Invigorating IBSA; Inventing IIBSAA


The post-mortem reports of the recently held 5th BRICS summit from March 26th-27th 2013 have already been written and forgotten. On June 6th 2013, India is hosting the next IBSA summit. As early as 2011, this analyst had predicted that China will try to kill IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) grouping by enlarging the BRIC to BRICS [1]. China cunningly brought in South Africa in the original BRIC grouping in 2011 though it did not belong to this economic dialogue forum. China had two-fold objectives: First and foremost to neutralize IBSA and second fold to gain entry into the African continent using South Africa as a staging post [2]. The original criteria for BRIC membership was the status of the four countries as emerging economies. Though these countries are very disparate and have their own separate agenda, the common anti-Western stance and emerging economy status were the two least common denominators [3]. China has indeed used the modified BRICS mechanism to make IBSA redundant and has become the de facto leader of BRICS [4]. BRICS has been described as an artificial grouping. Rajinder Puri, a senior columnist has stated very bluntly: “Neither strategic nor economic considerations justify the new grouping of Brazil, Russia, India and China. All four nations have vastly different priorities and concerns” [5]. Predictably South Africa led by President Zacob Zuma repaid the favor done by China while serving as a useful idiot for the Beijing and created dissonance in the BRICS with India feeling humiliated as the Indian PM was kept 40 kilometers away from the venue [6]. As Jaswant Singh rightly points out that Lamido Sanusi, the governor of Nigeria’s central bank, has called for Africans to recognize that“their romance with China” has helped to bring about “a new form of imperialism” [7]. Both Brazil and India are very wary of China’s mercantilist trade policies [8]. A cash-rich China is going to use its $ 3.4 trillion foreign exchange reserves to dominate the BRICS Development Bank and the BRICS Currency Reserve Arrangement (CRA).

In the Bandung Conference in 1955, both India and China sought to take the leadership of the developing countries. As the NAM or the group of 77 gradually evolved, China was relegated to the background owing to its own internal problems whereas India emerged as the clear leader of the NAM and the developing world leaving behind both Egypt and Indonesia. China had resented the towering personality and the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru in the NAM. Now NAM is practically defunct and has lost its relevance though ritualistic and meaningless meetings still go on. In a sense BRICS had the potential to assume the collective leadership of the “Global South” in the 21stcentury when NAM had run out of steam.

The biggest USP of the IBSA summit is that IBSA is an outfit that is sought by the Chinese to be rendered infructuous after BRICS [9]. Incidentally, just like NAM, IBSA was facilitated into existence by another Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who met with his counter-parts in 2003 in Evian. The establishment of IBSA was announced on June 6th, 2003 by signing of “Brasilia Declaration” by the external affairs ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa. This “Brasilia declaration” mentions the democratic credentials of the three member nations, their status as developing countries, and their capacity of acting on a global scale as the main reasons for coming together as a grouping.

The Chinese checkmate to India in BRICS must be dealt with coolly with a focus on invigorating the IBSA mechanism .India must do the necessary ground work and home work so that the “enhanced” BRICS does not end up swallowing and eventually digesting the “IBSA” where India has been the prime mover [10]. We will discuss some of the historical antecedents and tactical responses that India can adopt to counter China while maintaining the leadership of the “Global South” in the international arena.


A detailed exposition on the differential roles and the relationship between IBSA and BRICS is dealt by Professor Arkhangelskyaya from the Russian Academy of Sciences; there are some areas of overlap between BRICS and IBSA especially in the constituent membership [11]. However, that alone does not justify disbanding of the IBSA because the defining characteristic of IBSA is south-south cooperation among the “developing democracies”. Some have erroneously suggested that the IBSA was the past having been started in 2004 and BRICS is the future [12]. The role of BRICS is very different from that of IBSA. It is essentially a counterweight to G7 in the global power politics. BRICS has been seen by many analysts as a step towards the evolution of a multipolar world order. This is true to an extent but BRICS has yet to prove its credentials [13]. Whether it will succeed in its role of counter-balancing the G7 will be very much a function of future Chinese international behavior. If China tries to dominate the group, except for South Africa, none of the other countries will tolerate Chinese quest for paramount leadership role under the BRICS framework. It is very unlikely that Russian Federation will serve as a junior partner of China for long. As the former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh emphasizes very succinctly: “BRICS’ shared potential does not translate into collaborative action. On the contrary, each of the BRICS will have to pursue its goals, and confront its challenges, individually [14].

Both Egypt and Indonesia are very keen to join the BRICS. Other potential applicants may include Turkey, Nigeria and Mexico. Future membership of the BRICS should be criteria based and not driven by Chinese or Russian strategic interests in order to avoid intra-group squabbles. Here one would agree with the Russian suggestion for freezing the BRICS membership for the next few years. Despite having overlapping memberships, the two can act as complimentary to each other. One major difference between the two fora is the two tiered power structure of BRICS in which two of its members are also permanent, veto wielding members of the UNSC [15]. As permanent members of the UNSC, neither Russia nor China is enthusiastic about the entry of Brazil, India or South Africa into the inner sanctorum [16]. These two, Russia and China are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a quasi-security pact in Central Asia [17]. There are apprehensions that the SCO agenda of Russia and China may contaminate the functioning of BRICS. India’s participation in BRICS is being questioned as costly [18]. The relevance of South Africa’s membership is also debatable on economic grounds [19]. Such a differential economic power equation is not conducive to long-term harmonious functioning of BRICS. Harsh Pant hits the bull’s eye when he says: “The narrative surrounding the rise of BRICS is as exaggerated as that of decline for the US. The tectonic plates of global politics are certainly shifting, but their movements are unpredictable. BRICS will remain an artificial construct, merely an acronym coined by an investment banking analyst, for some time to come” [20].

Future of IBSA

Keeping in view the inadequacies of BRICS, India must remain determined to continue with IBSA as well. Over the years, IBSA has become an umbrella for various initiatives in the diplomatic and policy field, in Public Administration and inclusive developmental sectors. It is important to note that IBSA members do not have any geo-political or territorial conflicts but that is not true of BRICS. Both India and China do have a border conflict which has not been resolved. Similarly, both China and Russia share an extensive land border and do have some territorial and geo-political issues. There is latent competition between Russia and China for dominance in Central Asia although both would like to see the US dominance in global affairs reduced. The degree to which a shadow of BRICS will fall on IBSA seems to be very dependent on the weakest link, South Africa, which is “sitting on two chairs” [21]. The signature issue for the IBSA identified in the “Brasilia Declaration” was south-south cooperation for the “developing democracies”. Despite what happened in Durban, South Africa, the IBSA remains a good forum for the “developing democracies”. A resurgent India must learn to be proactive and not reactive in execution of her foreign policy.

Inventing IBSAA

India must take the leader-ship to enlarge the “IBSA” into “IIBSAA” (India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa & Argentina) in order to make this block of developing democracies more relevant in the international fora. This would require two other “developing democracies”, namely Indonesia and Argentina to be invited to join the “IBSA”. Both China and Russia are not true democracies at this time and do not deserve a seat on the enlarged “IIBSAA” forum. The China angle would be important in the enlarged IIBSAA by virtue of its absence! Though Egypt is interested in joining BRICS and may be interested in joining IIBSAA also, it is not a fully evolved democracy as yet. More democratic reforms would be needed before Egypt can qualify for the status of “developing democracy”. After inviting Indonesia and Argentina, the membership should be frozen for the next five years while criteria for membership are agreed upon and the organization evolves in a credible manner. India should finalize a formal charter for the enlarged IIBSAA and minimum criteria for future membership applications.

Building a Permanent Secretariat

Without a permanent executive secretariat, any international organization is likely to wither away as we have learnt from the NAM experience. India must offer her facilities to host a permanent executive secretariat for the enlarged IIBSAA forum in New Delhi. Perhaps, the MEA sponsored think tank like ICWA can serve as the temporary facility while new office space is located and infra-structure is built. Besides rotating presidency for two years there must a permanent executive secretary general appointed for a period of not less five years to provide continuity in policy otherwise the agenda seems to change with every rotating presidency. No person should be allowed more than two terms as secretary general of the IIBSAA. IIBSAA members should coordinate their voting patterns in the UN General Assembly and the UNSC whenever possible. It should be the responsibility of the Secretary General to coordinate the various viewpoints and arrive at a consensus of the “developing democracies”.


The original IBSA mechanism had a puny corpus of three million dollars per year contributed equally by each of the three countries. The fund is managed by the UNDP and focuses on projects on poverty alleviation. This needs to be increased sequentially so that lack of funds to do not handicap this important forum. Perhaps, the newly enlarged group should aim for a corpus of $ one billion per year with each country contributing $ 200 million. This Fund for poverty alleviation and inclusive growth should not be considered as a challenge or alternative to the BRICS Development Bank which will be used only for infra-structure needs.


At a time when free trade areas are becoming the norm, the developing democracies should negotiate a “free trade and services area” among the member nations. Both the CII (Confederation of India Industries) and the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) should be encouraged to establish an IIBSAA Business Council.

IIBSAA Maritime Dialogue

Since all these five nations are sea-fairing nations with long coast lines, naval and maritime cooperation should be beefed up. Joint anti-piracy efforts in a coordinated manner in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea while securing sea lanes of commerce should be a priority. Providing naval refueling and docking facilities to merchant ships and naval assets of member nations needs to be formalized by agreement.

IIBSAA Counter-Terrorism Efforts

An enhanced IIBSAA should focus on intelligence gathering across various continents to deal with the scourge of terrorism. As terror organizations have global reach and utilize lax laws in developing countries, perhaps common strategies for counter-terrorism efforts would be a new area for cooperation among the IIBSAA countries.

Human Rights Focus

Since all the three current members are multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-ethnic democracies focusing on inclusive growth and poverty alleviation, the group needs to take consistent viewpoint on human rights internationally [22]. On the issue of human rights other members of the BRICS mainly China and Russia have to improve their records before they can become candidates for this group. The group has to deal with Western Countries so that the R2P doctrine is not misused internationally against developing democracies while furthering the Western agenda [23]. This group can provide advice and material help to other developing democracies in improving their human rights records and performances on their own without being scrutinized by the West, thereby avoiding intrusive external interventions.

Delivering Democratic Dividend

The fruits of inclusive growth must be delivered to the masses within the boundaries of each of the member nation in a fair and equitable manner. That is the democracy dividend that members of the enlarged IIBSAA must try to gift their citizens and to citizens of the rest of the world. This aim alone would make for the very existence and the raison d’etre of this important dialogue forum.

  1. 1. Adityanjee: Invading the strategic space: the Dragon fires another salvo at India,
  2. Ibid
  3. Adityanjee: Securitisation of the BRICS
  4. Ibid
  5. Rajinder Puri : Building China Brick by BRIC!
  6.  Indian Express  
  7.  Jaswant Singh: Crumbling BRICS,
  8.  Shyam Saran: BRICS and premature orbituaries,
  9.  Rajeev Sharma: Natural partners: Why India needs to get closer to Japan,
  10.  Op cit Adityanjee, #3
  11. Arkhangelskaya, Alexandra A: IBSA-past? BRICS-Future?
  12.  Ibid
  13.  Arvind Gupta: BRICS comes of age at Durban
  14.  Op cit Jaswant Singh (#7)
  15.  Op cit Adityanjee (#3)
  16.  Op cit Shyam sharan (#8)
  17.  Adityanjee (#3)
  18.  Rajiv Kumar; BRICS: India’s costly time-pass.
  19.  Roy Robins: One of the BRICS is not like the others.
  20.  Harsh Pant: BRICS Nothing But a Chinese Front Group.
  21.  Op cit Arkhangelskaya, Alexandra A (#11)
  22.  G Ananthapadmanabhan and Atila Roque: India and Brazil: Time for a New Human Rights Partnership.
  23.  ibid

First published in Council for Strategic Affairs


More by :  Dr. A. Adityanjee

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