By Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
June 6, 2013 was the 10th year anniversary of the seminal Brasilia Declaration by the foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa, formalizing the cooperative mechanism better known as India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA).
India, currently the chair of IBSA, is responsible for steering the agenda for trilateral collaboration.
In its capacity as chair, it is incumbent upon India to revitalize the geopolitical group, which has been so central to the construct of “South-South Cooperation” that engages most political thinkers today.
Developing countries with converging interests have a lot to gain from coordinating positions on a wide spectrum of issues. And indeed India is also uniquely placed to establish its own global identity and brand through the group.
At the end of the Durban summit earlier this year, BRICS resembled a schizophrenic milieu; a strange mix of countries from the Group of 77 and Russia. Under South Africa’s chairmanship, there was a visible failure to shed the identity of reactionary “trade unionists.”
Moreover, consumed by regional aspirations of one member, instead of being representative of a fast moving lithe club of five, BRICS appeared to be burdened with carrying the divergent and diverse aspirations of an additional continent on its shoulders.
The IBSA countries must not let ownership of the South-South agenda slip away. This, we feel, would require at least three conceptual underpinnings.
First, the format for engagement must remain unburdened and the core values undiluted. That is, the dialogue must continue to follow the format already instituted. Proxy memberships of other countries through regional institutions, must not constrain the nimble grouping. Regional issues must be represented, without members themselves becoming stubborn regional representatives.
Second, a common thread which ties all three IBSA members is their robust democratic institutions and frameworks. Democratic values must be kept at the forefront. The legitimacy that such a governance ethos can bring is perhaps unmatched. The cries for reform of the existing global governance architecture converge with the imperative of ensuring legitimacy through democratic transparency.
IBSA offers member countries an audible voice on the global governance high table, and democracy is an undervalued and underutilized trump card that they each possess.
Finally, for each of the IBSA members, the next few decades need to be centred on inclusive growth. Each is an emerging “middle power,” and each needs to harness growth to craft sustainable trajectories, unleashing drivers of socio-economic progress including productivity, innovation and social welfare.
IBSA offers its members a moment for cooperating on this incumbent need. IBSA must focus on itself even as it reaches out.
A lot has already been discussed under the IBSA umbrella. Conversations on reform of Bretton Woods institutions, regional issues (particularly the Arab-Israeli imbroglio), sectoral cooperation ranging from tax administration to higher education, people-to-people linkages, free trade agreements, to name a few prominent areas, have taken place.
Additionally, we suggest that IBSA members must explore collaborating on three specific agenda items.
The first is that IBSA must reach out to other democracies, perhaps initially by according observer status to similarly placed countries. Replicating the format followed by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation could be a viable alternative, and serve as a suitable whetting process for new members.
Second, IBSA must shed its reluctance to share its own deep reservoir of democratic experiences. Clearly, Atlantic countries cannot and do not offer the only appropriate models of development for democracies. In this post-Washington Consensus era, IBSA members possess a number of experiences which provide a template for the developing world. These must be mapped, shared and discussed.
The third concrete action item must be to move towards a new format for ocean governance. India-Brazil-South Africa Maritime, a naval exercise conducted between the three navies (an element of IBSA’s regional cooperation), is an ideal point of departure.
IBSA members can also begin to address issues dealt under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, to develop a robust international framework for governing the oceans and seas. A new framework articulated by the South would have a compelling weight.
The conceptual underpinnings and agenda discussed here can prove to be levers of IBSA’s transformation. The decade old cooperative mechanism has endured, and now it is time for it to mature and deliver.
Samir Saran is Vice President and Vivan Sharan an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.
As published in The Global Times