A fortress made of BRICS

The BRICS countries are building a formidable global power base but there are still cracks in the foundations

With the addition of South Africa to the group late last year, the emerging markets bloc has expanded its reach and capability considerably. It now has fingers in pies cooking in all corners of the globe and each member-state has a rough home ‘region’ where it is the dominate force. Brazil has majority sway over Latin American affairs, China rules the construction industry in Africa and Russia has diplomatic and industrial control throughout the former Soviet Union nations. But the way they influence and react with each other – let alone other countries – is both a cause for celebration and concern.

China is the most successful of the BRICS. It competes with Brazil in Latin America and rivals South Africa throughout Africa, be it through construction contracts in Angola or oil agreements in Sudan. Its conveyor lines drive European businesses back home and its markets are being opened up to foreign firms. It is powerful militarily, diplomatically and economically. China also is skilled at both comforting and irritating rival BRICS. It is happy to let South Africa be a diplomatic voice for Africa while it maintains its industrial strength there. But it has annoyed India by cosying up to Pakistan recently with economic agreements and plans for motorways and railways between the two countries. The transport links would pass through a part of Kashmir that India sees as its own and that Islamabad ceded to Beijing in 1963.

The other powers have also tried to carve out distinct paths across the globe. Brazil is promoting itself as a leader of a new international diplomacy by flexing its negotiation muscles and by engaging with Iran and the Middle East. Russia is still sending rockets to the International Space Station and is arguably the closest of the BRICS to Europe. India is starting to move its weight in South East Asia and has belatedly broken free from its comfortable domestic engine room to engage with African nations and make its nuclear-backed voice heard. South Africa is aiming to make the continent it foots its own, at first through diplomacy (President Jacob Zuma recently met Colonel Gaddafi for talks), and later by possibly challenging China industrially.

There are many sticking points. China and India have a disputed border and Beijing is cross that Delhi lets the Dalai Lama use India as his base-in-exile. Diplomatically, Brazil and South Africa are making an impact on the world stage, while quietly letting China continue to invest in their ‘home’ regions. But while China powers on, Russia is stalling and South Africa relatively inexperienced as the baby of the club.

It is up to Brazil and India to move the BRICS on from a second-class talking-shop to the most important international alliance. An Argentine writing his doctorate on Argentina and Brazil’s economies recently told me that “Brazil is big, very big – too big in fact” and the same could be said for India. They are outgrowing their respective Latin American and sub-continental origins and it is time that they give China a rest from pace-setting. They are certainly all building themselves up quickly and strongly and the West ignores them at its peril.

A modern Moscow mule

A Russian proposal to try to create artificial life receives Hollywood backing

The actor Steven Seagal once said “I have made a lot of mistakes. But I’ve worked hard. I have no fear of death. More important, I don’t fear life.” Lately he has become an enthusiastic supporter of a futuristic aim to secure exceptional advancements in human immortality. If it succeeds, he may not even have to face death, let alone fear it. Seagal is so taken with the plans that he recently wrote an open letter to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

‘Russia 2045’ is a movement established by a combination of fantasists and scientists with huge ambitions. They want to address what they see as an inexorable degradation of the concept of human life that we have at the moment. Amongst their proposals is the challenge of creating a ‘hologram body’.

Many scriptwriters and novelists have hypothesised over the possible ingredients of the ‘elixir of life’ and the notion of ‘living forever’ has simply been a romantic but unattainable projection of human achivement. Until now. Those believers gathering in Moscow are determined to produce an ‘immortal brain’, arguing that it is a natural course of research for progressive scientists of this day and age. They have set a deadline by which to create the make-up that a regular passer-by would need in order never to die. Some eager fans of the project are even predicting a competition similar to the ‘Space Race’ – but this time with Russia the undisputed champion.

Of course, the mission has its detractors and the scheme has come under fire from many in the Church. Alexey Osipov, a professor at the Moscow Spritual Schools announced that “[the human being is] a unity of body and soul, and separating one from the other is unthinkable from the point of view of Christianity and is vicious.” In response, the founder of the Russia 2045 movement, Dmitry Itskov, said that the ‘cyborg’ idea “[is not] running against anyone’s religious ideals or values.”

In his 2002 film, Half Past Dead, Seagal plays an undercover cop who gets shot and is declared ‘medically deceased’. If this scheme turns out to be a success, the idea that a person could ever have truly died might eventually become the stuff of legend.