Growing cohesion and coordination among the so-called BRICS nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- may begin to present a challenge to world political and economic leadership by Western-dominated institutions.
A summit in Durban, South Africa, and a new appeal to the BRICS nations by the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar Assad underlined in recent days the growing impact of cooperation among them. In addition, as a group they represent 43 percent of the world's population, 27 percent of its land mass and 24 percent of the world's economy. In addition, their average economic growth rate, estimated at 4.4 percent, runs substantially ahead of that of the staggering U.S. and European Union economies.
It also has to be said that the various institutions that have led many key decisions since World War II -- the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, NATO and the European Union -- are showing signs of wear. Their leadership has flagged in terms of addressing critical problems such as climate change, achieving peace and, especially, dealing with critical economic issues such as chronic poverty, inequality of incomes and economic recession in large parts of the world.
What has particularly provoked the BRICS nations is their inability to play the leadership roles in the world institutions that they believe they deserve, based on their size and performance. The U.N. Security Council is one example. Its permanent members include China, Russia and the United States, but two European countries, France and the United Kingdom (not even the strongest members of the European Union), continue to hold two permanent seats on the basis of their role in World War II.
All of that said, the BRICS nation configuration still has a long way to go if it is to challenge the current world status quo. Brazil, China and India should probably be considered rising stars. Russia has serious problems and may be headed politically back toward Soviet Union-style rule. South Africa has not yet resolved some of its central political and economic problems and just suffered a defeat in peacekeeping in the tiny Central African Republic. It is also not clear that the leaders of those five very different countries will show any talent for working together to achieve common positions on issues and to take action.
Nonetheless, the rise of the BRICS is an interesting phenomenon for America and Europe to watch as they wrestle with their own problems.