Most of what was said at the summit, and in its Delhi Declaration, was hot air, as one has come to expect of such meetings. However there are at least two significant developments that set this summit apart. First, the BRICS states not only repeated their critique of the world economic order and North Atlantic financial hegemony, but they offered new policy guidelines and institutions as a counterpoint. Second, the BRICS states have taken some more steps toward the rejection of the North Atlantic’s political leadership over the planet. It is not clear on this second point where the BRICS states propose to plant their own flag, but what is clear is the frustration with the NATO agenda in North Africa and West Asia and with the North Atlantic agenda in the trade debates that will take place in Doha, Qatar next month.
Little of this summit came into the papers of the North Atlantic. Part of this is to be expected, as newspapers generally abjure stories about seemingly dull trade negotiations and routine political meetings. No wonder that the news of the Arab League in Baghdad this week is simply about the fact that it is happening there for the first time since 1990 than about what the Arab states shall discuss in the way of trade deals and Syria. The character of the debates and the measures taken are not going to be reported at all. All that we shall hear is that the Arab League will not take a position on Syria consonant with what the West would like. That is the measure of the North Atlantic presses’ interest in that summit. On the BRICS summit, even the financial papers have been silent. The only report in a major paper was banal (from Jim Yardley in The New York Times, March 29). It repeated the old saw that the BRICS is more a photo-op than a genuine political bloc. As Ananth Krishnan of The Hindu said of Yardley’s report, it “puts up a straw man,” hoping that the BRICS is a bloc “which it isn’t, and then shoots it down in 800 words.”
Typically, the BRICS states have been wary of a frontal assault on neo-liberalism or on the policy arrangements favored by the North. What one has seen has been a kind of sniping from the margins, asking for this or that policy that favors the North over the South to be reconsidered, or for this or that policy to allow individual BRICS states to benefit alongside the North. Accommodation has been the order of the day rather than transformation. A flavor of this residual neoliberalism remains in the Delhi Declaration and in the
BRICS Report (a study prepared by Kaushik Basu, the Indian Prime Minister’s advisor and the ill-named Carl Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University). There is enough in the report and the declaration about synergies and complementarities, of best practices and growth prospects to fill a dozen tumbrils. These texts do not give a good sense of a clean break with neoliberalism.