Monday, August 28, 2023
What is this “BRICS” we keep hearing about? And what does it have to do with us, if anything? And what are its implications for trade/economic and political/peace relations in our region and the world? Our future seems so uncertain, with the ICJ matter still hanging in the balance, and we’re about to celebrate our independence at a time when national economic survival seems to be ever more dependent on membership in regional groupings for trade, etc.
We need a few lessons from the experts to break this down to us “in small change” so we can get an idea of what it’s all about, and how it can affect us. We have always been under the influence of the United Kingdom and then the United States, which are both aligned in their international economic and political grouping, although since independence, Belize has maintained its status as a member of the “non-aligned” group of nations.
But this BRICS! Could it have anything to do with our present big headache – prices? We had already felt the sudden rise in prices due to Covid-19, and when we thought things might return to normal after Covid had faded, instead the real price leaps began in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February thousands of miles away from Belize.
Russia gave warning, gave its reasons, something to do with its own sense of security – American-influenced power on its doorsteps.
To try and understand the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which US president Joe Biden predicted, it would help if we took a flash back to 1962 and the Cuba/Soviet Union- USA missile crisis. Cuba, under trade embargo by the US, and having to defend against suspected US-supported counter-revolutionary invaders (Bay of Pigs), had invited, or perhaps allowed the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles on the island. (It was later learned that the Soviets were having their own security threat problem on THEIR doorstep.)
The mighty USA under President John Kennedy saw “red”: a deadly nuclear threat only ninety miles away from its shores. The world stood on the brink of Armageddon as the leaders of the two world superpowers stared down each other – Kennedy of the US, and Nikita Khruschev of the Soviet Union. To the world, it seemed the Soviet Union was under no existential threat; the USA certainly was. Kennedy was categorical – move the missiles “or else”. Khruschev complied, and the world breathed a sigh of relief. But there were, it was learned long after, powerful U.S. long range missiles stationed shortly before, within striking distance of the Soviet capital. To the world, Khruschev had backed down; in secret correspondence, they had come to a compromise agreement. According to www.history.com, “… disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.”
So much for the “Cuban missile crisis”. That was then in 1962; this is now in 2023. The modern world is so interconnected by trade on huge ships which traverse the oceans, that any major conflict that affects shipping lanes anywhere has a big ripple effect on commodity supplies (oil, food grains, fertilizer, minerals, manufactured goods, etc.), and thus, due to the age-old rule of supply and demand, prices could escalate. And that is what we have been experiencing in Belize and around the world following the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.
How and why the war started with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a whole matter with viewpoints on both sides. With the USA and some allies publicly lending military support to Ukraine, the rest of the world is wary of any escalation that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, which in these modern times is referred to as M.A.D. – mutually assured destruction. Everybody loses, because the awesome power unleashed in any nuclear conflict of the superpowers spells practical destruction of life as we know it on this planet.
So, right or wrong, the war is real; and while Russia’s invasion was widely condemned and the war continues, the Russian economy is still going strong despite all the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. And the reason is BRICS. Although at least one BRICS member has publicly condemned the Russian invasion, they have still respected Russia enough as a member of the group to continue doing business with Russia, and even allowing its president, Vladimir Putin, to address the BRICS Summit 2023 this past week in South Africa, with a pre-recorded speech, since he has not left Russia this year because of an arrest warrant issued for him by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Many folks are fairly familiar with the G-7 countries who “run things”. According to one Wikipedia page, “The Group of Seven (G7) is an intergovernmental political forum consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States; additionally, the European Union (EU) is a ‘non-enumerated member’”. With its members accounting “for over half of global net wealth (at over $200 trillion),” it says that the G-7 “has catalyzed or spearheaded several major global initiatives, including efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, provide financial aid to developing countries, and address climate change through the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, the group has been criticized by observers for its allegedly outdated and limited membership, narrow global representation, and ineffectualness.” It said that Russia was “a formal member (as part of the G8) from 1997 until its expulsion in 2014,” presumably due to its annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine.
Now, what about this BRICS? Another Wikipedia page informs us that “BRICS is a grouping of the world economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa formed by the 2010 addition of South Africa to the predecessor BRIC.” “The BRICS encompass about 26.7% of the world’s land surface and 41.5% of the global population,” and they have “a total GDP (PPP) of around US$56.65 trillion (32.5% of global GDP PPP), and an estimated US$4.46 trillion in combined foreign reserves (as of 2018).” Furthermore, “Bilateral relations among BRICS are conducted mainly on the basis of non-interference, equality, and mutual benefit,” and “the BRICS are considered the foremost geopolitical rival to the G7 bloc of leading advanced economies.”
We’re not campaigning for any particular group of nations here; just trying to open our eyes a little to what is going on out there in the international arena, so that we can be abreast of what our leaders are doing when they attend these conferences and sign agreements on our behalf. With a number of Central American and South American countries moving away from Taiwan to mainland China in their support, Belize finds itself among the few remaining loyalists to the territorial integrity mantra that we share with Taiwan, though, peculiarly, we are joined in that support by our friendly enemy to the west, Guatemala, and our “big brother” up north, the USA.
Meanwhile, the BRICS is looking to change how the game is played in the international economic forum. We quote here from an article “Never heard of BRICS? …” by Stevie Zhang at www.abc.net.au:
According to Susan Park, a professor of global governance at the University of Sydney, the rise of BRICS and the increase in countries’ interest in joining the bloc highlights cracks in the Western-led international system. “Many developing countries are for rules and order, but not necessarily ones that provide no room for their autonomy and preferences for different means for developing and interacting,” she said.
In 2015, the group established the BRICS Development Bank, now the New Development Bank, as its flagship financial project to rival the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
We do have some navigating to do as the Belizean nation. But if we understand what’s going on, it is easier to build national consensus and that unity we aspire to in our celebrations theme this year: “Hope ignited, hands united, vision renewed: Belize@42!”