The Post-Russian World Order
Mareeg.com-BRUSSELS – Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and the ensuing Crimea crisis is wrongly
seen as the start of Cold War II. But, while the fallout from Russian President
Vladimir Putin’s defiance of international law and public opinion will be very
different from that of the Soviet Union’s long campaign to defeat capitalism, the
geopolitical ripple effects are certain to be just as far-reaching, if not more so.
Russia is set to sideline itself from the global economy, and by doing so it will
usher in a new era in international relations. International sanctions will be only
the first consequence. Markets and banks penalize uncertainty, so the Russian
economy will progressively be cut off from international trade and investment and
consigned to a future of slow or no growth.
That is Russia’s own funeral, of course. The wider consequences will be a shake-up
of international politics and of governments’ attempts to address common problems,
ranging from global governance to climate change. The result may even be positive,
with events in Ukraine unexpectedly opening the way to a significant realignment of
fast-emerging countries whose twenty-first-century roles will be decisive.
The first result of the West’s standoff with Russia is that it spells the end of the
BRICS. For a decade or more, the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and
recently South Africa has been a major feature of world politics, challenging the
might and influence of industrialized Europe and America. But, with Russia set to
become a pariah, either pushed out of or withdrawing from global markets and
multilateral forums, the days of BRICS summits and institutions, such as the group’s
embryonic development bank, appear to be numbered.
The BRICS may not be formally dissolved, but it is hard to imagine that the other
four members would be willing to place their own positions in a globalized economy
at risk by being drawn into Russia’s quarrel with the world. Bit by bit, the idea
that the group represents a coherent voice in world affairs will be quietly buried.
A maverick Russia, bent on pursuing assertive foreign policies and creating a
“Eurasian Union” trade bloc, poses obvious dangers. The more important outcome,
though, will be how Russia’s former BRICS partners realign with other major emerging
economies in the G-20.
Cue the arrival on the world stage of MIKTA – a new group made up of Mexico,
Indonesia, (South) Korea, Turkey, and Australia. These countries’ foreign ministers
plan to meet soon in Mexico to discuss a joint agenda on global governance issues.
When they first met under the MIKTA banner on the fringes of last September’s United
Nations General Assembly, the initiative seemed little more than a club for
countries that for one reason or another did not qualify for BRICS membership but
fell short of major-power status.
Russia’s self-inflicted difficulties will change all of that. With the BRICS
alliance set to be transformed almost overnight into something of a very different
character, the way is cleared for a much larger grouping of countries that share
many of the same concerns.
What the MIKTA countries share are rapid economic growth and increasing influence
outside of their own borders. They have development problems, but they are also
models of economic dynamism and innovation with a substantial stake in the way
post-WWII global institutions and rules should be reshaped. Many of their challenges
and ambitions dovetail with those of the BICS (the BRICS, minus Russia).
In the alphabet soup of international politics, a nine-member jawbreaker like
BICSMIKTA might eventually prove too unwieldy to be workable. The bottom line,
though, is that Russia’s coming absence from the multilateral scene will be a
catalyst for new thinking on global challenges. A key question is whether that will
revive the G-20 or destroy it.
It seems clear that Russia’s membership in the G-8 will soon be revoked, and that
the group will revert to its origins as the G-7, comprising the United States,
Canada, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy, plus the European
Union. But where that will leave the G-20 – including Russia’s continuing
participation in it – is much less clear. The G-20 has been a somewhat disappointing
mechanism for tackling global issues, and the idea of bringing emerging economic
giants into the same forum as the leading industrialized ones has yet to pay off in
terms of measurable achievements.
What is clear is that in today’s increasingly interdependent world, Putin’s
distancing of Russia from so much of the international community looks
self-defeating. A generation after the collapse of communism, Russia’s economy and
its people’s living standards have started to recover. But its fast-shrinking
population, and its reliance on energy and commodity exports, makes that recovery
very fragile. The Kremlin will soon discover that it is far more vulnerable to
outside developments than it has so far acknowledged.
Giles Merritt is Editor of Europe’s World and heads the Brussels-based think
tanks Friends of Europe and Security & Defense Agenda.