affairs legend is that the acronym was coined by the authors of a Goldman Sachs report.

The Goldman Sachs report raised the possibility that the economies of these four countries would together outpace those of the existing “top tier” rich countries by 2050. Given the current discomfiture of Goldman Sachs, speculation about that parentage might not be particularly popular in BRIC countries.

Whoever coined the term, the four-member group has grown increasingly articulate on a range of economic, social, and trade issues.


Although IBSA has three members to BRIC’s four, the IBSA summit in Brasilia had a longer final communiqué: 45 pages as compared with BRIC’s six.

Broadly speaking, both communiqués attempted to break out of the conventional wisdom, and to seek ways in which international institutions and practices could be made to serve the need of the world’s people and not only those seated atop the commanding heights of global governance or economic power.

There were several common features in the final documents, including support for sustainable development, a plea for reform of the UN to make it more effective and representative, and a plea as well for timely re-casting of the structure of Bretton Woods institutions to eliminate their “legitimacy deficits” and increase their effectiveness.

IBSA was particularly forceful on UN reform, stating with clarity the obvious need to drag the Security Council into the 21st century. The council, it urged, should be expanded in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership, and it should provide opportunities for greater representation from among representatives of developing countries – the vast majority of the world’s people.


Both BRIC and IBSA were unequivocal in reaffirming the “pressing need to foster and strengthen cooperation regarding the regulation and supervision of all segments, institutions and instruments of financial markets.”

Unlike some regional and special interest groupings that are disturbed by the role the Group of 20 (G20) can play on the world scene, BRIC – whose members are all members of G20 -- “welcomed the fact that the G20 was confirmed as the premier forum for international economic coordination and cooperation of all its member states.”

Describing G20 as “broader, more inclusive, diverse, representative and effective” than “previous arrangements,” BRIC called on “all its member states to undertake further efforts to implement jointly the decisions adopted at the three G20 summits."

BRIC urged that G20 should be “proactive and formulate a coherent strategy for the post- (financial) crisis period,” asserting that it stands “ready to make a joint contribution to this effort.”

IBSA made a strong pitch for the Human Rights Council whose work it commended. It proposed that human rights law be strengthened particularly in relation to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. This is a goal that no nation, big or small, can oppose in good conscience.

Also in the broad area of human rights, IBSA emphasized the importance of access to medicine, an issue of particular relevance to developing countries.


IBSA emphasized South-South cooperation as “a partnership among equals” that should be “guided by the principles of respect for national sovereignty, national ownership and independence, equality, non-conditionality, non-interference in domestic affairs and mutual benefit.

Presumably, these characteristics are to be found in the operations of the IBSA Facility Fund that has so far brought direct benefits to Haiti, Palestine, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Burundi, and Cambodia.

IBSA will also undertake the development of satellites that will “address common challenges in climate studies, agriculture and food security.” They will be deployed to promote space programs among the three member countries.

For the first time, IBSA foreign ministers met their colleague from the Palestinian National Authority, Riad Al-Malki, and pledged their support for the creation of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders.


IBSA and BRIC, like other similar groups, be they regional, sub-regional, or only compatible, are the product of an effort to change international relationships so that they might reflect current realities and not those carried down from the past.

Hence, for instance, the determination within such groups to advocate change in the structure of the UN Security Council, and voting rules in the Bretton Woods institutions, or the “affirmative action” program that delivers the leadership of the World Bank to the U.S. and of the IMF to Europe.

Currently, BRIC countries represent 40 percent of the world’s population, close to 15 percent of global GDP, and almost 13 percent of international trade. The IMF has estimated that in a few years BRIC will account for over 60 percent of global economic growth. Should not they and IBSA members as well, be empowered to exercise international influence in keeping with their strengths?

As World Bank president Robert Zoellick said on the eve of the Bank’s Spring meetings, although not referring directly to IBSA or BRIC, economic progress in developing countries has “profound implications” for global cooperation, multilateralism and the work of international financial institutions.

"Economic and political tectonic plates are shifting," Zoellick said. “We can shift with them, or we can continue to see a new world through the prism of the old.”

Zoellick’s sentiments are similar to those expressed by many developing country leaders, but this time they are coming from the other side of the trough.


President Lula of Brazil, approaching the end of his presidency (which is subject to term limits) is blunt about the need for changes in the global system, and the responsibilities that countries such as the members of BRIC and IBSA can undertake.

“The international scene is cluttered with old problems, even as new ones emerge,” says Lula. “Neither the BRIC members nor any other countries are able to face them alone. In the past, unilateralism has led to impasses, if not human catastrophes, such as Iraq.

“In today's world we must therefore rely increasingly on each other. For that to happen we must forge a more representative and transparent system of global governance that can both inspire unity of purpose and revitalize the collective will to seek consensual solutions. In this journey toward a new world, the BRIC countries are committed to working together to fulfill our responsibilities.”

There is much to commend in this perspective. There are, however, other pressing matters that also need attention. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, speaking for himself and without in any way detracting from Lula’s position: “India’s greatest challenges are at home.” Did somebody whisper “the voice of reason”?

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