India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum is unique in many ways. It is not a formal organisation. It has no headquarters or secretariat. It is not a bloc, nor an alliance. It is also not an ideological alignment. Central to IBSA’s mission and agenda is the overarching goal to alter the balance of power between developed and developing countries by democratising global decision-making bodies, developing alternatives to the contemporary model of globalisation and giving concrete shape to the ideal of promoting the economic and social interests of the South.
Initially the advent of BRICS did not affect IBSA’s mandate. There was no conflict of interests. IBSA focused its activities on democratic values and other causes common to the three countries, while the economy remained the priority concern of BRICS. China favoured dissolution of IBSA but India disagreed and saw the Chinese designs behind it. China later raised the issue of BRICS Plus. Gradually, IBSA began to be overshadowed by BRICS. The IBSA dialogue forum came under a cloud when its Summit meeting could not be held.
Thanks to India’s efforts, a new dynamism is being infused into this global dialogue forum though the stand-alone Summit meeting has not taken place since 2011. The ‘Sherpas’, senior officials and IBSA foreign ministers have been meeting all these years.
Chaired by External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar, the foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa, held a video conference this week. They reiterated their resolve to support a more inclusive, responsive and participatory international governance architecture. The three IBSA foreign ministers characterised the existing international governance structure as “obsolete” and not fit for effectively addressing the current peace and security challenges. They further took a view that not reforming the UN Security Council will have serious implications for international peace and security. The three foreign ministers also called for the expansion of Security Council in both the permanent and non-permanent categories. The last meeting of the Trilateral Ministerial Commission took place in New York in September 2018.
Today, China’s aggressive behaviour and its economic clout have begun to weaken BRICS. Beijing is using international institutions and global mechanisms to its own advantage. Africa and to some extent Latin America have become victims of China’s predatory behaviour. Some years ago, the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had warned African countries that China was embarking on “new colonialism”. Another commentator maintained that the Chinese dragon was eating the ‘eagle’s lunch’ in Africa. China talks of multilateralism but often follows unilateralist agenda. Chinese leaders are never tired of chanting ‘win-win’ situation in their dealings with other developing countries. But who wins? Experience suggests that there is no one donor who is not receiving and there is no one recipient who is not giving.
The rule-based international order is increasingly under attack by a rising China. In this fragile international environment, India needs to look beyond BRICS. It needs to reach out to like-minded global partners both in South and North who are able to invest more into a free, open and liberal international order.
India needs to remain vigilant and take appropriate action; New Delhi has the requisite strengths—economic, military, technological and demographic—to claim a rightful place in the comity of nations.
In view of the changing situation, India has to create its own templates for global cooperation. South-South cooperation is one such template. Trilaterals and quadrilaterals involving countries from both the South and North is another.
The common agendas that bind countries together and the common challenges that confront them in the shrinking global village increasingly necessitate a serious and equitable partnership between all stakeholders. Here, lies a great opportunity for India. Moving beyond the notion of donor-recipient relationship, there is a need for new and sustainable forms of global and regional engagements that are mutually beneficial, in order to address the common issues and challenges of critical importance.
Script: Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi