Early View Article - Whither Security Cooperation in the BRICS? Between the Protection of Norms and Domestic Politics Dynamics

Whither Security Cooperation in the BRICS? Between the Protection of Norms and Domestic Politics Dynamics

This paper argues that the BRICS are status quo powers concerning two core norms of the international society: sovereignty and hierarchy, what conditions both the scope and depth of their security cooperation. On the one hand, this enables cooperation, as they can use the group to protect these norms and reinforce state control on transnational flows. In addition, this facilitates the formation of ties among foreign policy and bureaucratic elites across the BRICS who share a preference for protecting these norms. On the other hand, the importance attached to these norms constrains cooperation: differences of regime type are associated to higher levels of distrust; and intragroup power asymmetries raise fears of potential unequal agreements. The paper then applies these ideas to indicate the potential for cooperation on anti‐drug and cybersecurity policies. On the one hand, different regime types and power inequalities are likely to hinder cooperation. On the other hand, interests from foreign policy, political and bureaucratic elites in protecting norms, as well as in increasing state control on transnational flows and expand repression against new threats are likely to facilitate cooperation.

Policy Implications

  • As the BRICS seek to protect the norms of sovereignty and hierarchy, this might prevent them from engaging positively with global governance issues if these are perceived to weaken these norms. For this reason, solutions for global problems would have to be compatible with them.
  • Policymakers should not ignore asymmetries among the BRICS, as there is evidence in the literature that they determine patterns of international cooperation. Differences of regime type, for example, are likely to hinder cooperation. This is not applicable to all areas, however, and does not imply that cooperation cannot happen at all.
  • Given the various asymmetries and different preferences among the BRICS, cooperation does not have to always involve the five countries. The group could work as a platform for the formation of networks involving only a few of the BRICS. For example, as they have different levels of concern about terrorism, cooperation could involve only like‐minded states. While this issue is of great relevance for Russia and India, it has a low political salience in Brazil and South Africa, which nonetheless might be useful to legitimize others’ positions.
  • The BRICS frequently state in public that new approaches to global governance are needed. As an area of opportunity, models based on large‐scale repression of certain crimes have been extensively tested and proved to fail. In the case of anti‐drug policies, there are initiatives that reduce overall drug consumption or minimize some of their negative effects, such as prevention of early use of drugs and harm reduction. The BRICS could stress the need for an approach against drugs based on science, focusing on the need to reform the current regime.
  • As technology on mass surveillance develops, and as repression on crime remains an issue of high political salience, there are incentives for the BRICS to cooperate. On the one hand, the use of new technologies can reduce overall crime and save resources, as it may deter potential criminals, improve intelligence collection and processing, improve quality and quantity of criminal evidence, prevent police brutality and be used to monitor prisoners on parole. On the other hand, it increases the power of agencies in charge of it. Without an adequate governance, surveillance systems could deteriorate into espionage or restriction of political and civil liberties, especially in a context of authoritarian or proto‐authoritarian governments in the largest BRICS. Furthermore, technological asymmetries between China and the other BRICS are likely to produce agreements in which a few of the BRICS might struggle even to consume cybersecurity technologies, let alone to produce them.


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