Riding the Crisis of Neoliberalism: Towards (State) Governmentality and a (Nonstate) Sovereign-Multipolar Nomos

Crisis, Governmentality, and Multipolarity in Brics Discourse

Pace Glosny’s (2010: 110) claim that “BRIC cooperation is not a product of the current global economic and financial crisis,” crisis narratives (centered on but not limited to the latter) envelop virtually every account of BRICS’ economic and geopolitical formation. Sum (2013) traces the construction of BRIC(S) as a governmental technology of crisis management and recovery by international investment banks, economists, international organizations, think tanks, business media, and policymakers. As such, BRIC(S) involved discursive and material dimensions12 (mediated by both affect and calculation) and moved through three distinct (though overlapping) phases extolling BRIC(S) as a crisis-transcending site of investment, consumption, and lending.

“Crisis” also looms large in treatments of BRICS not framed in terms of governmentality. Stuenkel (2015) demonstrates that BRICS’ “global project” (Stuenkel 2015, x) not only activates governmental technologies centered on practices of investing, consuming, and borrowing/lending, but also a “signature” dual political rationality of the reform of global financial governance and multipolar world order. Corresponding to this duality, BRICS mobilizes an array of programs of institutional change and biopolitical regulation targeting global health, food security, and development (not least through the compilation of relevant statistics) on the one hand (see also Jaeger 2014: 215-216), and conventional politicodiplomatic techniques of multilateral cooperation including BRICS leaders’ summits (with the associated pageantry of “family photos,” media briefings, summit declarations, action plans, etc.), a host of more practically oriented ministerial and “sherpa” meetings, and transgovernmental bureaucratic and technical/expert channels on the other.13

Stuenkel outlines a cascade of the financial crisis into a legitimacy crisis of the international financial order and eventually a “sense of crisis [...] of global order in general” resulting in “the birth of BRICS as a political group” with their first summit in 2009 (Stuenkel 2015: 9, 30; see also 14-15, 31, 33-34, 63). Institutionally, BRICS’ founding rationale of crisis recovery has become most tangible in its Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) “to tackle any possible financial crisis in the emerging economies.” The CRA displays BRICS’ post-neoliberal signature of power with quasisovereign “precautionary” emergency provision of liquidity to developing countries “facing currency crises” (“as an additional line of defense” to IMF support) on the one hand, and more governmental welfarist-actuarial concerns with strengthening “the global financial safety net” on the other (Stuenkel 2015: 113-116; see also BRICS 2015: #16; 2018: #68).

The constitutive rather than merely conjunctural role of crisis for BRICS is also highlighted by Xing and Christensen who identify a dual crisis of neoliberal “market fundamentalism” and “the hegemony of the existing world order” at the root of BRICS’ rise. They further disaggregate this dual crisis into “cris[e]s of functionality” (of existing multilateral institutions), “scope” (in the range of global governance challenges), “legitimacy” (of liberal policies to deliver “a secure and just world order”) and “authority” (due to the shifting balance of power from the West to emerging powers) (Xing 2014: 8-11; Christensen and Xing 2016: 5-8, 16; similarly, see also Cooper and Alexandroff 2010: 1, 14). Schematically, the crises of functionality, scope, and efficiency loosely point towards the governmental-economic, and those of legitimacy and authority towards BRICS’ multipolar pole of power.

Apart from explicitly crisis-centered accounts, virtually all global governance literature/discourse on BRICS is suffused by an air of crisis, even when only mentioned in passing. Lai'di (2012: 618-619), for instance, articulates a widely shared sense that “the economic and financial crisis in 2008-2009 affirmed the prominent role played by emerging countries in the international system more than ever before.” Hongyu and Xing (2014: 114) see “[t]he global economic crises since 2008” and “global crises” of “overpopulation, ethnic conflict, environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and the collapse of failed states” as indicating “the need for alternative global governance” by BRICS and the G-20. Van Noort (2017a: 124) implicitly substantiates the generative character of crisis for an alternative global governance project by identifying “global recovery” as one of BRICS’ “strategic narratives.” Nayyar (2016: 578) evokes a more material than discursive sense of crisis-generativity in marking 1980 as the approximate “turning point” towards current BRICS economic-growth trajectories, which implicitly points to the oil and economic crises of the 1970s and the debt crisis of the 1980s as catalysts for BRICS’ economic take-off.

Some commentators have recently suggested that BRICS themselves may be in crisis economically and politically (or even become the incubator for the next global economic crisis) (Pant 2013: 97; Kiely 2016: ch. 4; Toloraya and Chukov 2016: 72,75; Elsenhansand Babones2017: 1). Rather than necessarily representing an impediment however, BRICS’ putative crisis may induce further governance efforts.14 Far from constituting an interpretative imposition by analysts, the diagnosis of the BRICS-generative character of crisis also animates BRICS’ signature of power in both its governmental-biopolitical-economic and sovereign-multipolar dimensions in their official declarations.

“Crisis” has been a leitmotif in BRICS’ communications from the group’s first stirrings. Both the Joint Communiqué of the first BRIC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2008 and the “Joint Statement on Global Food Security” issued during the first BRIC summit in Yekaterinburg in 2009 prominently reference the concurrent global food, and economic and financial crises of 2007-2008 (BRIC 2008, #4; BRIC 2009a). Much as Foucault (2007, ch. 2) relates the problem of grain scarcity to the emergence of physiocratic governmentality in 18th-century France, the global food crisis can be seen as an instigation of BRICS’ global governance project. The initial statements regarding the food crisis were followed up by Declarations of BR1C(S) Agriculture Ministers, BRICS’ Action Plan for Agricultural Cooperation, and the creation of the BRICS Agriculture Information Exchange System and Agricultural Research Platform. Along with consultations on foreign policy, finance, trade, health, and national statistics, agriculture has continued to be among the most tangible and active fields of BRICS intergovernmental and transgovernmental cooperation.15 And along with BRICS’ interest in global health, agricultural, and food-security cooperation perhaps most directly testify to a biopolitical orientation towards safeguarding (biological) life and the wellbeing of populations (see Foucault 2003: 243-244; 2007: 104-108), dubbed BRICS’ “strategic partnership for the welfare of our peoples” (BRICS 2017: #5).16

Even more than the food crisis, the global financial crisis constituted BRICS’ original political raison d’être in both its governmental-economic and sovereign-multipolar dimensions. References to the financial crisis open the first two BRIC summit declarations to establish the G-20 (rather than the G-7/ 8) as the primary forum for global economic governance (BRIC 2009b, ##1-2; 2010, #3). In the 2010 declaration, the financial and economic crisis simply becomes “the crisis,” which is directly linked to “the need for corresponding transformations in global governance” and “support for a multipolar, equitable and democratic world order” (BRIC 2010, ##1-3). Apart from “world economic recovery” driven by growth in emerging and developing economies, BRIC see “a reformed and more stable financial architecture that will make the global economy less prone and more resilient to future crises” as the main remedy for the predicament (BRIC 2010, ##6-13).

Comprising institutional reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions aiming at improved “regulation and supervision” of financial markets (BRIC 2010, #13) and BRICS’ recently created New Development Bank and Contingency Reserve Arrangement as supplementary financial institutions (see Stuenkel 2015, ch. 6), the crisis remedy unwittingly internationalizes an ordoliberal governmental script (sometimes called the “post-Washington Consensus”). The latter stipulates that imperfectly self-regulating markets, and competition more generally, require an appropriate institutional “framework” (BRICS 2015, #11) to secure their functioning. Similarly to the ordoliberalism deployed in West Germany’s postwar recovery in which the economy’s institutional “framework” or “economic constitution” helped reactivate political sovereignty (Foucault 2008: 120-121, 138-140, 163-164), BRICS' proposal of a new “constitution” for the world economy simultaneously activates the potential for multipolar world order (by shifting the balance of voting power in the international financial institutions and the G-20 in favor of emerging economies, BRIC 2010: ##9, 11). As suggested by Dean’s notion of the signature of power, BRICS’ governmentality thus supports multipolarity as much as, conversely, the project of multipolar order “frames” the conditions of BRICS’ global governance programs. The crisis-induced ordoliberal-governmental and multipolar themes have been recurrent features in all BRIC(S) summit declarations.

The 2014 Fortaleza Declaration concluding the first cycle of BRICS summits officially inscribes “the global crisis” into BRICS’ political genealogy (BRICS 2014, #10) and offers the most comprehensive explicit treatment (diagnosis and remedy) of crisis as BRICS’ signature political rationality, while also displaying certain “deconstructive” features (as explained below). Typifying the dramatization of crisis discourse, the summit ostensibly marks “a crucial juncture” with “challenges of [...] recovery from the global financial crises, sustainable development, [...] climate change, [...] persistent political instability and conflict in various global hotspots” all occurring within “international governance structures [...] showing] increasingly evident signs of losing legitimacy and effectiveness.” Against this background BRICS are presented as “an important force for incremental [...] reform” of international financial institutions and “the main engines” for global economic recovery (BRICS 2014: ## 5-7, 9). The declaration rehearses the governmental-ordoliberal theme in terms of “inclusive macroeconomic and social policies” based on “[s]trong macroeconomic frameworks,” “orderly competition” and statistically supported policy, and the multipolar theme (in attenuated form) in terms of “multilateral and plurilateral initiatives” and a “shared [...] commitment to [...] multilateralism” (BRICS 2014: ## 1-2, 4, 21).

After the Fortaleza “crisis manifesto” explicit references to crisis (apart from those to local crises in the Middle East and Africa; BRICS 2015: ##36, 39, 45, 47, 49; 2018: ##43 44) largely disappeared from BRICS’ summit declarations. However, crisis continues to define BRICS’ burgeoning global governmentality. Expressed in terms of “systematic strengthening of economic partnership for the recovery of the global economy” (BRICS 2015: # 12; see also #11, 2016: #24 and Van Noort 2017a: 124) and enhancements of national and global “resilience” to counter persisting “risks” (BRICS 2016: #24; 2017: ## 7-8, 10, 30; 2018: ##54-55), crisis has effectively been institutionalized as BRICS’ political rationality. Concurrently with the narrative of permanent crisis BRICS have added national and transnational deviance (crime, corruption, drugs, piracy), population policy, migration, expanded efforts in global health, gender equality, and reproductive rights to their biopolitical portfolio (BRICS 2014: ##57-58; 2015: ##28, 29-31, 34, 58-61; 2016: ## 53, 71-75, 99, 102; 2017: ## 20, 64-65; 2018: ## 32, 78-79, 90-91, 100), in part under the characteristically liberal/neoliberal-governmental umbrella of public-private partnerships (including “civil

Deconstruct ive signature of power 175 society”) (BRICS 2014: #49; 2015: ##70, 74; 2017; ##10, 12; 2018: #27; see Foucault 2008: 349 -357).

Overall, BRICS may appear to confront crisis with a predominantly governmental temper of international ordoliberal reform and biopolitical activism rather than a sovereign-multipolar one of “decisionist” or “revolutionary” reordering of the international system. Compared to the prominent explicit endorsements of multipolarity in early summit declarations (BRICS 2009, #12; 2010, #2; 2011, #7; 2012, #3) BRICS’ sovereign-multipolar flank may appear muted, multipolarity now being sublimated as multilateralism. However, a closer look at BRICS’ governmental-multipolar configuration reveals a different picture. On the one hand, BRICS’ ostensible ordo-/neo-liberalism (especially governance through institutional frameworks for markets and through resilience17) is punctuated by narratives and practices of developmental-state capitalism. On the other hand, sovereign-multipolar discourse now manifests itself in a different, “glorified” guise.

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