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I. Challenging dominant discourses in a new world order


Since its inception in 2009, the BRICS group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China - joined in 2011 by South Africa) has sought to represent itself as an institution of change and reform, and as a voice of the developing world (Thakur, 2014). One potential interpretation of BRICS is that it is a new initiative of transnational politics, reflecting global power transitions, the possible end of US dominance, as well as the final countdown of the liberal international order. Other institutions of such a new world order would be, for example, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This interpretation, however, is contested by scholars who argue that there is little if any evidence to support the view that BRICS is an institution of a different kind of globalization (Bond, 2016).

These different and conflicting interpretations of BRICS represent what we would like to call the BRICS paradox. The concept of paradox refers to a claim that is apparently based on sound reasoning from true premises, but which leads to logically unacceptable conclusions. In this chapter, we identify three paradoxes. First, that because BRICS members are so different, they cannot form a functioning alliance. Second, that because BRICS have demanded changes in international organizations, they constitute a challenge to the current international order. Third, because BRICS has formed new financial institutions, it is functioning as a model or promoter of alternative financial governance. The idea that BRICS represents change or the voice of the global South, at the same time as seeming to be well integrated into the international system as a loose grouping of neoliberal countries, pertains to this paradox.

By presenting and reviewing the three paradoxes, this chapter interprets current debates on BRICS, showing that it appears to be a little bit of everything. As a result, the contribution of this chapter to the ongoing BRICS debates is not a presentation of new data, but interpreting old data and previous debates in new manner. Moreover, using this work as a stepping stone, this chapter seeks to propose ways to better understand BRICS.This it does by proposing structural imperialism and non-Western perspectives as potential ways to understand BRICS without a paradox.

Thus, this chapter argues that perhaps the BRICS paradox is not as much about BRICS as it is about the conflict between different theoretical conceptualizations ofBRICS.The classic mandala (‘circle’in Sanskrit) from the Indian indigenous tradition of foreign policy analysis or tianxia (‘All under heaven’ in Mandarin) system from the Chinese, one may provide more suitable perspectives in which to understand and evaluate its role and nature. These two perspectives would at least fit the context of a post-hegemonic world order and what appears to be the return of the past (Juutinen, 2018; Kakonen, 2020).

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