BRICS, the grouping of the major emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, was created to represent the “economies of the future” and to better coordinate their interests.
During the 15th BRICS Summit last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, the group agreed to expand its membership, inviting Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join. In addition, a host of other nations, including Indonesia, have applied for membership.
One might ask, why is BRICS expanding now, and why is the demand for expansion so huge?
BRICS, at its heart, is designed to represent and cooperate on the interests of the developing Global South, or, more broadly speaking, nations that stand outside of the Western domain, including its security architecture.
Unlike an institution such as NATO, BRICS is not an alliance or ideological bloc. It does not compel its members to take sides. Rather, it is designed to represent and complement a shared pool of interests with the common goal of furthering development, sustaining national sovereignty and expanding global governance toward a multipolar environment.
In a nutshell, BRICS is the opposite of hegemony.
For the past 400 years, the international system has been dominated by a select group of countries known as “the West”.These countries have been able to maintain a hegemonic position that, through colonialism, allowed them to attain monopolies on global financing, trade, investment, technology and military power. They have used all these to sustain their position and keep other countries down.
Although this started off with the British, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese and German colonial empires, in the 20th century the baton was passed on to the United States, which has built a global order around itself and has become a hegemon.
Under the system that the US has created, countries are only able to attain development, which necessitates access to capital and export markets, if they subjugate themselves to the military and strategic goals of the US itself. For example, a nation that became wealthy throughout the 20th century, South Korea, was able to do so because it had effectively ceded aspects of its national and military sovereignty to the US.
Countries that do not follow the US agenda, on the other hand, may be subject to growing sanctions and export controls that attempt to squeeze them and prevent their development, in order to arrest any threats to US hegemony.
For 40 years, the rise of China was tolerated on the belief that engagement with free market economics would produce an ideological “transformation” of its political system to meet US expectations. The same is true with post-Soviet Russia. However, when Washington discovered that this was not the case, the US began forcibly attempting to contain them as rivals and crush their economic and technological development.
This has led to the world we are in today, in which the US is forcibly bringing the age of free-market globalization to an end and reasserting a climate of geopolitical competition. The US wants to sustain its unipolar hegemony above all other states, and the treatment of China in particular stands as a warning to how the US will respond to any state not under its dominance.
Because of this environment BRICS is expanding, as many countries throughout the world wish to remain independent of US hegemony and secure political autonomy to continue their own economic development.
The reassertion of US hegemony and the attempt to crush China’s development pose a threat to the entire Global South as the US seeks to sustain the economic, financial, commercial and technological privileges of the West against the rest. Therefore, BRICS has become an essential forum for nonaligned nations to secure their own interests and enhance their cooperation.
As a result, BRICS is not about forming an “alliance”, but is about fairness and equality. It aspires to a multilateral mode of global governance in which all states have a voice, rather than being forced to cede strategic and political autonomy as a condition for economic development.
BRICS states ultimately want to be able to develop while maintaining their own national sovereignty. BRICS is therefore a pathway to global openness and economic integration during a time when some countries are pushing very hard in attempts to reverse the trend.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of UG Standard The author is a British political and international relations analyst.