The 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) General Debate has taken center stage in international diplomacy. This annual gathering of world leaders provides a platform for addressing critical global issues, but it is only one facet of the ongoing high-stakes geopolitical maneuvers that are reshaping the global landscape. Two recent events have captured international attention: the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) group’s XV Summit and the consequential role played by BRICS members in the G20 summit that followed.
The BRICS group, a diverse coalition of major emerging economies, reveals a complex tapestry of divergent interests, despite some shared views on the Ukraine war. These nations, often seen as America’s strategic competitors, find themselves at odds with the United States on various fronts. Notably, the close partnership between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping stands out, with their foreign policies aimed squarely at challenging the United States and the West.
This stands in stark contrast to historical moments of great-power engagement, such as the Clinton-Yeltsin era for Russian-US relations and the Nixon-Mao era for Sino-US relations, which ushered in a new age of cooperation. Looking back to the end of the Cold War, great-power engagement was the hallmark of that geopolitical transition.
However, the passage of time has seen a collapse in Russian-US engagement, symbolized by the so-called Putinization of Russia. Similarly, while Sino-US relations once held promise, they have deteriorated in the 2000s, marked by brinkmanship over critical issues. Nevertheless, both the US and China need each other, as well as global stability, making their cooperation crucial.
These fraying relations reverberate through the global security architecture, contributing to a world where the United States and Russia are engaged in confrontation, with China playing a role as an intermediary. Amidst this complex geopolitical dance, India, as a regional Asian power, has been deepening its security ties with the United States, driven by concerns about China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. However, India maintains its neutrality regarding the Ukraine war and doesn’t hide its close relations with Russia. These positions stem from India’s desire to balance China and Pakistan and to keep the Kremlin in check.
On the other side of the globe, Brazil’s foreign policy stance has shifted, with the South American powerhouse increasingly critical of American hegemony. Brazil’s proposed peace plan for the Ukraine war, though well-intentioned, has not been well-received by Kyiv and its backers, raising concerns and causing diplomatic consternation.
Meanwhile, South Africa has faced criticism for its role in a reportedly flawed African peace mission to Russia and Ukraine regarding the Ukraine war. The United States, in particular, has voiced concern over South Africa’s close ties with Moscow, casting doubts on its supposed neutrality in the conflict.
These middle powers find themselves in the second sub-group of the BRICS, where the Ukraine war features prominently in their foreign policy considerations. Balancing their national interests against the backdrop of the major powers’ geopolitical maneuvers remains a challenge.
Despite these complexities, India, Brazil, and South Africa maintain strong economic ties with the United States, underscoring the significance of these relationships. However, the BRICS group as a whole has been instrumentalized in the context of the Ukraine war, overshadowing their standard narratives and discussions.
In summary, the Ukraine war looms large in the diplomatic discourse of the BRICS group, altering the dynamics of global geopolitics. As major powers vie for support in the Global South, it remains a challenge to rally many Global South decision-makers to view and prioritize the conflict as Western leaders and Ukraine’s President Zelensky do. UN Secretary-General António Guterres rightly emphasizes the global repercussions of Russia’s invasion, aggravating geopolitical tensions and divisions.
The world is witnessing the emergence of a multipolar international order with characteristics reminiscent of a new Cold War, where conflicts like the Ukraine war are potential precursors to wider insecurity. Amid this great-power competition, the wider security implications have yet to be fully acknowledged.
In these high-stakes geopolitical maneuvers, Russia’s Ukrainian gambit appears as a disruptive two-for-one punch, challenging European security architecture and complicating relations between the Global North and the rest of the world. In this era where grievances against the US and the West are paramount, the traditional concept of great-power engagement faces challenges.
As the world grapples with the rise of recalcitrant emerging powers and an increasingly assertive Global South, the international order appears more precarious and less predictable. In the words of Winston Churchill, it’s a moment where history becomes a critical guide: “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft”.