The 5 Countries Lining Up To Take On America And The West
Challenging the global status quo, meet the five BRICS nations and the countries that might soon be joining their group in a bid to pull away from the West.
Taking on the might of the wealthy West, the five major emerging economies that make up the BRICS alliance – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have lofty aspirations to expand the group's membership and shake up the America-led world order.
Read on to find out what the BRICS group is doing to counter Western dominance, and how much of a threat it might be.
All dollar amounts in US dollars, unless otherwise stated.
As an organization, the BRICS alliance has its roots in the Russia-India-China (RIC) strategic triangle, which was envisaged by Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov in the 1990s "as a counterbalance to the Western alliance".
The term "BRICs" was coined in 2001 by Goldman Sachs' former chief economist Jim O'Neill, who wrote a report highlighting the rapid economic growth of the world's leading emerging economies at the time: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
With Brazil in the fold, the BRICS nations reached out to one another and organized the first informal meeting in 2006, going on to meet in Yekaterinburg, Russia for the inaugural BRIC summit in June 2009.
The following year, South Africa was admitted to the bloc after intense lobbying by the government of Jacob Zuma. The BRICs officially became the BRICS.
Together, the five nations have a population of 3.3 billion, which is around 40% of the global total, and represent a quarter of the world's GDP.
In contrast, the advanced economies that make up the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US – account for around a quarter of the world's population. Despite this, the G7 countries' combined GDP is $42.4 trillion, almost 60% higher than the BRICS' $24.7 trillion.
Still, the BRICS group is expected to overtake the G7 in terms of GDP in the coming years, although predictions have varied as to when this will occur.
Back in the late 2000s, when the five emerging economies were all major growth leaders, Goldman Sachs predicted it would be by 2027.
However, as the outlook for the BRICS alliance has worsened, the more recent projections are less bullish, with more down-the-line dates being proposed instead.
When it comes to the economies of the BRICS, China is the major player.
Second only to the US, the People's Republic boasts a GDP of $17.7 trillion, dwarfing the other members.
India is next, with the world's sixth-largest economy and a GDP of $3.2 trillion. Russia has the third-strongest GDP in the BRICS at $1.8 trillion, while Brazil closely follows at $1.6 trillion.
South Africa is way down the global list with a GDP of $420 billion, which is 42 times smaller than China's.
While economic growth rates were once robust among every one of the five BRICS nations, they now vary wildly.
India continues to record impressive figures, but Brazil, Russia and South Africa have been flagging for several years. Meanwhile, China's growth forecast for 2023 is a relatively meagre 4.6%, down from 12.7% in 2006, the year the group first met.
Analysts have even started to doubt whether the People's Republic can overtake the US in terms of GDP, a feat it was once expected to achieve by 2030.
Since 2009, the governments of the BRICS countries have convened at annual summits, the last of which was hosted by China virtually in June.
The agenda of these meetings has widened over the years to include everything from security to health, and some steps have been taken to loosen the West's grip on the global financial system and create a multipolar world.
In 2014, the bloc moved to take on two Western-dominated institutions – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with the creation of the $100 billion New Development Bank (NDB) and, a year later, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA).
But while these two entities are operational, their impact has so far been minimal.
In fact, founder member Russia was recently frozen out of the BRICS' versions of the World Bank and IMF following Western pressure.
This is arguably testament to the continued dominance of the established order and inability of these new institutions at present to square up to its economic supremacy. Other major initiatives have stalled or completely fallen by the wayside.
These initiatives include a free trade agreement and wide-ranging plans for the BRICS Cable, an undersea cable connecting the five nations that would prevent Western intelligence from accessing their communications. Neither of these plans have made it past the drawing board.
Exacerbated by a lack of cooperation during the COVID pandemic, the BRICS grouping has gained a reputation for being all talk and little action, with some commentators quick to point out its lack of cohesiveness.
The five countries that make up the BRICS are vastly divergent politically and economically, with very little in common in reality apart from their desire to challenge the West. And they even have disagreements in this respect.
This odd grouping of solid democracies and repressive, corrupt autocracies – which ranges economically from rapidly growing India to sluggish Brazil and South Africa – is quite the motley crew.
The close-knit G7, on the other hand, is far more cohesive. The countries that comprise the group are all highly transparent Western liberal democracies, and are staunch allies and strong trading partners that face similar economic challenges.
Since they're less strongly aligned, the BRICS nations struggle to see eye to eye on a number of topics and have been pointedly adversarial at times.
China and India have the most fraught relationship, hitting rock bottom in 2020 following border skirmishes between their soldiers that left 24 dead. Their ties remain fractious.
Relations between China and Brazil aren't in the best shape either. President Bolsonaro has been a vocal critic of Beijing, having adopted a much tougher stance than his predecessor.
Divided loyalties, which have been further amplified by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, also characterize the grouping.
While its fellow BRICS countries have chosen not to condemn Russia's aggression outright, the individual members of the group are walking a diplomatic tightrope.
India and Brazil have been particularly careful, adopting a resolutely neutral rather than supportive stance so as not to anger the West.
India is also a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or "Quad" group, together with Australia, Japan and the US.
This puts the country at odds with Beijing as the alliance is working to quell China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, India and South Africa are being courted by the G7 and have become regular invitees at the group's summits.
India doesn't want a confrontation with the West, unlike Russia and China.
This contradiction, which Times of India has described as "an identity crisis", could seriously undermine the bloc.
Despite these conflicts, the BRICS group is on the march.
The Ukraine war has actually invigorated the bloc in many ways.
Russia's economic cancelation by the West is hastening the BRICS' plan to create an alternative to the Western SWIFT payment system, as well as an international reserve currency based on a basket of member nations' currencies, with the aim of challenging the US dollar's dominance.
Among other things, this would enable the BRICS nations to sidestep Western sanctions.
Although trade between the BRICS countries has failed to grow significantly for much of the bloc's existence, the conflict in Ukraine is something of a turning point.
China and India have been binging on cut-price Russian oil, Brazil wants to buy vast quantities of diesel and fertilizer from the embargoed country, while South Africa has been seriously considering snapping up cheap Russian oil.
And the group's second wind hasn't gone unnoticed by other developing countries.
Attracted by the prospect of taking on the West economically, not being beholden to its institutions, and avoiding Western sanctions, several nations are considering membership. This wider group has been nicknamed BRICS+.
BRICS lynchpin China is especially eager to expand the grouping.
As the host of the bloc's most recent summit over the summit, President Xi invited the governments of 13 countries to attend the virtual event.
In alphabetical order, they were: Algeria, Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Senegal, Thailand, and Uzbekistan.
Of the guest countries that attended the summit, Iran and Argentina have already applied to join the BRICS and are likely to be admitted.
Membership of the group could prove to be a welcome bonus for Iran's economic prospects as it could allow the nation to offset US sanctions, while for heavily indebted Argentina, the appeal lies mainly in the group's development bank.
In debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Argentina has been on the receiving end of 21 emergency fund programs.
Its relationship with the Western-controlled international financial institution has been far from rosy over the years. By joining the BRICS and its development bank, Argentina is hoping to reduce its reliance on the IMF.
Given that Iran is a major oil and natural gas producer, its admittance to the group would make the BRICS a force to be reckoned with energy-wise.
But the admission of Saudi Arabia to the alliance would be a real game-changer. According to Forbes, such an alliance could spell the end for the petrodollar, which underpins the US dollar as the number one global reserve currency.
In July, Saudi Arabia was reported as having shown an interest in joining the BRICS, along with Egypt and Turkey.
Purnima Anand, President of the BRICS International Forum, made the announcement in July, adding that the three countries could be admitted into the bloc "very soon".
If the BRICS nations could all agree to trade commodities in the bloc's basket reserve currency, it could be curtains for the petrodollar.
As Forbes contributor Tilak Doshi surmises: "membership of the BRICS group may well turn out to be the best geopolitical hedge in a world forever changed by the US-led financial sanctions on Russia".
However, pulling off a takedown of the petrodollar and undermining the Western-dominated global economic system will be no walk in the park.
Aside from potential attempts by the West to thwart the BRICS reserve currency and other initiatives, the bloc will have to find common ground, something that's already proven to be difficult and which can only become trickier as the group expands.
As if having adversaries India and China as prominent members wasn't thorny enough, the admittance of sworn enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia could really put the cat among the pigeons.
That said, the two countries are founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and do manage to cooperate within that – although their interactions are frequently tense...
With the list of countries interested in joining the BRICS ever-growing – other possible candidates include Bangladesh, Mexico, Pakistan, Sudan, and Syria, plus oil-rich Nigeria and Venezuela – the bloc could end up becoming something that inspires real change.
It could upend the global system to an extent.
Yet it's far from clear whether the BRICS can actually pull this off, given the internal divisions that have troubled the group since its conception.
Expert opinion is extremely polarized and perplexing, with predictions running the full gamut from "the BRICS alliance is a mortal threat to the West" to "the BRICS no longer matters". It's safe to say that only time will tell.
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