Can more bricks at BRICS build a new world order?

Applications from 19 countries have made it to the desk of the BRICS South African Ambassador seeking formal and informal membership. While this clearly marks the shift of the axis away from Global North, will an expanded BRICS inaugurate a new world order?

The slide of the Global North

The upcoming 15th BRICS Summit, to be held in South Africa, is set to consider applications for both formal and informal membership from 19 nations that includes 13 applications for formal membership and 6 applications for informal membership from nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Turkey, Sudan, Argentina, Algeria, Mexico, among others.

The 5 nation group, conceived in 2006 as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) with the first Summit held in 2009, has not admitted any nation post 2010 when South Africa formally joined as a member. The idea of BRICS+ gained momentum under Beijing’s presidency in 2017 but no substantive development took place.

A growing interest in BRICS is evident from the remarkable achievements that the organisation has achieved in recent years. The 5 member group has surpassed the G7 nations in not just purchasing power parity but also GDP growth rate, a trend bound to accelerate as more nations join in. Post expansion, the total population of BRICS member states would surpass 4.3 billion which accounts for more than half of the world’s population. It is estimated that the  GDP of an expanded BRICS would reach $30 trillion, surpassing that of the United States.

Another prominent trend conspicuous among the BRICS nations and the prospective members is what has been called “De-dollarisation” or the increasing tendency to reject the American dollar as the currency for trade. Russian officials recently indicated their desire to introduce a new currency for cross border trade among BRICS nations, said to be backed by gold and other valuable commodities such as rare earth minerals. Such a move is further likely to strengthen the alternative that the BRICS has presented to mainstream Western layouts both financially (with the National Development Bank as an alternative to the IMF and the World Bank) and politically, as most of these nations refused to follow Western sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine War.

Many analysts interpret this trend as the advent of a New World Order as BRICS strides from being a mere economic club towards adopting a more politically defined role.

How far and no further?

While increasing cooperation among nations towards a multipolar world is a welcome move, challenges are many. The foremost being the complexities underneath the idea of introducing a new currency. First of all, all nations might not be on the same page or readily arrive there when it comes to adopting a common currency. Even if they do reach a point of agreement, replacing the American Dollar is an uphill task for the greenback has been deeply embedded in global financial institutions for decades. At best, such a move would be a slow process with no overnight dethroning of the United States.

Second, the idea of an expanded BRICS has been criticised by many as a way for China to expand its soft power potential or expand its “Charm Offensive“. Given Beijing’s economic might, it is highly likely that the group might not turn out to be a multipolar setting with every member having an equal voice or doing so would be a difficult job. Moreover, as political relations stand at present, this might not fare well with many including India.

Third, truth be told, there exists deeply entrenched distrust in bilateral relations among BRICS nations, with India-China relations being an example. Similarly, even though Iran and Saudi Arabia have reached a remarkable diplomatic breakthrough, years of trust deficit continues to survive which might resurface and hamper future cooperation if the two go on to join BRICS. A lack of mutual trust also exists between Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia and Iran post the former’s normalisation of relations with Israel.

Fourth, the “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for a New Era” between China and Russia, which many have interpreted as possessing deep anti-American undertones, might not be expanded to other BRICS nations. Though it is true that India, Brazil and South Africa did not adopt Western sanctions against Russia, they do recognise the United States and its Western allies as valuable partners and would prefer an independent, non-aligned stance rather than swaying to one side.

Fifth, many prospective members of the BRICS are deeply embroiled in internal instability which have high potential of spilling across regions, the heartbreaking ongoing crisis in Sudan being an example. While the grouping has actively voiced its concern, how would an expanded BRICS deal with such instabilities and ensure lasting peace is yet to be seen.

Points of Cooperation

While challenges are many, they also present great potential for BRICS to enhance cooperation. A necessary precondition would be to build better political relations and re-establish mutual trust. Another important step is to build a BRICS that does not merely counter the West but genuinely strives to build a better world and ensure that such initiatives create a better life for every person in the world.

The BRICS nations and their expanded circle of member states can and must enhance cooperation on environmental conservation and climate change, gender equality, energy and food security, combating illiteracy,  provision of affordable and best quality healthcare for all, mutual economic growth and social development, among others. The aforementioned parameters can be shaped into National Action Plans to be adopted by BRICS nations to judge their own development, learn from nations with better performance records, sharing and adopting best practices on the path for mutual development and social welfare. Externally, a window of cooperation with the United States and its Western allies must be kept open.

While claims of an expanded BRICS building a new world order might seem a bit far-fetched at present, the addition of more bricks would certainly strengthen not just BRICS but also hopes for a better world.

Cherry Hitkari
Cherry Hitkari
Non-resident Vasey Fellow at Pacific Forum, Hawaii. Cherry Hitkari is an Advisory Board member of 'Tomorrow's People' at Modern Diplomacy. She holds a Masters in East Asian Studies specialising in Chinese Studies and is currently pursuing an advanced diploma in Chinese language at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, India.