From Shanghai to Pretoria – From Where You Stand: Part II

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Shanghai was the first conference stop; but it wasn’t the last.  For the first time the partners – the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Stanley Foundation – held a conference in Pretoria partnering with our friends at the Department of Political Science at the University of Pretoria.  We were very fortunate to welcome friends from most of the key countries – Brazil, India, China and obviously South Africa.  Unfortunately, our colleague from Russia was ultimately unable to make it.

Still it was a most fascinating discussion on the role of IBSA and the BRICS in the context of the G20 and with views from current and former South African officials.  Called the “Emerging Powers and Global Cooperation: A Focus on IBSA and BRICS”, the discussion was very wide ranging but focused on an informal many of us know little about the the IBSA Dialogue Forum. This Forum was first convened by the Foreign Ministers of the three countries in June 2003.  These Ministers issued the Brasilia Declaration and recommended additionally that their be a meeting of Leaders.  The first IBSA Leaders Summit occurred in 2006.

Given the date of the first meeting of ministers the IBSA Dialogue Forum was set to celebrate this year the tenth anniversary of this Informal.  However, the Leaders Summit that was to have taken place in India in June was cancelled and there does not appear to be a prospect of an early rescheduling.

So, what then is IBSA all about and what has it achieved?  My colleague Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations expert from Brazil at Getulio Vargas Foundation (GVF), where he is an assistant professor, joined us as one of the Brazil experts.  Oliver blogs at Post-Western World and has just recently commented on IBSA and reviewed a new research piece by Folashade Soule-kohndou of Oxford on IBSA.  What is interesting, and I think somewhat puzzling, is what Folashade has suggested are the prime outcomes of this ten year old Informal grouping.

According to her, and then covered by Oliver in the blog post, IBSA pursues three underlying strategic aims:

          • ‘autonomization’ through the increase of strategic partnerships with emerging non-traditional partners;
          • socialization through the creation of transgovernmental and transnational networks; and
          • greater visibility on the international stage for the partners.

Now there is a wee bit too much social science in all this for my blood but it appears this Informal has enabled the maturing of a south-south partnership of states where these states had little earlier connection.  The ten years has allowed officials from the three states to act together in a variety of working group and ministerial settings and to know each other far better than would be the case in classic multilateral settings where there generally are established powers on the scene.  All this is interesting and suggest alternate networks of state action but leaves open – very open I think – the question of the IBSA policy consequences.

Now in our Pretoria Conference we examined the question of the role of IBSA, especially in light of the emergence of the BRICS, which includes all three countries since 2011 and of course adds in to the mix China and Russia.  In fact there was a fair bit of time spent on all the Informals and what one participant described as the ‘New’ Middle Powers.  These Informal groups include of course new south-south relationships – IBSA, obviously, and more recently the BRICS.  There was a bit of time spent also to the MIKTA, Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turnkey and Australia.  Here again this Informal includes some countries from the south but also identified middle powers.  All of course are members of the G20 and a number, Mexico and Korea and soon Australia and then Turkey will be the hosts for a G20 Leaders Summit.  Notice was particularly taken of the active ‘bridging’ work that  these countries had taken and particular praise was heaped on Korea for the role that it ha played recently in global governance both as host of the G20 and in its efforts to establish a development model for the G20.

But strong questions were raised with respect to the Informals – IBSA and BRICS.  Some participants suggested that China’s encouragement of South Africa’s admission to the BRICS was a strategic effort to swallow IBSA.  A question was raised as to whether IBSA had become irrelevant in the face of the BRICS.  Other acknowledged the uniqueness of  IBSA – each of the members being a democratic country from the south – but it remained an open question whether there was any ‘energy’ left for IBSA.  As pointed out by our South African colleagues, in the public and indeed among officials there the admission of  South Africa to the BRICS was received with much enthusiasm, and little attention was any longer accorded to IBSA.  But as one participant noted the BRICS are a very disparate grouping and the outsized importance of China was viewed both favorably and with skepticism.

Looking at the BRICS the most prominent outcome to date was the yet to be completed BRICS Development Bank.  The discussion raised in rather striking fashion that “where you stand” determines how you view the policy outcome.  The Bank has been enthusiastically praised in South Africa as a sign of a differing agenda from that of the established powers of the G20.  South Africans are hopeful that this Bank will target African development and indeed that the Bank will be sited in South Africa.  Yet from Shanghai the view of this proposal is significantly altered.  From China, it seems, the Bank would have a wider development mandate including a broader swath of the south and indeed could be sited in Asia.

It remains unclear what impact these more formal Informals have on global governance.  Are they formed in opposition to the established powers?  Are they designed to develop consensus and to wrest the agenda from the G7?  Will they use the Informals then to take the lead in global governance?  Or should they focus more on regional concerns as opposed to global governance?

It remains the case that these Informals have yet to evidence their value added whether regionally or in the larger global setting.

We are working on finaling the Pretoria Report.  As soon as that is accomplished we shall add the Pretoria Report to this post.

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