Currently, all eyes are on Brics, the alliance of emerging countries (the acronym stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) currently meeting in South Africa.
Big news was the announcement of a possible new unit of account that will replace the US dollar as world currency in the future, or at least be serious competition. Furthermore, the much-speculated admission of new members in 2024 was news. The new members are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia. Many other countries have already applied, or are interested in becoming members.
Bric was established in 2009 as a counter-foot to the Western-dominated G7 group and originally consisted of four emerging countries with large populations and growing economies. In order to also represent Africa, South Africa was admitted as a member a year later (and the organization’s name was changed to Brics), but from the beginning the country was out of place and the dwarf among the giants that have population, surface area, military ability and economic power.
Now the block has been significantly enlarged with several so-called emerging countries. The oil-rich and increasingly politically influential Saudi Arabia is certainly an asset for the group, but the war-torn and poor Ethiopia is rather an economically dubious concession to Africa.
Brics’ official goal is the creation of a multipolar world and the promotion of more trade among themselves, which sounds good on the surface. However, it is speculated that one of the major drivers, China, actually created the bloc as its own counter-universe against the US, with the other states as its satellites. This may apply to Russia and South Africa, whose economies mainly revolve around the export of raw materials for China’s economic development. Both are also politically close to communist China.
With India and Brazil it is a different matter. They have strong ties to the West and are also democracies, which means that, unlike the dictatorships of China and Russia, an election can bring about a clear policy change. Of the new members, Iran is an outspoken enemy of the West and ally of China and Russia, others, such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have strong ties to the West. Brics’ already few commonalities are thereby further diluted.
As for the economic goal of more internal trade, this is also mainly wishful thinking so far. China’s economic rise is mainly due to the West’s strong investments and imports and has little to do with trade between emerging countries. Also, an own Brics currency is still just an idea and probably decades away from implementation. For now, the dollar will remain the world’s most important currency.
Brics’ historical example is the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (where India and Egypt played prominent roles) which during the Cold War attempted to be a voice of the so-called Third World against both the West and the communist Eastern Bloc, but which much rhetoric and produced little tangible outcome. This movement still exists and has around 120 member countries, but little international leverage.
Furthermore, by becoming too large, an alliance can also become inherently weaker. Bric’s (without South Africa) strength was that it brought together four large, economically growing and politically increasingly confident non-Western countries, just as it is the G7’s strength that they are a club of economically strong, fairly similar Western democracies .
If Brics becomes a club of all developing countries, it loses its inherent power and focus and becomes just another toothless debate and meeting club like the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries.