G-7 and BRICS Visions of the Future: Coercive Geopolitics or Multilateral Cooperation?


Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

17 Sep 2023 – A modified version of this post was published in CounterPunch on 8 Sep 2023, which itself is a reconfigured version appearing earlier on TMS (Transcend Media Service) on 4 Sep. Neither version considers the relevance of the Delhi meeting of the G-20, which represents a weaker and somewhat overlapping grouping compared to either G-7 or BRICS, but significant as a forum giving voice to the priorities of the Global South in which leading states (P-5, G-7, BRICS+) seek to demonstrate responsiveness, but not much by way of concrete action.


Mishandling the End of the Cold War and Its Aftermath

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the West, and particularly the United States, found itself at a fork in the road. One road led to peace, justice, cooperation, nuclear disarmament, a revitalized UN, inclusiveness, pluralism, human rights, multilateralism, fair trade, regulated markets, food security, energy transition, sustainability, and humane governance. The other road led to militarism, intervention, warmongering, nuclearism, conflict, sanctions, regime-changing interventions, multiple trends toward inequality, predatory neoliberal globalization, hegemony, geopolitical primacy. Unfortunately, the. victorious side in the Cold War immediately, and almost unconsciously, chose the familiar more traveled road of hegemonic geopolitics, foregoing without either public debate or think tank assessment of these historic opportunities to pursue nuclear disarmament, collective security frameworks incorporating Russia in Eurupe, multilateral ecological problem-solving, and humane forms of global governance, including a veto-free, geopolitically neutral UN. The longer-term harms of these costly lapses in geopolitical judgment are being currently experienced by way of the unresolved Ukraine Crisis, the negligently handled response to global warning, the rise of ultra-nationalist and anti-migrant populism, debilitating corruption, alienating levels of internal and international inequality, and the increasing marginalization of the UN in matters of global and regional peace and security..

The American president, George W. Bush a decade after the Soviet implosion, summarized the ideological justification of this dysfunctional choice in inappropriately self-congratulatory language: “The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise… We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.” [Cover letter to official document, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002] Such a statement was made some months after the 9/11 terror attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon, reaffirming the disastrous choice of geopolitical continuity by declaring a ‘war on terror’ rather than seizing the opportunity for a momentous experiment in transnational cooperative anti-terror law enforcement. As it turned out, the war on terror provided cover for more overtly imperial undertakings, principally the 2003 attack and occupation of Iraq, to be followed by a series of regime-changing interventions during the period 2010-2020 each of which produced a humanitarian disaster for the targeted country.

The Ukraine War presented yet another opportunity to choose the less familiar road of ‘preventive peace’ by seeking in advance of combat, compromise and diplomacy rather than the costly and problematic pursuit of victory, the opportunity costs for climate and reforms at home of further increased investments in hegemony and prolonged warfare, and yet again there was no hesitation about embracing an uncompromising militarism. What doubts arose after many thousands died and displaced, involved an increased questioning of whether the financial burdens of this geopolitically tinged war making, that is, defeating Russia, warning China, and cynically inflicting the heavy incidental costs of such a strategy on the Ukrainian people who have not only been victimized by the Russian attack but by the hyper-nationalism and state propaganda of their own government, which reflected an unconditional acceptance of political guidance from Washington, despite its geopolitical priorities clashing with Ukrainian wellbeing.

This prevailing pattern of geopolitics is difficult to deny, and vividly illustrated by comparing the long and complicated outcome documents of the recent summits of G-7 leaders in May at Hiroshima and declaration of BRICS leaders at Johannesburg in August. The G-7 document has three notable features: a featured unconditional commitment to help Ukraine achieve a battlefield victory over Russia, a downplaying of the relevance of the UN and the failure to do more that pay lip service to the peace agenda embedded in the UN Charter, nuclear disarmament, and international law, bolstered by ‘feel good’ platitudes about the doing more to achieve the UN SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) by 2030. The G-7 countries having opposed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), affirming their continued reliance on deterrence, non-proliferation, and implicitly on U.S. ‘full-spectrum dominance,’ misleadingly softened by cynically affirming an intention to embrace nuclear disarmament ‘ultimately,’ which in elite security circles of the West is correctly interpreted as ‘never.’ After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the global situation was as calm as it could ever hope to be, with geopolitical rivalry removed from the scene, and yet not a single gesture was made by Washington even to test the waters by proposing high profile moves to achieve nuclear disarmament, build up UN peacekeeping capabilities, or myriad other experiments in nonviolent geopolitics.

The Emergence of Collective Frameworks: Challenging the Normative Architecture of World Order after World War II

In contrast to the G-7, the BRICS Johannesburg Declaration look toward a world of relatively peaceful competition, global cooperation, and reduced military budgets. The BRICS treat the Ukraine War as presenting a challenge that should be the occasion for diplomatic peacemaking rather than expansive militarist war making. The most pronounced theme of the BRICS document is the resolve to become less dependent on the hegemonic global security and trade/finance/investment arrangements more harshly imposed on the Global South after the Soviet collapse, to resist the new (post-colonial) imperialism of unipolarity and act in solidarity with various post-independence conflictual situations that has awakened the world to the reality that the struggle against the economic, security, and mental residues of ‘colonialism’ in Africa, Latin America, and Asia is far from over.

The recent tensions arising from the July 2023 coup in Niger manifest the entrapment of African states in the toxic reality of ‘colonialism after colonialism.’ This reality reflects the contradictions, corruption, and incompetence of the decolonized state that had been deliberately prevented from developing national economic, educational, and governance capabilities while under direct colonial control until 1960, and since then exploited by ‘legal’ regimes of informal control. When left to fend for themselves these states, especially the former French colonies in West Africa, found that they could not do better by way of domestic governance than to accept a new humiliating phase of French tutelage slightly disguised by the façade of collaborating civilian elites giving cover to such realities.

BRICS are still at the early stages of establishing their own identity, an intricate undertaking given its own internal contradictions. For instance, India, Brazil, and South Africa do not want to burn many of their bridges to the West but are seeking to create counterweights to the hegemonic aspects of unipolarity. Also, it is unclear whether the addition of six countries to BRICS membership will overall broaden its base and help increase anti-hegemonic leverage or have the opposite effect of diluting a principal reason for the formation of BRICS by admitting to membership countries that seem presently unwilling to challenge hegemony or geopolitical primacy as dependent upon such patterns for their own top priority—regime security in relation to potential domestic challenges.

As of mid-2023 the difference in tone and substance between the two collective perspectives has significance. The. G-7 after a recital of peace and development platitudes shifts immediately to specifying its operational commitment to militarism, which is reinforced throughout the document by references to ‘Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.’ The opening words of the Hiroshima final statement are indicative: “We, the Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7), met in Hiroshima for our annual Summit on May 19- 21, 2023, more united than ever in our determination to meet the global challenges of this moment and set the course for a better future. Our work is rooted in respect for the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and international partnership.” From the overall document, it is clear that ‘our determination’ in the quoted sentence is symbolically and substantively linked to securing victory in Ukraine however long it takes, an. interpretation confirmed by the document’s focus on outlining concrete steps in relation to winning in Ukraine with no sign of openness to diplomacy or political compromise. The quoted references to the UN Charter and international partnership, read in the context of the overall document and even more so, the behavior patterns of the G-7 membership is to be read as ‘public relations,’ nothing more, nothing less.

This dubious course of action is confirmed as follows: “We are taking concrete steps to “support Ukraine for as long as it takes in the face of Russia’s illegal war of aggression.” A listing of such concrete steps is inG-7 document. By contrast, the BRICS give close attention to the worsening situation of Palestine, worries about migration, the urgency of an equitable approach to climate change, issues to which the G-7 address with silence or regressive postures.

How can we make sense of these G-7 choices that seem so obviously to imperil the human future, including that of their own societies, by raising nuclear dangers to crisis levels and by diverting attention and resources from global public goods such as climate change, poverty mitigation, food and nutritional security, self-determination, peaceful resolution of conflict, enhanced UN capabilities, receptivity to multilateralism? Why do the political leaders of the West consistently turn their backs on human and global interests at this time of planetary emergency?

Explaining G-7 Catastrophic Dysfunctionalism

A first line of response is to grasp that although the historical circumstances are fraught with unprecedented risk, geopolitical primacy has long been part of the way the world is organized, and deeply entrenched in the political cultures of geopolitical actors and their subordinates. Even in the shadow of World War II, the UN at its organizational dawn exempted the most dangerously powerful countries from its own Charter framework by the veto as well as by giving the victors total impunity for their international crimes while prosecuting punishing surviving leaders of the losers.  With respect to nuclear weapons, instead of eliminating them the solution found was to combine non-proliferation restraints on additions to the nuclear oligopoly as accentuated by unrestrained discretion of the nuclear weapons states to develop in secret roles for this weaponry in the war planning, not even mitigated by No First Declarations or some acceptance of a law of war framework as to threat or use. In effect, the global security system was designed in 1945 to keep international law and the UN at the margins when it came to all facets of global security. This structure was designed under the influence of a presumed bipolarity.

The current unipolar structure only emerged after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. It is this structure that is currently under increasing challenge from Russia and China, themselves not prepared to bring geopolitical governance to an end, but rather to restore its more traditional features based on balance and spheres of influence. Multipolar challenges currently also being directed at hegemonic and dysfunctional post-Cold War structures of the U.S. led NATO West. Unipolarity is also increasingly challenged by the Global South acting both jointly and separately from the two geopolitical challengers. As the Global West drifts ever closer to declaring Cold War II, the Global South is inclining toward Bandung II, that is, a posture of geopolitical non-alignment, but unlike Bandung I, with a greater influence in shaping global policy on matters of trade, finance, and equitable sharing of ecological adaptation.

Among the important manifestations of this new more hopeful global atmosphere are the following tendencies: widespread support by governments representing a majority of the world’s peoples for diplomatic accommodations in Ukraine and Iran and overall opposition to imposition by the Global North, especially the U.S., of coercive diplomacy by way of sanctions; the launch by BRICS of a direct challenge to neoliberal globalization through the ‘dedollarization’ of international trade and financial arrangements for less developed countries; the operations of the New Development Bank (NDB) in promoting economic progress in less developed countries without the debilitating conditionalities of the support associated with the policies of the World Bank and IMF; challenging NATO nuclearism by wide support among countries in the Global South for Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons(TPNW); support for Palestine’s right of self-determination and for West African coups directed at the colonialist features of post-colonial statehood.

The global outlook is becoming aware of and hostile toward U.S. hegemony, but showing a greater interest in a governance framework that displays deference to the UN Charter and international law. These developments, despite contradictions and elements of incoherence create the potential for the emergence of a more benign geopolitics, less militarist, more committed to peaceful resolution of disputes, more concerned with equity in the world economy, and dedicated to cooperative solutions for common global problems. If such trends continue, the historical transformation underway will gain momentum, weakening its hegemonic and unipolar characteristics and the early phase of a transition to a more benign, regulated, and multipolar version of geopolitics. With such a transition underway, geopolitics will be more a matter of shared global leadership than of balancing, deterring, and threatening, as well as vying for enclaves of imperial domination. Overall, these are glimmers of hope in a darkening sky.


Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.

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