Regionalism broadly means a number of geographically contiguous countries forming a regional bloc to promote regional trade. Old Regionalism refers to cooperation that encompassed trade, political and security underpinnings. Old regionalism was a major characteristic of the Cold War as countries grouped themselves into blocs aligned either to the United States (US) on the one hand, or the ex Soviet Union(USSR) on the other. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European Community (EC) and the pro-Soviet Council of Mutual economic Cooperation (COMECON), Warsaw Pact etc are institutional examples of the Old Regionalism. In Africa, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) whose raison d’être was the total decolonization of Africa fits into the conceptual mould of the Old Regionalism. The superpowers, tried to influence the political work of the OAU in the context of the Cold War.
Following the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the world experienced the triumph of the Washington Consensus. The major driving force in international relations became liberalization of markets. It was argued convincingly and forcefully by technocrats in both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that protectionism should be abandoned in order to promote free trade on a global scale. The creation of the Asia-Pacific economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and enlargement of the European Community and its upgrading into the European Union (EU) under the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 was motivated by a vision of expanded liberalized markets wherein goods and services would freely move. Larger market integration would lead to more rational and efficient allocation of both human, financial and material resources and the net effect would be a phenomenal increase in regional economic prosperity. Thus; as the post-Cold War World experienced the inexorable drift towards Globalization occasioned by quantum leaps in technological progress, a new type of regionalism emerged in response. The New Regionalism, unlike the Cold War old Regionalism is predominantly driven by the motivation to maximize economic gains from the emergent liberalized global market place.
The New Regionalism is not restricted by geographical, linguistic, cultural or continental boundaries. It is market liberalization which reigns supreme. In the post-cold War world, which became dominated by one super-power, the United States, other emergent power realized that the US could use its super power hegemonic status to manipulate globalization in order to entrench Washington’s global economic dominance.
It is in this context within which the BRICS economic block arose in 2010. BRICS is an example of new regionalism characterized by a concerted effort by new emergent powers namely Brazil, India, China and South Africa to offer a countervailing coalition vis-à-vis the evolving strategic partnership between the US and the European Union. BRICS sought to bring together four continents; namely Asia (India & China), South America (Brazil), Eurasia (Russian Federation) and Africa (South Africa) into a strategic transcontinental framework. The BRICS coalition has caused not a little amount of irritation in major Western capitals by having agreed to establish a BRICS Development Bank. The envisaged Bank would obviously challenge the hegemony of the Breton Woods institutions. The BRICS union was also able to offer an alternative voice in the World Trade Organization (WTO), where decisions are monopolized by the US and its Western allies.
The current political crisis in Brazil triggered by the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef places the New Regionalism model pursued by BRICS Union in jeopardy. Her (Roussef) replacement by Michel Temer, a politician who is reportedly very close to large Western corporations does not portent well for BRICS. Brazil under both former President Luis Lula Ignacio da Silva and Roussef pursued a foreign policy with ‘Anti Hegemonic New Regionalism’ at its core. The current crisis in Brazil might bring to power a pro-Washington regime that will turn its back on the New Regionalism embodied by BRICS. The United States quietly backs regime change in Brasilia because Washington has been irritated by a Union of assertive emergent powers who have offered an alternative to the Washington Consensus which is premised on the continuing global hegemony of the United States in the post-Cold War world.
Images of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa converging at their annual summits have prompted Neo-Conservatives think Tanks in Washington to speculate that the real motivation of the BRICS New Regionalism is to thwart the hegemonic economic ambitions of the United States. Therefore, the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef will be met with quiet satisfaction in Washington and the capital cities of the other hegemonic Western middle-powers. The New Regionalism embodied by BRICS represented a Concert of Emerging Powers that was slowly beginning to counterbalance the preponderant dominance of the United States in the highly disorderly Post Cold War Global politico-economic order. The ongoing political crisis in Brazil, South America’s largest economy teaches us one salient lesson: Anti hegemonic New Regionalism is in jeopardy
By Dr. Njunga Michael Mulikita
Dr. Mulikita is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science; Dag Hammarskjöld Institute(DHIPS), Copperbelt University(CBU), Zambia.