The economic and financial alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is better known by its acronym BRICS. It is an association of five major emerging economies. BRICS aims to promote cooperation and coordination between its member states in various fields. While mainly an economic bloc, it also addresses concerns related to matters of governance and regional security.
BRICS is not an ideological project. Its member states don’t share a unified ideological or political goal. A socialist republic like China is obviously not the same political system as a country such as Brazil, which has a far more “typical” European-influenced style of governance.
But they all share a common goal in wanting to develop on their own terms and at their own pace, without foreign interference or meddling. The guiding idea behind cooperation of the five member states is to aid and boost the development of the Global South states that take part in the project.
This development takes several concrete forms. Among the organizations working under the umbrella of BRICS are the New Development Bank (NDB), which funds infrastructure and development projects in member states, and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) that offers financial assistance in times of economic hardship. The project also fosters international dialogue for stock exchanges, business communities and think tanks from the different member states.
None of this so far is particularly new information, since BRICS as a concept has been around for nearly 15 years now. What is different, however, is the geopolitical makeup of the world today compared to just a few years ago. New ideas and ideological concepts about the structure of global politics, international economy and the way of conducting diplomacy have been gaining increased traction over several years now. Countries such as Russia and China, both BRICS member states, increasingly emphasize the importance of sovereign development. They have opposed attempts by western regimes to impose their political model on others.
This has been especially true since the beginning of the Special Military Operation by Russia against the post-2014 regim in Ukraine, and the subsequent end of unipolar worl order hegemony. This has led to the formation of well-deinfed “camps”—the western-dominated, “anti-Russian” camp and the sovereign, non-interventionist camp that maintains normal relations with Russia—on a worldwide scale.
BRICS member states have generally expressed support for a multipolar world order. They have emphasized the importance of a more balanced global power structure that reduces the dominance of any single country or group of countries. The principles of non-intervention, a multi-faceted international political system without hegemons and equality of states and political systems in international diplomacy are, for obvious reasons, beneficial to BRICS member states.
In a recent meeting in South Africa of foreign ministers of BRICS member states, calls for a rebalancing of the world were heard. “At the heart of the problems we face is economic concentration that leaves too many nations at the mercy of too few,” Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said. Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira described BRICS as an “indispensable mechanism for building a multipolar world order that reflects the devices and needs of developing countries.”
The importance of the opinion of BRICS members, even though often been ignored by the west in the past as “merely” representing the so-called “Third World”, should not be underestimated. In fact, the economic prowess of the five BRICS member states already makes up at least 31.5% of the global GDP. This exceeds the economic power of the G7, which stands at an estimated 30% of the world economy.
These numbers reflect today’s situation. Most experts estimate that the share of BRICS in the world economy will rise to 50% of the global GDP by 2030.
There have been other developments pointing to a shift in global reorientation. The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) last month counted no less than 17,000 participants. A large delegation from the UAE attended, as well as hundreds of Chinese and even US attendees. The 2023 meeting witnessed the signing of more than 900 economic deals with a total value of some $47.6 billion.
The Saint Petersburg meeting also featured sessions particularly concerning BRICS, and operated, interestingly, under the slogan “Sovereign development is the basis of a just world”, which again is an open challenge to the hegemonic message that western liberals try to impose. There were also bilateral meetings between Russia and India as well as with Iran and the UAE, set as part of this year’s forum in Saint Petersburg.
Due to the growing economic power of the BRICS project and its increased integration as a geopolitical unit with considerable clout, there is growing appeal among countries of the Global South to apply for possible future membership. At the time of writing this article, official membership applications have already been made by Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bangladesh. Other states that have expressed interest in joining the bloc include Mexico, Nicaragua, Senegal, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Comoros, Cuba, DR Congo, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Pakistan, Sudan, Thailand, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Even if a small number of these interested parties end up as full members, BRICS expansion is sure to propel it into a major geopolitical player. Its greatest impact will be felt globally at the economic level. This will be set apart from the petrified imperial core of the liberal-capitalist post-1991 world system. It will unite the Global South countries across several continents in an endeavor to ensure the protection of their core interests and sovereignty.
Of particular interest is the application of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The latter is currently also engaged in talks to join the New Development Bank. Saudi economic and financial cooperation with economies such as China, India and Russia, as well as Chinese investment in Saudi infrastructure projects across the kingdom, would be a major slap on the face of the west. Riyadh has long been a loyal “ally”, especially to promote British and US interests.
Of course, BRICS has not so far demonstrated any meaningful political unity. Nor does it a history of political demands for prospective member states. It is unlikely, therefore, that Riyadh’s participation in the project will lead to rapid changes in Saudi policies, for instance, in Yemen. However, since it is in the interest of China and Russia that a peaceful solution be found for the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf of Aden region, there is hope that at the very least indirect pressure may be exerted on Riyadh to settle the war in Yemen.
The west is not oblivious to the growing influence of the BRICS project. In fact, French president Emmanuel Macron recently requested permission for France to participate in the upcoming BRICS summit, to be held in South Africa. Whether this curious request will be granted remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that these French attempts to join in BRICS meetings is a clear sign of the changing geopolitical constellation of the world, as well as of the fact that the imperial core has started to understand how the global situation has changed.
The future of BRICS and how it will influence global politics is still unclear. It would be prudent not to overstate the geopolitical significance of a project that is still aimed, primarily at sovereign economic development rather than at worldwide change. But, combined with the other rising coalitions and alliances across the Global South, such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, there is no denying that change is not just on the horizon. Change is already happening all around us.