BRICS and Ethical consistency

by Chris Chatteris SJ


Genocide, wars of aggression and public beheadings: the moral case for BRICSIT.

Much has been made of the inconsistency of the United States in its recent foreign policy. On the one hand, it condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and on the other, it condones Israel’s invasion of Gaza. A perfectly fair observation – consistency, especially moral consistency, is an important value for those who would occupy the moral high ground in international affairs. The cynical old saying that consistency is a luxury that a superpower cannot really afford is hardly a solid defence.


South Africa has rightly been quick to point out the inconsistency of the USA. Not so rightly have we failed to notice our own lack of moral consistency. Not for the first time do we hold Western societies to higher standards than that to which we hold ourselves. As an example of our own inconsistency, we have just been party to an enthusiastic welcome into BRICS of Saudi Arabia, a country which beheads people in public and tortures its political critics to death, c.f. the horrific end of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. BRICS has thus admitted a new petro-dictatorship. Saudi Arabia is a tacit ally of Israel, which we have just taken to the International Court of Justice for genocide. Confusing, isn’t it?


The BRICS ‘community’ now represents 46% of the world’s population and aims to create an alternative economic and political bloc to Western ones such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Association. BRICS is an understandable reaction to US global hegemony, but given the terrible behaviour of some of the members, one has to ask whether our own small-boy membership is worth the repellant moral compromise. 


The Chinese dictatorship is in the process of colonising Tibet. Xi and his regime have incarcerated enormous numbers of the restive Muslim Uyghur population (note how we fight for the rights of Palestinian Muslims under Israeli rule and fall silent when it comes to Turkic Muslims under Chinese rule). Russia, which will chair BRICS this year, relentlessly continues its pitiless genocidal war in Ukraine. Who would doubt that Putin will use his chairmanship of BRICS as a diplomatic weapon in his ‘special military operation’? Egypt and Iran are also recent authoritarian entrants to this growing motley crew of authoritarians. 


Perhaps one can argue that our leaders are working out of nostalgia for Bandung and the old non-aligned movement. However, BRICS can hardly be described as non-aligned. This is a movement now dominated not so much by non-democracies but by anti-democracies. The despots in China, Russia and Iran, are contemptuous of democracy and would happily oversee its collapse. Is Mr Modi a democrat at heart? One has to ask. And do we actually trust countries which invade and colonise others, we who are apparently so sensitive to neo-colonialism? Is it morally justified or even wise to keep such company?


Apart from the question of moral consistency, the BRICS lineup raises the question of how this gathering, which includes global chaos-makers like Russia and Iran, can create any order, let alone a new one. A betting person would lay odds on some serious rifts appearing between Iran and Saudi Arabia and between India and China. 


Then there are the economic and political prospects. Russia, under Putin, is wasting its valuable resources on a war which might last years. China’s economic Belt and Road roadshow is stalling badly, and the country is facing the bursting of vast housing bubbles. In the long run, China and Russia will face a serious demographic collapse. Apart from backing the wrong moral side, we may also be backing the wrong economic and real political one. 


So, BRICSXIT, anyone, or does the growing anti-democratic nature of this bloc now make a referendum on our membership unthinkable?

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