In the words of Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the BRICS alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has functioned as a coalition that provides “countries of the Global South with opportunities for joint development and defending their rightful place in the objectively emerging multipolar architecture.”
In August 2023, BRICS announced its expansion at the fifteenth annual summit in Johannesburg. The group’s continuously growing GDP shows the importance of economic concerns in their goals. However, in the midst of increasing global competition, BRICS has shifted its focus toward presenting itself as an alternative to the U.S.-led liberal international world order.
In 2001, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neil flagged the rapidly emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Subsequently, the countries began meeting formally to discuss methods of economic growth because they shared the common characteristics of large populations, underdeveloped economies, and governments that appeared willing to embrace global markets and some elements of globalization. Later, in 2003, O’Neil reevaluated ‘BRIC,’ claiming that the economies of the countries could eventually “overtake the large Western economies in scale.” In 2010, South Africa was invited to join the coalition. Since then, BRICS has worked as a collaborative group, living up to O’Neil’s expectations by accruing a 31% share of the global GDP. China and Russia have emerged as leaders of BRICS through their diplomatic advocacy of economic development free from interference by the U.S. and Western nations. They promote BRICS through a lens of stability and prosperity, qualities that are attractive to developing countries and markets that want to be more involved in the global political stage of the 21st century.
Why are nations looking for an alternative? The lingering remnants of Eurocentrism are seen in U.S. foreign policy, beginning after WWII with the idea of the Pax Americana—the idea that Western democracy upholds peace. Developing nations and markets see this and want to avoid exploitation. Seen in the failed U.S.-sponsored revolutions in Central Asia and the effects of the successful ones, nations wonder if the U.S.-led method is really worth it. In addition, nations in the global south, such as Russia, China, India, and others, feel they are underrepresented in Western-bred international institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations, which the U.S. dominates through its voting shares and veto power, respectively. By modeling their governments according to the BRICS methods, nations are presented with an institution that offers genuine stability and alliance.
With over 40 nations applying or expressing their interest in joining, the popularity of BRICS is apparent. At the August summit, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates were approved for membership. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that the expansion aimed to build a fair, just, inclusive, and prosperous world. However, skepticism exists regarding whether Vladimir Putin is utilizing the expansion as a method of competing with Western institutions. There is the belief that Putin has emphasized Russia’s role as a “fierce opponent” to the West through the expansion of BRICS to various nations, particularly those formerly under U.S. influence.
The establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) in 2015 has institutionalized the economic stability that BRICS nations promote. Though the banks’ dependency on the dollar remains at 68%, BRICS hopes to move away from the U.S. dollar. To this end, the NDB has increased local currency fundraising. Moreover, through the recent expansion of BRICS, the NDB has expanded as well, with a 10 billion paid-in share capital from each accepted country. Through expansion, the NDB can offer larger loans to BRICS infrastructure projects, supporting the idea of stability not promised by G7 nations, whose share of global GDP has declined from 70% in 1970 to 44% in 2023. Following Russia’s suspension from the G7 in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, the Western alliance perceived itself to be more like-minded and structured in its absence. However, since 2014, there hasn’t been significant GDP growth in the G7.
The G7’s sanctions against Russia, including a cap on the price of Russian oil, individual state boycotts of Russian exports, and Western efforts to undermine China’s Belt and Road Initiative, potentially suggest that these states are faltering without Western influence. However, this is not the case. Through the BRICS alliance, a majority of the fossil fuels that would normally be exported to the E.U. go to China and India. In 2022, China imported record amounts of Russian gas through payments made in yuan. In turn, the value of the ruble hit an almost decade-long high in June 2022. Similarly, Russian oil made up 20% of India’s crude imports. The alliance’s expansion to Saudi Arabia has essentially established an oil monopoly, meaning that sanctions only negatively impact Europe, while BRICS stands to benefit. Moreover, other critical sanctions are alleviated by China’s supply capacity. Through the stability offered by BRICS, illustrated in Russia’s stable wartime economy, the world has become aware that there are alternative forms of economic development other than American-led democracy.
With increased international interest in BRICS as an alternative to the U.S.-led world order, BRICS is not advocating for a staunch divide between the West and the Global South but rather for integration into global institutions on a more involved and serious level. This includes goals of an expanded UN Security Council and renewal of memberships at the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization. BRICS development has served as a tangible example of a shifting Global order—post-colonial and prosperous.
This article was edited by Anousheh Naqvi and Anthony Vu.