Tuesday, 2 September 2014

‘Rejecting an alliance with Syria to counter the Islamic State is madness’


The rapid military advances made in recent months by the Islamic State, the radical jihadist organization that declared a caliphate over territories belonging to Iraq and Syria in June, has yet again prompted US military engagement in Iraq. Pentagon officials have branded the Islamic State as ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘an imminent threat’.

Washington has redeployed some 800 troops to Iraq since June, and the Obama administration has since conducted dozens of airstrikes in support of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi Special Forces, who are fighting alongside Shiite militias once at the forefront of armed resistance to the US occupation.

Despite the prevailing war-weariness of the American public, Barack Obama has pledged a renewed commitment to long-term military involvement in Iraq to counter the Islamic State. Remarks made by administration officials suggest that the US is preparing for wider military involvement in the region.

Ethnic minorities in northern Iraq, such as the Christian, Turkmen and Yazidis, are considered infidels by the advancing jihadist militants and have been under siege by the Islamic State’s push into their historic lands. Washington has made its case for intervention in Iraq by coming to their defense.

The latest wave of US intervention in Iraq has produced some modest gains. Humanitarian aid has been delivered to embattled minorities; Kurdish and Iraqi fighters have retaken some areas – such as the Mosul dam – and the Islamic State’s advance toward the US-backed semi-autonomous Kurdish region has been averted for the moment.

Washington is widely expected to expand the scope of its military operation against the Islamic State into Syria, where the Obama administration has supported militias fighting since 2011 to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Pentagon has already begun reconnaissance flights over Syria as a precursor to potential airstrikes.

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, said that his country would be willing to cooperate in fighting the Islamic State, but that any strike taken inside Syrian territory without coordination with Damascus would be considered an act of aggression and a violation of his country’s sovereignty.

The Obama administration then snubbed Damascus by stating it had no intention to coordinate its actions with the Syrian government. Washington also announced that it planned to ramp up support for ‘moderate’ rebel groups fighting Syrian security forces.

The rise and eminence of the Islamic State group, and other jihadist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra, demonstrate the alarming extent to which policies undertaken by Western and Gulf States in Syria have spectacularly backfired, with staggering human costs.

The rebellion against Bashar al-Assad – who, despite undeniable heavy-handedness, has led a country once considered among the safest and most tolerant in the region – relies on heavily on foreign fighters and material assistance provided from abroad.

Sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are known to have provided hundreds of millions to radical militias fighting inside Syria, in an attempt to roll back the regional influence of Shiite Iran, whose key allies are the government in Damascus and Hezbollah, the Lebanese paramilitary organization. Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait have been similarly involved in promoting anti-Assad militias.

The US, under the auspices of covert programs conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, provided weapons and training to Islamist fighters with anti-Western views (though Washington publically claims to only support so-called ‘moderates’), many of whom have now joined the ranks of the Islamic State, according to a recent exposé published in the Washington Post.

Though the existence of covert programs have been widely reported by investigative journalists and admitted by the Obama administration, the Washington Post’s report, which cites senior US and Arab intelligence figures and members of the Islamic State, is among the most critical assessments of US policy in Syria to appear in the mainstream American media.

Western and Gulf states knowingly trained militants with jihadist leanings to fight for ‘democracy’ in Libya, where they succeeded in toppling Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria, according to the report, which also claims that many fighters who now belong to the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra were previously trained by French, British, and American military and intelligence personnel.

The policy being pursued in Syria – grounded in the strategy that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – has not only unnecessarily prolonged the Syrian civil war and intensified the humanitarian calamity facing the region. It is the primary factor that has given rise to the Islamic State and any potential Western military escalation due to follow.

The Islamic State controls an area larger than the UK and controls seven oil fields and two refineries in northern Iraq, and six out of 10 oil fields in eastern Syria. It is believed to be raising more than $2 million a day in revenue from extortion, taxes, smuggling, and oil sales, by selling crude at between $25 and $60 a barrel.

As Western officials concede, there has never been a more sophisticated, disciplined, and wealthy terrorist organization. It is a strategic mistake for the Obama administration to press ahead with its campaign of regime change against the government of Bashar al-Assad, who can prove to be a useful ally in the fight against the jihadist militants.

Western countries dismissed the results of Syria’s presidential elections in June, where some 73 percent of 15.8 million eligible voters took part in the vote, which saw Assad run against two challengers and win with 88 percent. Assad clearly commands the majority support of the Syrian public, and his government does not pose a military threat to the US.  

The worst move the West could make would be launching unauthorized strikes in Syria while continuing to provide arms to anti-Assad militants; such a strategy would serve to undermine the entire region’s ability to respond to the jihadist threat and open to door to wider war if the Syrian government decides to respond to US provocations.

If the Obama administration proceeds with airstrikes in Syria without the explicit permission of Damascus or UN approval, it would be an unabashed violation of international law and the UN charter. Any intervention without the approval of Congress would also violate US law and could potentially pull Washington into yet another prolonged military quagmire.

The Islamic State is built on an ideological fallacy that betrays the values of the Muslim faith and the feats of Islamic civilization, which saw multiculturalism, scientific innovation, learning and culture thrive in pre-modern caliphates. The ahistorical caliphate envisioned by Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is grounded in absolutist violence and nihilistic fundamentalism.

The unfolding crisis demands a sober acceptance that, by attempting to replace unsavory regimes with more agreeable proxies, the policies of Washington and its allies have worked to fuel radicalism rather than contain it. Pushing aside political and sectarian differences is an absolute prerequisite for countering the threat posed by the Islamic State and its fellow travelers.

This article appeared in the September 03, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Another wave of Western intervention threatens to pull Iraq apart

The Obama administration’s recent decision to intervene in Iraq has seen the first US air strikes since the end of the American occupation in 2011, in response to the sweeping territorial gains made by militants belonging to the Islamic State group.

Two and a half years after the US military withdrew from the country, Barack Obama has pledged a renewed commitment to long-term military involvement in Iraq to counter the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, which has swallowed large swathes of northwestern Iraq and northern Syria.

Washington defended its renewed involvement in Iraq as being necessary to prevent the slaughter of the minority Yazidi and Christian religious communities, who fled their homes en masse as ISIS advanced. US forces did indeed provide thousands of gallons of clean water and packaged meals.

The administration’s altruism, though helpful in this case, appears highly selective, considering the subdued US response to the entrenched persecution of minorities in the region throughout the Western-backed war to topple the Syrian government over the past three and a half years.

The Obama administration’s strategic interests in the current scenario are undoubtedly grounded in bolstering the pro-American Kurdish peshmerga forces defending the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, where US energy firms such as ExxonMobil and Chevron have significant investment interests.

The United States has redeployed some 800 troops to Iraq since June, and has since conducted dozens of airstrikes in support of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi Special Forces, who successfully retook a strategic dam near Mosul. The Iraqi army is now struggling to retake the town of Tikrit, some 130km north of Baghdad, where ISIS is firmly in control.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

​Western media neglect of Moscow’s MH17 evidence is shameful

Nearly one month has passed since Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over the skies of eastern Ukraine, taking the lives of 298 people. An international investigation is now underway, led by the Netherlands, with members from Ukraine, Malaysia, the United States, Russia and others.

Though the team of investigators examining the crash site have yet to publish their findings and assign culpability to the responsible party, prominent media outlets have obediently toed the line of several Western capitals with reports that all but categorically blame Russia for the aircraft’s demise.

Journalistic and analytical speculation cannot be avoided in such a tragic and geopolitically-charged situation. Media outlets have a responsibility to provide both critical commentary and impartial reporting to their readers, but in the case of MH17, the lack of balance is breathtaking.

Those parties who unreservedly pointed fingers at Moscow in the hours immediately following the disaster have yet to make public any forensic evidence that definitively implicates Russia with providing anti-Kiev militias with the training or hardware needed to take down a commercial airliner.

On the other hand, Russia’s Defense Ministry has made available compelling satellite images and military data that calls the Ukrainian government’s official narrative of events into question. Moscow’s findings have either been laxly underreported or dismissed as propaganda by the West.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Israel’s greatest security threat is itself

In the aftermath of successive Israeli military strikes on civilian homes, hospitals, mosques, television stations and refugee faculties, public antipathy towards Israel has reached fever pitch in many parts of the world as Tel Aviv pushes forward with its bloodiest military operation in Gaza to date.

Despite an extensive effort to harness social media to promote its slogans and talking points, mainstream opinion is increasingly viewing Israel’s ongoing campaign, referred to as Operation Protective Edge, as an indefensible demonstration of raw military force against a civilian population.

Images of maimed children, inconsolable families, and Gaza’s burning skyline have dominated global news coverage for much of the last four weeks. In the face of a ceaseless assault that has taken the lives of more than 1,700 and injured over 9,000 others, sympathy for the Palestinian cause has never been higher.

Amid continued calls for the cessation of violence, Israel has taken a defiant stance and vowed to push ahead with its stated objective of dismantling cross-border tunnels built by Hamas, which is being increasingly interpreted as a case of mission creep to legitimize a protracted military offensive.

Israel’s stated military objectives serve to obscure the unstated goal of its operation: preventing the newly formed Palestinian unity government – the product of a landmark reconciliation deal between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party – from carrying forward a Palestinian bid for statehood.

Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza cannot be seen in isolation; it is linked to the collapse of US-backed peace negotiations that began last July, aimed at establishing an outline for a final agreement intended lay the groundwork for Palestinian statehood by April 2014.

Tel Aviv refused to yield during negotiations, insisting on a long-term military occupation of the West Bank and refusing to freeze construction of Jewish settlements. The Obama administration proved unwilling to place any meaningful pressure on Israel to encourage it to make the kind of urgent concessions needed for the continued viability of the talks.

Washington’s deal failed to provide guarantees for an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank, and failed to guarantee East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The conditions required Palestine to acknowledge Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” effectively renouncing any claim to their historic lands.

The disillusioned Palestinian leadership unanimously approved a decision to join fifteen UN conventions and international treaties, in addition to forming an alliance with Hamas, following Israel’s failure to release the final tranche of Palestinian prisoners that it agreed to as part of the framework for the discussions.

Israel condemned the reconciliation deal and called on the international community to boycott the new unity government due to Hamas’ participation; it also claimed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would now be held responsible for any rocket attacks launched from Gaza. Tel Aviv has since declared war on Hamas precisely in an attempt to impede the operations of the Palestinian unity government.

There are also notable economic considerations that may be influencing Israel’s position toward Gaza. 40 per cent of Israel’s electricity supply is dependent on natural gas, while rising energy prices threaten to undermine the country’s economic growth. Gas imports from neighboring Egypt have slowed due to instability in the Sinai Peninsula, while the near-depletion of Israel’s offshore Tethys Sea gas fields proves to be a major political obstacle.

An estimated 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was discovered off the coast of Gaza in 2000, with a projected market value of $4 billion. The fields have not been developed due to Israel’s fears that Hamas would reap the proceeds of any gas deal with the Palestinian Authority. Tel Aviv is also politically opposed to the Palestinians acquiring extensive economic resources that could be used to lay the foundations for statehood.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was quoted discussing his opposition to Hamas receiving any gas royalties in 2007, stating, “It is clear that without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement.”

Tel Aviv has made major offshore oil and gas discoveries in 2009 and 2010, with the Tamar and Leviathan fields that combined hold an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. However, most of the Levant Basin lies in hotly disputed territorial waters between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Cyprus.

Gaza’s Marine-1 and Marine-2 gas wells are adjacent to other Israeli offshore installations, and Tel Aviv’s ability to develop the fields – at minimum to serve as a potential short-term supply to stave off future energy shortages – depends on thwarting Palestinian bids for statehood, allowing Israel to continue managing of all the natural resources nominally under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

The ongoing offensive against Gaza represents Israel’s rejection of the two-state solution; on the other hand, it also opposes a bi-national one state solution. Tel Aviv has demonstrated that it is only interested in maintaining the status quo: a colonial settler state built on Jewish supremacy over land and resources by means of the violent repression and subjugation of ethnic Arabs.

Operation Protective Edge has done more than exhibit the grossly asymmetric military superiority of one side over the other: it has again exposed the willful bias of western capitals and various media outlets that favor Israel unconditionally, in the face of its deliberate attacks on civilians and violations of international law.

The United States provides $3 billion in annual military aid to Israel, and while strong language has been used to condemn Tel Aviv’s military transgressions, Washington’s foreign policy discourse has unflinchingly placed the primacy of Israel’s security above all else.

Israel acts with total impunity, without regard for any consequences, precisely because Washington has obediently provided Tel Aviv with diplomatic cover, shielding it from any form of accountability. The United States was also the only country that voted against launching a UN investigation into human rights violations committed by the Israeli military in Gaza.

The Obama administration did indeed condemn Israel’s recent shelling of a UN school, which killed at least 16 Palestinians, calling Tel Aviv’s actions "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible." In a brazen display of duplicity, Washington then confirmed it would provide Israeli forces with restocked supplies of ammunition, including mortar rounds and grenade launchers.

If Israel is genuinely interested in restoring security to its citizens, it should acknowledge that fewer rockets were fired into Israel in 2013 than at any point in the past decade, by virtue of a negotiated ceasefire mediated by Egypt that ended Israel’s eight-day campaign against Gaza in 2012. Hamas hadn't fired a single rocket until the current offensive began, and it established a special police force tasked with suppressing the rocket fire of splinter groups.

Indiscriminately targeting the men, women and children of Gaza provides Israel with no tactical military advantage; it only ensures that an entire generation of Palestinians will be radicalized in their opposition to Tel Aviv and bent on avenging their fallen compatriots by any means necessary, fueling the endless cycle of violence that has plagued the region for decades.

Tel Aviv could have long since brokered a compromise with the Palestinian Authority through the framework of the two state solution, but by continuing to enforce a punishing regime of apartheid and settler colonialism, backed by ultra-nationalism and militant Zionism, it is undermining its own legitimacy in the court of public opinion and exposing itself as deplorable rouge state.

This article appeared in the August 05, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Israel always the victim… especially when it’s the executioner

A global outpouring of sympathy for the Palestinian cause has again arisen since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza earlier this month. And the only people who seem unmoved by scenes of indiscriminate bloodletting are Israelis themselves.

As the operation enters its fourth week, the death toll has reached almost 1,400, while over 7,000 have been injured. Cases of entire families being killed in airstrikes have become routine. Images depicting mangled and dismembered men, women and children showcase the appalling violence that the people of Gaza are forced to endure.

Gaza's only power plant, which supplies the territory with two-thirds of its energy needs, has recently been destroyed, which further impedes the work of overcrowded and under supplied medical facilities tasked with treating the thousands of injured civilians who have fallen victim to Israel’s strikes from air, land and sea.

Hospitals, schools, refugee camps, and mosques have been targeted by Israel, whose leadership has defied international calls for an unconditional ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled that the operation will continue in the long-term, appeasing hawkish ministers and media figures that have called for an expanded assault on Gaza.

Israel claims the ongoing operation is necessary to impede the military capabilities of Hamas, which it accuses of launching unprovoked rocket fire into Israel’s territory. Another precursor was the kidnapping and murder of three teenage Jewish settlers who were hitchhiking in the West Bank, whose bodies were discovered in late June.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Malaysia’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ prevails in eastern Ukraine

As the world mourns those who tragically lost their lives when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine last week, Malaysia now finds itself entangled in a distant and largely unfamiliar conflict, one that is rife with geopolitical implications.

The victims were people of various nationalities from all walks of life, whose untimely demise represents an escalation that will almost certainly lead to a wider internationalization of the civil war in Ukraine, which threatens to further deteriorate relations between Russia and the United States.

Ukraine’s war has polarized ethnic Ukrainians living in agricultural west of the country who favor integration into the European Union’s orbit, and those in the Russian-speaking industrialized southeast of the country who either support greater autonomy from Kiev or a peaceful integration into the Russian Federation following the example of Crimea.

Easterners opposed the toppling of former President Viktor Yanukovich in February, which gave rise to an unelected government in Kiev that remains heavily under the influence of ultra-nationalist rightwing groups known for their pejorative anti-Russian viewpoints.

Once seizing power earlier this year, the authorities in Kiev hastily attempted to pass laws against the official use of the Russian language throughout the country, stoking outrage from eastern Ukrainians that culturally and linguistically identify themselves as Russian.

Citizens of the east protested in mass numbers against the new authorities in Kiev and occupied public buildings, spurred on by the fear of living under an ultra-nationalist dominated government that would stigmatize the country’s ethnic Russian minority. Demonstrators called for greater autonomy for their regions.

Instead of easing fears through dialogue and trust building, Kiev labeled demonstrators as ‘terrorists’ and launched a large-scale military operation against the restive eastern regions to put down popular opposition to the new regime’s usurpation of power. Militias formed in the east to defend the rebel provinces, giving rise to the armed struggle that continues today.

In the course of Kiev’s military operation, the Ukrainian authorities have blockaded and cut electricity supplies to populated cities while shelling and launching rockets into populated residential areas, resulting in at least 250 civilian deaths since June, according to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission. Half a million Ukrainians have become refugees according to UN estimates.

Enter MH17. It is in such an antagonistic political atmosphere that both sides immediately assigned blame to one another for downing the aircraft. Before any rudimentary investigation could take place, Kiev and their backers in Washington straightaway took to blaming the rebels, and by extension, the Russian government, which they accuse of aiding the separatist fighters.

After the unprecedented disappearance of MH370 four months ago, news of a second downed airliner stung with shock and disbelief. The overwhelming concern of Malaysians remains to ensure the safe return of casualties for a proper burial, rather than accusing any side of culpability.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose step-grandmother was among those who perished onboard MH17, has been widely perceived as serving a more direct role in handling the disaster from the onset, as he addressed the nation in the hours following the loss of the aircraft.

While media publications and political figures in western capitals hurled accusatory rhetoric from the onset, it is by virtue of Malaysia’s prudent neutrality that the administration in Putrajaya succeeded in brokering a deal with Ukrainian rebel forces that secured the surrender of MH17’s black boxes.

Najib is said to have personally conducted a series of secret telephone calls with Alexander Borodai, the self-styled Prime Minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, an entity that has declared independence from Ukraine but has not been recognized by any foreign country.

Though a great deal of international pressure was placed on Ukraine’s rebels to provide access to the crash site and surrender the black boxes, sources claim that Borodai would only agree to releasing the bodies and block boxes to Malaysia, whose officials would then transfer the material to the Netherlands.

Putrajaya’s ability to broker a deal with the Ukrainian rebels has indeed yielded noteworthy success for Najib, who has demonstrated decisive leadership in the face of an unmitigated disaster to secure the best possible outcome.

The example set by the Malaysian leadership must be reflected upon in Kiev, which has been reluctant to negotiate with rebels in the east, opting instead for a bloody military campaign that has wrought great human cost and served to push the embattled region further into Moscow’s corner.

As world powers exchange accusations, it is important at this point to acknowledge that until an objective international investigation can be undertaken, any figure attempting to assign responsibility for this heinous crime onto one side or the other without verifiable evidence is only expressing speculation, not facts.

While top representatives in Washington and Kiev accused Russia from the start, they have failed to provide any forensic evidence that can be scrutinized, relying thus far on clips that have appeared on YouTube and social media.

Russian defense officials have responded by releasing military monitoring data and satellite images that disprove the initial claims made by Kiev. Moscow claims that there is evidence to show that a Ukrainian fighter jet tailed the Boeing aircraft prior to its disappearance.

Satellite images also show Kiev deployed several surface-to-air-missile systems near rebel held-territory, and the Russian military claims to have detected radiation from the missile battery’s radar that was active at the time when the plane came down.

Defense officials have also noted that MH17 took a route some 200km to the north of the trajectories that other Malaysian Airlines flights had used in previous days that led it to fly over the troubled Donetsk region, into the heart of rebel-held territory.

BCC has reported that the Ukrainian secret service has taken the unusual move of confiscating the recording between air traffic control and the doomed aircraft. Such information would be needed to establish culpability and identify whether Ukrainian air traffic control directed the aircraft into the zone where it was shot down.

Rebel forces fighting in eastern Ukraine have succeed in shooting down military aircraft in the days preceding the MH17 disaster, though most analysts agree that the rebels would not have the capacity to strike a civilian passenger aircraft traveling at normal cruising altitude using the man-portable air defense systems that they are known to possess.

As of yet, there is no conclusive evidence that has surfaced to prove that rebels possess the kind of surface-to-air missile systems needed to take down a commercial airliner, and there is also nothing to verifiably substantiate the claim that Russia has supplied this technology to rebel fighters or assisted them in operating it.

When an international investigation panel is formed, it must demand that Ukrainian authorities release recordings between air traffic control and the Malaysian plane, in addition to the raw military radar data and tracking information needed to ascertain the movements of Ukrainian warplanes and the activity of any surface-to-air missile systems that the country possesses.

As voices in western capitals condemn Moscow in unison, the fact remains that Russia is the only country that has made available detailed forensic evidence for international investigators to scrutinize. An impartial and independent investigation into the calamity that befell Flight MH17 must be undertaken before any blame is assigned.

This article appeared in the July 25, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 21 July 2014

As BRICS steps forward, can they reform global power relations?


The latest meeting of the BRICS countries, held in Brazil’s northeastern city of Fortaleza last week, represents the bloc’s most significant step forward towards its agenda of building a new multilateral development framework.

After two years of negotiations, the geoeconomic grouping of emerging markets known as the BRICS – Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa – have broken new ground by launching a development bank intended to challenge Western-dominated multilateral lending institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

The New Development Bank (NDB) will be headquartered in Shanghai and will primarily serve to facilitate sustainable development and large-scale infrastructure modernization within BRICS countries, which will each allocate an equal share of $50 billion startup capital with the aim of reaching $100 billion.

NDB loans would not be exclusively for BRICS governments, but also extended to other low- and middle-income countries that contribute to the capital base, which will finance the construction of mega-projects involving electricity supply grids, telecommunications networks, roads and bridges, power stations, shipping infrastructure and ports, and water treatment facilities.

In addition to the development bank, the BRICS group will also establish a contingency reserve currency pool worth over $100 billion, enabling the bloc to raise liquidity protections and collectively hedge against economic challenges. Though member countries will contribute an equal amount of startup capital to the NDB, China will have a 41 percent stake in financing the currency pool, with other members taking on smaller percentages.

BRICS countries represent 41.6 percent of world’s total population, 19.6 percent of global GDP, and 16.9 percent of total global trade, making the five-member community the world’s largest market. Despite extensive economic clout, the BRICS countries together wield only about 11 percent of the votes at the IMF, an institution that is widely viewed as disproportionately delineating influence to the detriment of the Global South.

The BRICS project is not simply about emerging economic powerhouses striving for a wider international role that traditional Western institutions have thus far denied, but rather, it is an attempt by the Global South to articulate an alternative multilateral global order intended to be more equitable, inclusive, dynamic, and suitable to 21st century realities.

As developed economies find themselves today marred in austerity policies and struggling to tackle unemployment wrought by hallowed-out industrial sectors, trade between economies in the Global South now exceeds trade between emerging and developed economies by some $2.2 trillion, more than one-quarter of global trade. China, Brazil, and India have also begun to displace Western nations as large-scale donors throughout Africa and other low-income countries.
The growing role of developing countries in international institutions signifies how the global political landscape is shifting in favor of a multipolar order. The determination for emerging countries to independently pursue institution building has been brought on by policies of Western financial bodies that attach intrusive conditionalities to loans and deny equal voting rights to developing states.

Countries that borrow from institutions such as the IMF are forced to enact structural adjustment policies that scale back on public and social spending, and pressure countries to hurriedly reduce subsides that would better be phased out gradually. Loan conditionalities have also been known to disproportionately favor the private sector and reduce a country’s ability to hedge against speculative capital.

The bloc’s push toward institution building to advance an alternative development vision has been hastened in recent times by several contentious flashpoints in global politics, primarily between Russia and China on one side, and the United States and European Union on the other.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, while the US has spearheaded punitive sanctions against Russia for its purported role in Ukrainian conflict. China has also expressed displeasure with US efforts to refocus its naval presence to the Asia Pacific region, which Beijing views as efforts by the US to interfere in the region’s complex territorial disputes.

The increasing pressure from Western capitals on Moscow and Beijing, who also take joint positions on issues in the UN Security Council, has prompted both countries to deepen their involvement in the multipolar project. Russia and China now intend to more forcefully utilize the BRICS framework to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and technology, and diversify political and trade relations with countries throughout the Global South.

The BRICS group will not be solely an economic community, but due to increasingly tense relations with the West, the five-member bloc is increasingly more disposed to cooperate politically to adopt common positions and coordinate joint efforts toward tackling regional issues at the UN level. In contrast to Western leanings toward interventionism, the core principles of BRICS foreign policy thinking centers on respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries.

In a recent interview with news agency ITAR-TASS, Russian President Vladimir Putin articulated his intentions to deepen both economic and political cooperation among the BRICS group, primarily by addressing the bloc’s common position against unilateral military interventions and economic sanctions that violate international law, pledging closer coordination and high‑level consultations between the group’s foreign ministries to jointly forge political and diplomatic settlements.

Washington’s calls for heavy economic sanctions on Russian industries and sectorial trade have been met with opposition by most EU states, who are largely dependent on Moscow for their energy needs. European states are also weary that sectorial sanctions against Russia will drastically drive up gas prices.

Putin has said that any economic sanctions on Russia will eventually boomerang back to harm US interests, and called on BRICS countries to introduce “a system of measures that would help prevent the harassment of countries that do not agree with some foreign policy decisions made by the United States and their allies, but would promote a civilized dialogue on all points at issue based on mutual respect.”

The primary interest of the BRICS countries is to begin the gradual process of reforming the international monetary and financial system, which remains heavily dependent on US monetary policy. The emerging multipolar alternative being championed by developing states, with varying degrees of antipathy toward Washington, is propelled forward by perceptions that global management on the basis of genuine and equal partnership cannot be realized under current circumstances.

The BRICS countries face an uphill battle and have yet to firmly establish internal decision-making mechanisms, and there are hurdles to address before the bank begins lending in 2016. The NDB can play an important role in channeling capital into industrial assets rather into bubbles and financial markets, thus improving investment confidence, reducing risk, and advancing a productivity-focused development agenda.

The failure of Western-dominated institutions to address their asymmetric influence over global political and economic affairs is the primary factor that has given rise to an alliance of developing countries that intend to correct this imbalance, and one can only hope they work toward bringing about a more equitable and just world order.

This article appeared in the July 22, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.