The BRICS Phenomenon: A Global Power Shift

In the ever-evolving landscape of international relations, a new player emerged in the early 21st century, catching the attention of both analysts and global leaders alike. BRICS, an acronym originally representing Brazil, Russia, India, and China, has grown into a five-member club with the addition of South Africa, symbolizing a shifting power dynamic on the global stage. This group, initially born out of economic considerations, has transcended its origins and now carries significant geopolitical weight. In this article, we will delve into the origins of BRICS, its achievements, challenges, and why other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, aspire to become part of this influential bloc.

The Genesis of BRICS

A Visionary Acronym

BRICS, as we know it today, was not always on the global radar. It started as the brainchild of economist Jim O’Neill, working at the US investment bank Goldman Sachs. In 2001, O’Neill coined the term BRIC, emphasizing the potential of four of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. His vision was clear: these countries, despite their diverse political and social landscapes, had the potential to collectively reshape the global economic landscape.

The Birth of BRICS

O’Neill’s vision resonated not only with investors but also with policymakers in the BRIC nations. Beyond their differences, these emerging economies recognized a shared desire to reform the US-led global political, economic, and financial systems to be more equitable and inclusive. This shared vision led to the first annual meeting of BRIC leaders in 2009, held in Russia’s Yekaterinburg.

The ‘S’ in BRICS

In 2010, the BRIC bloc expanded its ranks, inviting South Africa to join its ranks. This inclusion signaled the addition of an ‘S’ to the acronym, forming BRICS. This expansion was not just symbolic; it represented the diversification of the group and broadened its global perspective.


Leaders from the current BRICS nations at the summit. Russia was represented by its foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, right.Credit…Pool photo by Alet Pretorius

The Significance of BRICS

A Global Force to Be Reckoned With

BRICS, collectively, represents over 42 percent of the world’s population, accounting for nearly a quarter of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 18 percent of global trade. This formidable demographic and economic presence makes BRICS a potent force on the international stage.

A Counterweight to Western Dominance

Some proponents of BRICS view it as a counterweight to traditional Western-led forums and institutions, such as the G7 and the World Bank. They argue that BRICS has the potential to leverage its political influence and economic clout to drive much-needed reforms in these institutions, reflecting the realities of a more multipolar world.

BRICS’ Achievements and Challenges

The New Development Bank

Among its notable achievements, BRICS established the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS bank, with a substantial capital base of $50 billion. This bank focuses on funding infrastructure and climate-related projects in developing countries. It has approved more than $30 billion in loans since its inception in 2015. While this is a significant step, it’s worth noting that the World Bank committed more than $100 billion in loans in 2022 alone, highlighting the room for growth.

The Contingency Reserve Arrangement

BRICS has also created a $100 billion Contingency Reserve Arrangement, providing a foreign currency liquidity facility for member nations during times of global financial turmoil. This demonstrates a collective commitment to financial stability.

The Quest for a Common Currency

While BRICS aspires to challenge the dominance of the US dollar with a common currency, this goal remains elusive for now. The group is currently focusing on promoting the use of local currencies in their intra-BRICS trade, a pragmatic step given the complexities of creating a unified currency.

Diverging Interests and Challenges

BRICS has faced challenges in living up to its potential due to the diverging and competing interests of its members. Notably, tensions between China and India, including a disputed border, have strained the unity of the bloc.

Trade and Investments Among BRICS Members

Economic Growth and Influence

Over the past two decades, BRICS nations have experienced significant economic growth. China, as the world’s second-largest economy, and India, the fastest-growing major economy, have played pivotal roles in this expansion. However, Russia and Brazil have struggled to maintain their momentum, while South Africa has faced challenges in keeping up.

Trade Within BRICS

Surprisingly, given their economic prowess, intra-BRICS trade remains relatively low, primarily due to the absence of a bloc-wide free trade agreement. This highlights an area where BRICS has the potential for growth.

Investment Dynamics

BRICS nations have seen substantial growth in annual foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, more than quadrupling from 2001 to 2021. However, intra-BRICS investment remains modest, representing less than 5 percent of their combined inward FDI stock in 2020.

The Allure of Joining BRICS

A Growing Membership

As BRICS gained prominence, it piqued the interest of other nations seeking to join this influential club. In 2023, the annual BRICS summit garnered attention amid expectations of new member additions. Notably, twenty-three countries have formally applied for full-time BRICS membership, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt, and Ethiopia.

Geopolitical and Economic Motivations

Each aspiring BRICS member has its unique motivations. China sees BRICS expansion as a way to bolster its political clout, particularly in response to growing rivalry with the United States. For Russia, joining BRICS is an opportunity to forge new alliances as it grapples with Western sanctions in the wake of its actions in Ukraine. Brazil and India, however, have expressed caution about rapid expansion, with concerns about increasing Chinese influence within the bloc.

BRICS as a Geopolitical Alternative

While BRICS has faced challenges in realizing its economic potential, it has positioned itself as a geopolitical alternative to a US-led world order, presenting itself as a representative of the Global South. New member aspirants see this as an opportunity to harness BRICS’ influence and economic clout on the global stage.

In conclusion, BRICS, born out of economic ambitions, has evolved into a significant geopolitical player with the potential to reshape the global landscape. Its achievements, challenges, and allure for aspiring members showcase the complex dynamics at play in this diverse and influential bloc. As the world watches the BRICS summit of 2023, the question remains: will BRICS continue to evolve and shape the future of international relations, or will its internal complexities hinder its progress? Only time will tell.

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