BRICS without a paradox
As discussed above, the different representations and understandings of BRICS are debatable or even paradoxical. In this final section we consider the possibility of BRICS without a paradox. To estimate whether and how BRICS possibly change the international order and system we rely first on the theory of structural imperialism proposed by Johan Galtung (1971) and then on perspectives drawn from ancient traditions of international relations from the two ancient BRICS nations: China and India.
According to Galtung’s theory, the international system consists of centres and peripheries, but there can also be semi-peripheries in between. The system is vertically organised and hierarchical, as well as unequal. The centres have the power over their peripheries and peripheries are dependent on their centres. This is a feudal system, where the centres are connected to and interacting with each other as well as vertically with their peripheries, but the peripheries are horizontally fragmented, and the structure of the system prevents them cooperating (Figure 1.1).
Peripheries basically relate vertically with the centre or via the semi-periphery. Horizontal interaction is mostly missing, or it is prevented even between the peripheries of the same centre. Also, the roles and activities of the peripheries are marginalized within multilateral international institutions, which are dominated by the centres. In addition to the basic structure of the system, Galtung identifies five different forms of imperialism: economic, political, military, communication and cultural. Domination of the centres can be just one-dimensional, or two or more forms can overlap.
Resisting or changing the system requires horizontal cooperation within the periphery. For Galtung, horizontal interaction is the strategy for ‘de-feudalization’ of the international system. However, the reduction of vertical interaction is also
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FIGURE 1.1 A hypothetical feudal international system
needed. Peripheral countries should also establish viable international organizations of their own for global governance. Increasing horizontal interaction should further lead to increasing self-reliance in the periphery, to make the periphery less dependent on the centre. Finally, the system will only change when the power of the periphery is brought closer to that of the centre (Galtung, 1971).
While understanding BRICS in this context as a counter strategy to structural imperialism and its role in changing the international order, it is possible to draw a few conclusions. BRICS connects one former centre state and four semiperipheries, if not peripheral states. As a grouping it reduces fragmentation within the system and provides possibilities for some non-centre states to have a voice in the system. BRICS as such is an institution of the periphery for global governance and it has created two more institutions of the periphery: the NDB and the CRA. Already this has given more options or created new centres for peripheries to cooperate with.
It could be argued that, to some extent, BRICS has already changed the feudal system to make it a little more equal and democratic. However, the interaction of the periphery with the BRICS members and its institutions creates new relations of dependence, although that might reduce the dependence on traditional centres. BRICS cooperation has also increased the role of some peripheral or semiperipheral states in the multilateral institutions of global governance, e.g. G20, but this has not changed the fundamental orientation of the institutions. Some of the BRICS countries have also come closer to the traditional centres. And it is difficult to argue that China, India or Russia function as a semi-periphery for either the US or the EU.
In the BRICS context it is also possible to say that China and India have largely resisted the Western colonization of mind and culture, and that indigenous ideas could form the basis of a new theorization of social and international systems. While BRICS may seem to present a paradox for Western-centric theories of International Relations, it may appear to be a viable and rational international institution and actor in a non-Western theoretical context.Therefore, we argue that the role of BRICS can be analysed in the context of two indigenous theories of tianxia and mandala.
The roots of tianxia go back more than 2,000 years in Chinese history and Confucian social philosophy. There are several interpretations of tianxia and our intention is not to discuss these or to present a coherent version of it. For us it is enough to pick up some characteristics from the theory and for the discussion around it to demonstrate how this theory might explain why membership of BRICS is a rational choice for China, and it is a viable international organization.
The tianxia concept refers to a China-centric international system and helps to explain how China interacts with the world around it. It can be visualized as a series of concentric circles in which China forms the centre of the system. Next is the circle of tributary states that could adapt to Chinese civilization. The outer circle is the barbaric world that threatens the Chinese civilization (Ren, 2010: 103,106-7; Callahan, 2008: 755).This system aimed to establish peace with China’s immediate neighbourhood and opened the gates for China’s peaceful expansion. Tianxia is also a system that can transform an enemy into a friend (Callahan, 2008: 752,756). Chinese economic prosperity formed the base of the system, which would be the incentive for other countries to interact with China. In Chinese understanding, China’s moral and cultural superiority legitimized the system (Kallio, 2012, 14). Belonging to the system gave access to the Chinese markets but the ultimate precondition was to recognize Chinese superiority (Zhang, 2009: 550). This gave China the power to define the rules and norms of the system and, especially, to dictate how others should interact with it (Wang, 2012: 130). However, members were autonomous actors within the system with their own internal and external policies (Ren, 2010: 104).
Applying tianxia theory to BRICS cooperation, China’s increasing economic and partly also military power are the factors that draw others into closer relations with China. It may not be entirely feasible to talk about China’s superiority, but it is hard to deny that China is a key actor within BRICS. In joining BRICS, members had to accept their differences. China is also the core actor in unification against the West and Western values and in the NDB there is also a chance to create new rules for international cooperation. The idea that within a common system an enemy might become a friend could explain how India and China could cooperate within an institution like BRICS, in spite of conflicting interests.
Mandala theory has roots in over 2,500 years of Hindu philosophy. As a systematic theory it was formulated by Kautilya in his Arthasastra (loosely translated from Sanskrit as ‘The Science of Politics’), in the third century bc. Mandala theory also understands the political system as a series of concentric circles. In the centre there is a hypothetical conqueror whose intention is to become a universal power while the circle around conqueror consists of its natural enemies. The next circle consists of the enemies of the states in the first circle and therefore potential allies of the conqueror. However, geography is not the only factor that defines enmity and amity. The relations between the states within the system are also defined by the balance of power and interests of the states (Rangarajan, 1992: 506—8; Gautam, 2013: 99-100; Mishra, 2016: 79).
In addition to friends and foes, a middle state and a neutral state belong to the system. A middle state is the neighbour of the conqueror and its enemy. The neutral state is the strongest state in the system (Rangarajan, 1992: 517; Gautam, 2013: 55; Mishra, 2016: 91). All alliances have to serve the interests of the conqueror and increase its power in relation to its potential enemy (Rangarajan, 1992: 510; Kangle, 2014: 255). In general, alliances are a means to increase the welfare and power of the state (Mishra, 2016: 87). When the conqueror is not strong enough to become a universal power, it has to prevent anybody else becoming a universal power (Gautam, 2013: 52,55).
In the context of mandala theory, it is possible to have China and India as challengers for the position of a universal power. Russia is a middle state and the US the neutral one. In this situation, cooperation with China in BRICS is a rational choice for India. It increases India’s potential power while simultaneously preventing China’s rise to become a universal power in Asia.Tension with China is not a factor that would make cooperation with China impossible. Simultaneously, partnership with the US as a neutral power serves the same purpose.