GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Taking BRICS to the GCC: An Indian Role in Promoting the Partnership
Paper Proposal Text :
Taking BRICS to the GCC:
An Indian Role in Promoting the Partnership

Talmiz Ahmad

Proposal for participation in the GRM-2015 Workshop:

The Gulf Cooperation Council and BRICS

Since the leaders of the BRICS nations first met at summit level in 2009, the grouping has survived scepticism and even strident criticism to emerge six years later as a significant presence in the international community, which already has a surfeit of regional and global bodies. Originally, BRICS were a mere acronym of disparate countries which were united only by the fact that they had achieved high growth rates when western economies were experiencing a slowdown. However, even then it was envisaged that in the long term the original four-nation BRIC would collectively overtake the G-6, ie, G-7 minus Canada, in GDP terms by 2040. Obviously, their collective clout is significant: they account for one-fourth of the global landmass, 45 percent of the world’s population, 18 percent of global trade, and 55 percent of global financial market capital; they have half the world’s foreign exchange and gold reserves. By 2050, BRICS could have 40 percent of global GDP.

But, beyond collective economic clout, BRICS represent an organisation that is effectively outside the western sphere of influence and in fact constitutes a firm rejection of the global west-dominated economic and political order that has been in place since the second world war and is reflected in such world institutions as the IMF and the World Bank in the economic area and the UN Security Council (UNSC) in the political area. An Indian observer has seen BRICS as “a challenge to the two-century old hegemony of the West over the modern increasingly inter-dependent world”, while a Chinese scholar has noted that “from being followers, BRICS countries are evolving into rule-makers”. Western commentators see BRICS as a threat to the existing western hegemony over world affairs; they have highlighted “the fundamental incompatibility of the BRICS nations” and their deliberations as “anti-American hot-air”.

The leaders of BRICS countries have not projected themselves as a bloc based shared values; at the outset, they are at best a “pragmatic process” in that members enjoyed considerable autonomy and coordinated on specific issues of common concern. What has contributed to BRICS’s cohesion is the fact that they have balanced their political pronouncements with specific projects and programmes in the economic field to foster intra-BRICS cooperation, such as: promotion of trade and investment; industry, infrastructure and transport development; food and energy security and institution-building. To achieve this, they have agreed to coordinate their economic policies and diplomatic effort. With the setting up of the BRICS New Development Bank with initial capitalisation of $ 50 billion, and the currency stabilisation fund capitalised at $ 100 billion, BRICS now have the self-confidence to pursue broader and more ambitious agendas in the economic and political areas. President Putin has called for BRICS to become “an inalienable part of the global management system for sustainable development”, while a Chinese writer says that BRICS is “taking the form of a political entity” even as it pursues plans in the economic area to integrate BRICS markets through enhanced physical and virtual connectivities.

For India, BRICS provides a powerful platform not only to re-define global norms and rules for a new world order, but also to promote its interests in its extended neighbourhood in the Gulf. Over the last 25 years, the Gulf has been in the vortex of violence and war, in which states have been torn apart and non-state actors, in the shape of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, have become powerful role-players. Thus, the entire swathe of territory from India’s western borders right up to the Mediterranean is a zone of conflict and insecurity. The Arab Spring has further complicated the scenario by creating new bases for doctrinal and strategic competition between the region’s Islamic giants, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The GCC countries play a central role in the energy security interests of major energy importers such as China and India. The latter also have very substantial economic ties with the GCC; India also has a seven-million strong community in the GCC that remits home $ 35 billion annually. These ties have in recent years acquired a greater political and security content. Experiencing isolation and odium after the events of 9/11, the GCC countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have been pursuing “Look-East” policies since the middle of the last decade in order to diversify political and economic links with Asian countries which have now become the principal markets for their oil and gas as also their principal trade partners. During this period, the political synergy that the GCC has traditionally had with the US has got diluted. The US assault on Iraq in 2003 exposed the divergence in their strategic interests: the US saw this as getting rid of an obnoxious dictator, while in the Saudi view it enhanced Iran’s regional influence. Since then, the Kingdom and the US have drifted further apart, their ties reaching a nadir with the Arab Spring, which the US saw as an opportunity for reform while the GCC saw in it an existential threat.

The present scenario in the Gulf presents serious challenges and some opportunities to promote stability and enhance economic ties in a region of crucial importance to all BRICS members. All of the latter have close ties with the GCC countries and have a stake in regional security (the stake obviously being the greatest for India and China). The energy and financial resources of the GCC give them an abiding interest in the reform of the global monetary and financial systems in which they would exercise greater influence. At the same time, the BRICS development bank and the currency stabilisation fund, and future proposals such as non-dollar denominated trading and a clearing house outside the dollar, would gain far greater resonance if the GCC were to be part of it.

And then, we have the security issues: the Gulf has been an American lake for nearly 50 years, a period that has witnessed numerous US-led military interventions and political manipulations. Since all of them took place in support of what was perceived as US interests at the time, very rarely were they in accord with GCC interests or contributed to regional stability. With the US now signalling reluctance to expand its military role in the region and possibly shift its “pivot” to Northeast Asia, the opportunity has emerged for BRICS, led by India, to explore a role in promoting Gulf security.

India is a natural lead-role player in this effort due to: its long historical and civilisational ties with the region; its geographical proximity; its substantial economic and political links with the GCC; its deep and abiding interest in the security and stability of the region; its close ties with Iran and Iraq, and the good relations it has with the United States which will ensure that its initiatives are not seen as anti-American in Washington. There is an important intangible advantage that India has: its historic role in defining a sense of Asian destiny. At the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi in 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru had said: “We stand at the end of an era and on the threshold of anew period of history … Asia after a long period of quiescence has suddenly become important in world affairs. Asia is again finding itself.” India is thus best placed to mobilise the other BRICS countries to participate in the effort of promoting a closer BRICS-GCC political and economic engagement. The paper will explore the various aspects of this daunting diplomatic challenge.