September 03, 2023
The Expansion of BRICS

R Arun Kumar

THE 15th Summit of the BRICS held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from August 22-24, 2023, concluded with its expansion. Six new countries have been invited to join the group from January 1, 2024. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, UAE, Ethiopia and Argentina now join Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in the BRICS. This is the first time after the formation of BRICS (not counting the expansion of BRIC to BRICS) that the forum has been expanded. According to reports, 40 countries have expressed their interest to join this group, while 22 countries have sent in their formal applications. Out of these, six countries are now invited to formally join the group.

A section of commentators within our country expressed their apprehensions regarding the expansion of BRICS and wanted the Indian government not to accept it. Driven by their pro-US stance, they wanted India to be not active in multilateral groups such as BRICS. However, good sense prevailed and the government could not only recognise the benefits of BRICS, but also the merits of its expansion.


Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of Russia, explained the criterion adapted for the selection of new members. “The weight, prominence and importance of the candidates and their international standing were the primary factors for us (BRICS members). It is our shared view that we must recruit like-minded countries into our ranks that believe in a multipolar world order and the need for more democracy and justice in international relations. We need those who champion a bigger role for the Global South in global governance. The six countries whose accession was announced today fully meet these criteria”.

Some of these six countries were once close allies of the US. While their joining BRICS does not necessarily signal a shift in their attitude towards the US, it certainly shows their interest to diversify their options in a rapidly changing world. The presence of four countries from the West Asia-North Africa region in the BRICS signifies the shifting equations in the region.

With the addition of these six countries, BRICS as a group will now command a population of 47 per cent of the world and 36 per cent of the total world GDP. These numbers will certainly add to the heft of the group and command attention. Hence it is this major outcome that caught the attention of the entire world.

Unlike the earlier meetings of the BRICS, when the developed countries led by the US simply wrote it off and ignored its meetings, this Summit met under completely changed circumstances which drew attention. It is not just the war in Ukraine that had forced the developed countries to take notice. The growing economic clout wielded by several member countries and the increasing tussle between the United States and its allies vis-à-vis Russia and China are also important reasons for this heightened interest. Then there is the economic aspect – BRICS, with nearly 41 per cent of the world’s population had overtaken the G-7 countries (in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms) in their contribution to global GDP growth, last year.


Right from its inception in 2009, BRICS announced itself as a grouping committed to South-South cooperation, multilateralism and a more representative and fairer international world order. The role of US and its NATO allies in conducting the war in Ukraine have forced many countries to rethink their foreign policy priorities. The US tried to use its political, economic and military power to force many countries to take an anti-Russia position. This had dramatically failed with many developing countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America, refusing to toe the US. They largely remained neutral and voiced their concerns against the military support extended by the US/NATO to Ukraine, which is prolonging the conflict.

The BRICS attracted such countries because, in spite of Russia being directly involved in the conflict, there was no pressure to support Russia or take a pro-Russia position. The joint declaration that was adopted after the conclusion of the Summit – the Johannesburg II Declaration – states: “We recall our national positions concerning the conflict in and around Ukraine as expressed at the appropriate fora, including the UNSC and UNGA. We note with appreciation relevant proposals of mediation and good offices aimed at peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, including the African Leaders Peace Mission and the proposed path for peace” (emphasis added). There are different ‘national positions’ on Ukraine in the group, but the main point is, all of them want an immediate cessation of the conflict and restoration of peace.

The second aspect that made many countries wary of the US is its use of sanctions as a weapon against any country that questions its hegemony. As many as 36 countries are facing US sanctions and many of these sanctions are imposed by-passing the UN. It has been proved time and again that sanctions imposed by the US on countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, etc are used to cripple their economies, create unrest and force a regime change.

The use of sanctions to over-write people’s sovereign, democratic will is detested everywhere. The Declaration adopted by the BRICS reflects this sentiment: “We express concern about the use of unilateral coercive measures, which are incompatible with the principles of the Charter of the UN and produce negative effects notably in the developing world”. And further, “BRICS members are also concerned with trade restrictive measures which are inconsistent with WTO rules, including unilateral illegal measures such as sanctions that affect agricultural trade”.

The increasing use of dollar as a weapon to coerce countries to follow its dictates also made them look for other options to trade. The US has the sovereign right to tinker with its interest rates in order to deal with the challenges confronting its economy. But the problem is, dollar being a de facto world currency, the change in interest rates in the US tend to transfer its problems onto world economy, often with adverse impact. To insulate their economies from such adverse impacts, attempts are on to challenge the domination of a single currency, without transgressing the imperialist world order. Trade in national currencies, a basket of currencies to replace dollar are all under trial as alternatives to escape dollar hegemony.

The attraction for BRICS also stems from its attempts to trade in national currencies. The BRICS Summit had tasked its finance ministers/governors of central banks to look into this issue. “We stress the importance of encouraging the use of local currencies in international trade and financial transactions between BRICS as well as their trading partners. We also encourage strengthening of correspondent banking networks between the BRICS countries and enabling settlements in the local currencies”. This would be one more step towards de-dollarisation.

Another factor is the New Development Bank (NDB), established by the BRICS in 2014. NDB loans are considered to be much more attractive than the condition-laden loans disbursed by the IMF and World Bank. Non-implementation of the promised reform of IMF and democratisation of its functioning makes NDB an attractive alternative. Moreover, the IMF-WB are used as a financial-muscle to intervene in the internal affairs of debtor countries. Even before the expansion of BRICS, Bangladesh, UAE, Egypt, Uruguay, etc were admitted as members of the NDB.

The Declaration contains some important affirmations of the BRICS. On Palestine, it notes the escalating violence under continued Israeli occupation and the expansion of illegal settlements. It declares its unflinching support to the two-State solution, leading to the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine. On Niger, it expressed its concern. It extended its support to the ‘sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya’ and for a “Libyan led and Libyan-owned” political process. The guiding principle is ‘African solutions to African problems’.

The deep skepticism towards Bretton Woods institutions, together with the positions adopted by the BRICS has made it an attractive option for many developing countries. The US daily, The Nation linked the agenda of expansion of the BRICS with the failure of the US-led world order. “It is an indication of the hunger for countering the serious shortcomings of the US-led global order”. It went on to point that the ‘failure of the US-led world order to substantially support two core requirements of Global South States – economic development and safeguarding sovereignty – are creating a demand for alternative structures for ordering the world’.

European media also made similar observations – ‘a symbol of broad support from the global South for the recalibration of the world order’ (Guardian, UK); ‘enthusiasm of some 40 countries for BRICS membership testifies to the growing influence of developing countries on the world stage’ (Le Figaro, France) and ‘BRICS has gained significant geopolitical and economic weight’ (Suddeutsche Zeitung, Germany).

Noting all the positive points that go with the expansion of BRICS, we should however be careful not to conclude that it is emerging as a progressive alternative to the imperialist-led world order. BRICS is certainly not an anti-imperialist or anti-West group. The countries in BRICS are united because of their urge to have more say in international forums and have their concerns, voices and demands heard in bodies like the UN.

An expanded BRICS will help in strengthening multilateralism. And multilateralism can certainly be used in our struggle against imperialism.

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