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An out-of-touch G7 could lose global leadership to BRICS

President Biden poses with the Group of Seven leaders

Days apart, the BRICS and G7 meetings were held. The groupings couldn’t be more contrasting. 

BRICS is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — a multiethnic coalition of nations that gather to address the economic challenges of the Global South. G7 is largely a group of white majority countries coming together at a scenic cabin in the Alps to discuss security and containment strategies. While the G7 invited members from the Global South as special invitees, there are no permanent members from it. This could potentially provide room for an alternative to the Western-led world order.  

The back-to-back meetings of BRICS and G7 have new significance with the Ukraine conflict in the background. Western nations have been pressing countries in the Global South to take a side in the conflict. Many have either abstained in their votes at the United Nations or have outright supported Russia, earning the wrath of commentators.  

Given this grim development, it is natural for leaders of the developing world to discuss ways to circumvent unilateral sanctions of the West and protect their economies, such as alternative reserve currencies to the U.S. dollar, or creating a larger coalition of countries. Both China and Russia have expressed interest in expanding the BRICS to include other nations. China invited Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal and Thailand. And recently, in a bigger development, both Argentina and Iran applied to become part of the grouping.  

These developments cannot be discounted, especially since much of the West has withdrawn from world affairs, thanks to populist leaders. Even otherwise, most of the proposals that have come from the so-called leaders of the liberal world order are driven by military and security strategies of containment instead of being development oriented. 

The G7’s recent launch of an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative reeks of power politics instead of an actual desire to help the developing world. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Director of Foreign Policy Kori Schake put it “We’d get so much more mileage if we even pretended the initiative was to encourage development rather than to counter China.” 

A journalist from the Solomon Islands had a similar message in his New York Times Op-ed, “You have got to show up. And the United States has not.“ 

The West seems to only engage in moral posturing. If the debauchery in Iraq and Afghanistan are any indicators, it holds no official to account and often leaves invaded countries in tatters. While one would expect some humility from those defeats, the virtue-signaling about the Ukraine-Russia conflict and desperate attempts to persuade and at times strong arm nations to pick a side demonstrates that they are back to their old ways.  

The West is trying hard to change the narrative surrounding the Ukraine-Russia conflict into one of imperialism, though with little success. Former colonies have not endorsed that characterization. Interestingly, the former colonizers are quick to call it that. Through this lens, commentators in the Western world are only belittling the struggles of former colonies. All these judgments are coming while the BRICS come to the aid of poor nations.   

Russia, China and India supplied vaccines to the developing world way before America.  

Both China and India have given more free vaccines to the developing world than the total vaccines given by America. Beyond COVAX, Europe is yet to open its account with vaccine distribution for the developing world.  

As the foreign minister of India, Subramaniam Jaishankar put it, “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that its problems are world’s problems” 

The BRICS meeting agenda is a case in point. The former colonies and the developing economies of the world do not want to engage in the competition of moral high ground. They view the Ukraine-Russia conflict as a dispute between two countries. For them, the economic fallout that followed was a major concern, more than who is right and who is wrong in the conflict in Europe. The rising oil and gas prices, double-digit inflation levels and a global economy on the brink of recession keep the leaders up at night more than a conflict in Europe. Nevertheless, the leader to initiate Ukraine-Russia peace talks was Joko Widodo of Indonesia, who invited Vladimir Putin to the G20. Western leaders on the other hand have been using the conflict to break Russia.  

The intentions of the West seem to revolve around the containment of rather than the inclusion of the developing world. Unless and until the G7 adds permanent members from the Global South, it won’t look any different than it was 100 years ago when these same countries were the colonizers. 

The G7 needs to include nations of the developing world. If not, sooner than later, they’ll be up against more than 6 billion people and half the world economy.

Akhil Ramesh is a fellow with the Pacific Forum. He has worked with governments, risk consulting firms and think tanks in the United States and India. Follow him on Twitter: Akhil_oldsoul.