IR : Is a collective defense agreement/military alliance like NATO possible among the BRICS countries?
Answer by Kyle Murao:
No, it's not. NATO was specifically intended to counter the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union to the democratic states of Western Europe. The commercial and cultural linkages between the US, Canada and Europe were quite strong and quite old (sometimes centuries old) by the time NATO was created in 1949.
By contrast, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have no such common history. Now that's not to say that a common history is a sufficient condition for a military alliance to be successful and long lasting. NATO represented the formal end of centuries of strife among France, England and Germany. But the difference is that all of these countries now found themselves facing a far graver threat than they could ever pose to each other–the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. It was a common enemy that held the whole thing up; unsurprisingly, since the end of the Cold War the alliance has lacked some of its original unity and sense of purpose. It doesn't have a unifying spirit anymore and now is mostly just a club of countries that can claim official protection under America's nuclear deterrent umbrella (although America's willingness to risk nuclear war over NATO's newest Eastern European members–always a big question to policy realists–is now slowly being tested and will continue to be tested by Russia).
The BRICS nations don't seem to have much in the way of unifying values. Brazil and India are large, liberal democracies with fast-growing, diversified economies. China is the richest, but has an authoritarian government and heavy state intervention in the economy. South Africa is rather small, poor (though growing fast), and is not a meaningful player in any global markets, except perhaps certain natural resources. Russia is an increasingly autocratic state with a shrinking population, low standard of living, crippling corruption and a serious addiction to high oil prices.
As for common goals, well, these countries do have one goal in common, but it's unclear how a formal military alliance would help further it: They must all focus on raising the standard of living for their own people, through a combination of better social programs, trade liberalization, infrastructure investment, legal reforms and better court systems, and crackdowns on graft and corruption. For example, India might benefit from a collective defense agreement with Russia, but that would not solve its most pressing needs domestically; nor is it clear how it would be acceptable to China, which is allied with India's rival Pakistan and has recently been intruding onto Indian territory with foot patrols. Indeed, as this example shows, the BRICS countries, where they do have the same security interests, often find those interests to be opposed rather than shared. Russia wonders how it will ever regain much influence in Asia and worries about the growing number of Chinese immigrants in the Russian Far East. China has fought border wars with India and Russia. India must deal with Pakistan in the West and China all along its northern border, and is extremely concerned about the possibility that China may divert water supplies on the Tibetan Plateau away from India.
Into that equation, it's unclear what utility either Brazil or South Africa would have. A Brazilian military alliance with China and Russia would infuriate Washington and offer little strategic benefit to Brazil, which has no serious local rivals and has long preferred a pragmatic path in its foreign relations. A South African one would likewise serve little benefit.
Thansk for the A2A Diptanshu! 🙂