Will the World Order Change with the “New” BRICS: a series of PIR Center blitz interviews with Georgy Toloraya and Sergio Duarte by Maksim Sorokin

September 25, 2023
Ambassador Sergio Duarte
Dr. Georgy Toloraya

The XV BRICS Summit was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 22-24.

In this regard, PIR Center conducted blitz interviews with the Russian and foreign expert. Dr. Georgy Toloraya, Member of UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718, Executive Director of the National Committee on BRICS; Head of Asian Strategy Center at the Institute of Economics RAS, member of PIR Center Advisory Board since 2013, and Ambassador Sergio Duarte, President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, member of PIR Center Advisory Board since 2022, commented on this agenda.

The interviews were conducted by Mr. Maksim Sorokin, PIR Center Information & Publications Program Intern.

Maksim Sorokin: How would you generally evaluate the BRICS Summit held on August 22-24 in Johannesburg?

Georgy Toloraya: We tend to say that summits at a high level, like the one held in Johannesburg, are some historic event, a new milestone, or a new stage of development. The BRICS Summit is indeed a new milestone. The BRICS we knew for almost 15 years is now gone. From that moment on, we will be dealing with a new BRICS. Currently, it is unclear how the new BRICS will operate, how states will interact with each other within the bloc, and what the role of BRICS will be in the international arena.

Such a fundamental shift occurred in front of us quite suddenly. This Summit will undoubtedly enter history as a new milestone marking the expansion of BRICS. It is already a huge event, even leaving everything else behind, e.g., the fact that the Summit marked some watershed between the Western blocs and the blocs of the World’s majority and let many states declare their view on the ongoing conflict between the US and its allies with Russia. Even technically, this Summit has appeared to be momentous.

Sergion Duarte: The Johannesburg Summit marked a new moment of change in the history of the BRICS due to the support of many countries to the expansion of the group. That decision will enhance the importance and significance of the bloc for world international affairs. It is too early to say what direction the expanded group will take. Yet, I believe it will bring a more innovative and constructive approach toward global security and interstate cooperation issues.

Maksim Sorokin: One of the most essential and remarkable outcomes was the expansion of BRICS, with six new countries joining the informal group. How will the expansion of BRICS affect the bloc and the modern international system?

Georgy Toloraya: It is worth noting that the issue of the cooperation between BRICS and the World has been discussed lastly within both the negotiation track and among the experts. Thus, on behalf of the Russian National Committee on BRICS Research, which I have been heading since 2011, we have been debating over the agenda within the BRICS Think Tank Council. It has always been evident that exploring new formats for dialogue is necessary. Yet, I have not been in favor of such an expansion.

In my view, the process of accepting new members should be gradual. Thus, I once proposed the theory of concentric rings: BRICS+, consisting of the “core”, observing states, states-partners for dialogue, and the BRICS’s Friends Club. There are roughly 60 countries: the first group consists of 5-7, the second includes 10 states, etc. Thus, through participation in various cooperation formats, these states might step-by-step become full-fledged members of the bloc. Nonetheless, in the current unstable geopolitical environment, we have what we have. The BRICS we knew is now gone; a revolutionary change has happened, and it is essential to understand the further steps. The choice of the states joining the bloc is not so evident to me. For instance, I considered inviting and accepting Indonesia indispensable, but it has yet to be ready. In its turn, Ethiopia seems to be on the list accidentally, only as a representative of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is excellent that the BRICS now has Arab states presented, yet Iran, with its harsh relations with the West, can hardly contribute to cooperation between the West and the BRICS, which tends to look for hegemony. Yet, it is worth mentioning that BRICS+ always underscores its inclusive nature and the fact that it does not aspire to confront the West.

In fact, the choice of the states joining BRICS results from diplomatic efforts and coincidences, which are not objective. It seems evident that under the same pretext and reasons, other countries will also qualify for membership, and it will be curious if they are not accepted. In particular, if we consider the list of nearly 20 states willing to join the bloc. Some of them will not qualify because of specific reasons. For instance, Turkey is quite controversial. It is a NATO member, but some have recalled Turkey as a nominee. Yet I have yet to hear on that.

I am not too fond of the fact that the membership criteria within BRICS are based on today’s conjunctural reasons instead of objective historical reasons. In my view, BRICS is a unity of civilizations and states who are leaders in frames of their region surrounded by many other but closely related historical countries. Such a criterion is objective and transparent. Thus, Arab states are long overdue since the Arab and Muslim worlds have not been presented in BRICS, yet why these particular countries is another question. The newly accepted members, spellbound by the beautiful pictures from summits, lack awareness of how BRICS works and how nearly 200 cooperation tracks within the block established in the last 15 years operate. Considering the difficulty of negotiating some solutions and finding a consensus among the initial five BRICS members, I worry that the decision-making process within the bloc will become even more complicated. At the moment, we know each other well. We know who has what to say, realize the states’ views on specific agendas, and know where to compromise and where it is impossible to find common ground. How is it going to happen among 11 countries with no leader? I am still determining what to expect from the newly accepted members and what our work output will look like when we discuss another document on the experts’ track. It is also yet to be evident which expert centers nominated by these states will be able to maintain the dialogue on the same level. The only way now is to wait and observe how it will work further and whether the block will become amorphous, being able to issue the general statements exclusively, with no substance behind the decisions just to please everyone.

Sergion Duarte: The new group will probably be further expanded and composed of relatively different countries in size, political and economic power, level of development, and other features. It would be desirable to find a common approach to global governance issues, using the existing institutions and mechanisms to increase cooperation for economic and social development and reduction of inequalities.

Maksim Sorokin: Can we assume that the absence of a leader within BRICS and the relative equality of its members facilitate the dialogue and strengthening of interstate relations, or conversely?

Georgy Toloraya: The absence of dictatorship, a leader, or even the first among those equal is the primary principle of BRICS, which is why other states aspire to join the block. BRICS is based on mutual respect, consensus-based solutions, and the absence of pressure and hierarchy, which differentiates BRICS from the West. It is worth mentioning that Russia and China are, let us say, progenitors of BRICS, and thus, many ideas within the block are proposed and generated by these two countries. Nonetheless, nobody forces others to comply with someone’s political will. Moreover, bilateral Russia-China consultations on BRICS do not imply any conspiracy or attempts to push their agenda, which is a significant difference between BRICS and Western hierarchical institutions. In this respect, one of the considerable dignity of BRICS is the enhancement of interstate cooperation between the countries that had nearly nothing of a joint interest in the past. I am not sure that Argentina, Ethiopia, and Iran shared close relations in the past, but now they will do so. Based on the Russian example, we collaborate scientifically and practically with Brazil and South Africa more within BRICS than in the past when we did not have the same level of interstate contacts.

Maksim Sorokin: In the Johannesburg II Declaration, the states-parties to BRICS paid considerable attention to issues related to maintaining international peace and security, e.g., the conflict in Ukraine alongside crises in Niger and Haiti. Apart from that, the Declaration contains multiple calls for elaborating on legally binding documents and establishing verification mechanisms to observe and ensure the implementation of BTWC, prevent an arms race in outer space, etc. How would you evaluate the BRICS approach and policy towards addressing and resolving security issues?

Georgy Toloraya: In this context, it is worth noting that the BRICS point of view is relatively unified and rather unarticulated. Everyone is in favor of non-proliferation, WMD reduction, etc. Here, we instead have to talk about the importance and usefulness of declarative confirmation of these theses at the BRICS level.

Sergio Duarte: In the field of international security, I would hope that the new BRICS will give attention to the concept of “human security” by utilizing the possibilities opened by proposals like the United Nations’ Our Common Agenda and by pursuing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, including by observing multilateral commitments, as expressed in the UN Charter and essential treaties.

The new BRICS must not adopt antagonistic positions and policies against existing states or groups of states. Its main objective must be to build a more peaceful, just, and predictable environment in harmony and cooperation. Adjustments to some of the institutions of the international system, rather than radical changes, will be necessary to achieve these objectives, which align with the Principles and Objectives of the United Nations. 

Regarding current conflicts, particularly the one in Ukraine, the BRICS can play a helpful part in bringing the parties to solve their differences, bearing in mind the principle that international disputes cannot be resolved by armed aggression but only through peaceful means. Addressing the legitimate security concerns of all sides involved is imperative to achieve a lasting solution.

The new BRICS has a critical role in improving security conditions in the world. It would be desirable that it takes the lead in proposing and taking forward steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons, as well as the cessation of the arms race and the current technological proliferation of new and more deadly arms.

Maksim Sorokin: In 2024, Russia will be the chair of BRICS. From your perspective, what the Russian chairmanship will look like, and what are your expectations from the 2024 BRICS Summit in Kazan, Russia? How may the policies of the states-parties to BRICS change by the next meeting of the bloc?

Georgy Toloraya: Undoubtedly, it will be a challenge for Russia, which is gathering more states, particularly the newly accepted ones that are yet to understand how BRICS works, how the preparation goes, and how decisions are made within the bloc. It is a tremendous political and organizational challenge that requires much effort and finances, and we must work hard. It is worth noting that we possess enough power and resources to cope with that. Since our relations with the West are at their lowest level, some financial, organizational, and human resources are free.

Considering the diversity of the BRICS members we will face next year, I have yet to speculate on the results or novelties. I assume there may be some innovations in the interests of the Global South, the World’s majority; in other words, developing countries. Their respective agenda should be the top priority.

For Russia, it is imperative to seek political support from other countries, strengthen national security, and overcome the ongoing military crisis. We certainly require the support of others in this respect. Thus, we will probably need to make concessions concerning the agenda at hand and discuss the issues that are not specifically of our interest but recall the interests of developing countries, e.g., poverty, infections, climate change, and so on.

Sergio Duarte: Predicting what the Russian chairmanship will look like next year is complicated. I hope it will use its political influence to direct the group toward promoting peace and security for all states and not only for a few heavily armed ones. The renewed BRICS can play an essential part in taking multilateral efforts forward toward reducing rivalries, achieving progress on nuclear disarmament, and enhancing constructive interaction among nations.

Maksim Sorokin: The leading countries are “fighting for Africa” today to maintain and deepen bilateral relations with regional states. Is it fair to conclude that BRICS have already succeeded in this process, and what might be the spheres of mutual interest and long-standing cooperation between BRICS and African countries?

Georgy Toloraya: The agenda of the current chairmanship is BRICS and Africa; thus, the African continent has been in the spotlight. Indeed, a tough geopolitical fight for Africa has occurred in the last few years. In this regard, the competition between China and the West is worth mentioning. China has successfully immersed itself in the region, and the West is undoubtedly unhappy with that.

In Africa, they do not like the Western colonialists. In this regard, Russia is in favorable conditions. We possess an excellent moral equity, which was laid during the years of the Soviet partnerships with the African countries and our support to them. I have been to many African states, and they always recall Russia excellently.

The African arena of action will be dramatic. We can now see the examples of unpredictable events in Niger and Mali, demonstrating that there might be dramatic turns in history. And this is all excluding economic, financial, and moral-political competition.

In Africa, like in many other regions, the leader is the one who possesses more financial resources. We cannot say we are winning this competition as the West has enough resources, but our current position differs from the losing one.

Key words: Blitz, BRICS, Global Security