BRICS and its future The challenges of multilateralism

BRICS and its future: The challenges of multilateralism

Dated Published: May 2020

At the end of April 2020, the BRICS foreign ministers met via video conference in a meeting led by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Russia’s capacity as the current chair. Quite unsurprisingly, much of the  discussion revolved around COVID-19 and the response of BRICS members to it At a time when international organisations — from United Nations to G7 to the EU to G20 — have come under fire for failing to mount a collective response to the pandemic, the BRICS foreign ministers meeting once again stressed the importance of a ‘multilateral approach.’

It is no surprise that this approach has been espoused, given that collective action has been the means for BRICS to achieve national interests and increase their say in institutions of global governance.

At the same time, BRICS does not have the ‘strategic vision’ to deal with ‘global matters’ on its own. For this, it relies on other international organisations, like throwing its support behind the G20 when the latter came together to deal with the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, the global situation has undergone significant shifts.

The post-2008 crisis world has been characterised by a sustained backlash against lopsided benefits accrued via globalisation, rise of populism and an increased antipathy towards multilateral dealings by the US — the leading power in several international institutions.. This has further come under the scanner amid the pandemic as the US leadership — which had been on display during the 2008 crisis and the 2014 Ebola crisis — has been conspicuously missing.

It must be noted that multilateral frameworks were under stress even before the pandemic hit. What the COVID-19 is expected to do is to exacerbate the already prevailing trends when it comes to multilateralism, especially the ones in which the US is a leading member. Having long been used by strong states to further their influence, the post World War II multilateralism had been largely ‘American-centric.’ It is the rise of other powers that are now questioning this arrangement in order to cement their position and derive resultant benefits without alienating the major powers. But what do these developments mean for multilateral organisations that are not driven by a US membership — how does the post-COVID-19 world order impact their functioning and agenda, seen through the case of BRICS.

What the COVID-19 is expected to do is to exacerbate the already
prevailing trends when it comes to multilateralism, especially the ones in which the US is a leading member.

Here, the key will be to focus on two aspects of multilateralism — the impact of any future decline of global international institutions on prospects of BRICS cooperation as well as the internal dynamics of BRICS members and what it means for its existence as a multilateral institution in the short to medium term.

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