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  • 22 Jul, 2024

Can India and the BRICS countries become the new security power of the world?

Can India and the BRICS countries become the new security power of the world?

Multipolarity and the rise of stronger alternative institutions bring hope for a new international structure that is more democratic, representative of the Global South, and able to work for peace.

"The path to peace lies in dialogue and diplomacy," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky before a delegation from New Delhi departed for a "peace summit" in Switzerland.

More than 90 countries attended after 160 invitations, but far fewer signed the final communique. What is particularly noteworthy is that not all BRICS member and candidate countries signed the document. Brazil attended only as an observer, and China did not send a delegation. The main reason was Russia's exclusion from the peace process, which many believe is crucial for a lasting resolution to the conflict.

India showed its seriousness about any kind of peaceful proposal by sending former ambassador to Russia and current foreign minister (West) Sri Pawan Kapoor. However, New Delhi has not signed the document either.

India is known for its cautious and balanced diplomatic stance. After the conflict broke out, India provided humanitarian and medical assistance and also helped rebuild schools in Kiev. However, Russia abstained from UN resolutions condemning Russia, refrained from sanctions, refused to join the Western-led oil price cap, and continues to buy Russian oil at a discount despite Western pressure.

New Delhi has repeatedly stressed the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, and as recently as March 20, 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called both Presidents Putin and Zelensky. In total, Modi met with the Russian president five times and Zelensky four times. This nuanced and balanced approach is best symbolized by the G20 Delhi Declaration signed during his presidency, unanimously supported by both the West and Russia.

One expert noted that India is one of the few countries that can "get on the phone and talk with the leaders of both the US and Russia on the same day." Given its balanced foreign policy, India's overture to the Swiss conference could be a sign of future high-level visits to maintain a delicate strategic balance.

The previous visit was made by Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in December 2023, signaling New Delhi's renewed engagement with an old and proven ally that the West wanted to portray as internationally isolated.

On another level, for India, the current conflict Russia is wrestling with has a personal connection to India's historical past. Both Ukraine and Pakistan gained independence; Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Pakistan after its liberation from Britain. India has historically had tense relations with its estranged neighbours, which received US support during the Cold War and continue to receive it today.

The irony of the world's oldest democracy supporting a non-democratic state is not lost on Indians. 

Russia faces a similar dilemma with the influx of Western equipment into Ukraine and the resulting expansion of the US-led NATO alliance towards Russia's borders. The historical similarities between Moscow and New Delhi are likely to foster deeper cultural and political understanding between the two countries.

"India's participation in the Ukraine Peace Summit and in previous NSA/Political Director-level meetings based on the Ukraine Peace Formula is in line with our clear and consistent approach that lasting peace can only be achieved through dialogue and diplomacy. "We remain convinced that such a peace requires unity of all involved and a sincere and practical approach by both parties to the conflict," Kapoor said in Burgenstock, Switzerland. "Only options acceptable to both parties can lead to lasting peace," he stressed.

With Western-backed Ukrainian forces now on the defensive, it makes little sense to exclude Russia's participation in the summit. Yet, ironically, this is the stance the West continues to take.

 The Kremlin had good reason to be skeptical of the summit. A previous attempt to achieve peace between Kiev and Moscow in 2022 was apparently thwarted at the urging of Western countries, especially during Boris Johnson's surprise visit to Kiev.  In the eyes of the Russian government, if a peace agreement is concluded with the consent of the conflicting parties, concrete security guarantees will be needed to maintain it. Russian authorities have repeatedly expressed this, considering the need for a lasting solution to the Ukrainian problem, for which a mere ceasefire will not suffice.

In fact, Russia wants to overhaul the current European security architecture towards one that is more inclusive and reflects the rise of global multipolarity, providing a guarantor of the immutability and inviolability of peace treaties and agreements.

This would be similar to a new Westphalian peace, in which the BRICS countries, including India, could take part in a more concrete, decisive and active role as impartial arbitrators and guarantors of security guarantees.

There is concrete data that supports such a scenario. BRICS has already overtaken the anachronistic G7 in terms of global GDP share and GDP growth rate, and it also has four times the share of world population.

Moreover, at the last BRICS summit held in South Africa in 2023, the group formally supported reform of the United Nations, including the Security Council, in the Johannesburg Declaration II. The summit also admitted six additional countries, including the world's three largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

India considers the BRICS alliance a non-Western grouping and not "anti-Western". At the South African summit, New Delhi accepted the admission of new members to the group. PM Modi said, "India fully supports the expansion of BRICS membership," adding, "BRICS will break down barriers, revitalize economies, stimulate innovation, create opportunities, and shape the future."

This comes as the two fundamental impulses driving BRICS expansion remain largely unchanged. First, the growing anti-American sentiment around the world, and second, the need for a platform to express solidarity and voices from the Global South and to represent the arrival of better times that reflect multipolarity.

As the Ukrainian conflict enters its third year, the outcome of peace efforts and how they will be implemented remain unclear.

However, multipolarity and the rise of stronger alternative organisations such as BRICS bring hope for a newly transformed European and global security architecture that is more democratic, representative of the Global South and a concrete guarantee of peace.

In the current context, India, as a founding member of BRICS, can use its position to act as a proactive balancer and security guarantor and work towards a lasting and peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian conflict that is acceptable to all parties.