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Issues & Insights Vol. 15 – No. 4 – Cooperation among BRICS: What Implications for Global Governance?

The acronym BRICS, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, was first introduced in a Goldman Sachs paper in 2001 (the acronym then was BRICs since South Africa was not included), but hasn‟t institutionalized until eight years later when the first four countries met for the first time to identify areas of common interest and concern. Since then the BRICS have held regular summits, Track-II meetings, and peer learning activities.

For many, the emergence of the BRICS, a group of dynamic emerging economies, signals the beginning of a challenge to the Western-dominated international system. Whether seen as destined to challenge the Western-dominated international system or simply a reform of existing institutions, the BRICS have demonstrated their potential to engage in global governance issues and advocate common positions in multilateral institutions. As a result of their discontent with the Western leadership monopoly in key financial institutions, the BRICS found a common voice and called for the adjustment of quotas and voting shares in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and a more open and meritocratic leadership selection procedure within these organizations. Another area where their interests converge is international security governance. The BRICS have united in opposition to humanitarian norms such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), and in their support for structural UN reforms. More recently, however, they announced the establishment of a New Development Bank and the creation of a Contingency Reserve Arrangement.

This paper critically examines the BRICS group, focusing on its ability to meaningfully introduce reforms into the global governance structure. It identifies major impediments to cooperation, including most important, the structural and economic imbalance between China and the rest of the group. There is evidence that the other BRICS members fear that the new economic institutions will become vehicles for Chinese interests. As a result, the BRICS will likely find it difficult to coordinate funding and operational priorities. However, these institutions are still in their infancy. Decisions on upstream selection of project funding will reveal the extent to which conflicting interests among the group rise to the surface as well as discord about who has the upper hand in decision-making.