X Close


by Maximilian Hess
Tuesday, 22
August 2023
Analysis
07:00

Brics is an alliance in name only

The bloc is too divided to pose any threat to the West
by Maximilian Hess
South African minister Naledi Pandor meets with Brics foreign ministers in June. Credit: Getty

Dozens of international leaders have arrived in South Africa for the latest Brics summit, due to run from the 22nd to the 24th of August — and never before has it received so much attention. Just yesterday, the Financial Times declared it a turning point for an “à la carte” world in which middle powers from the bloc’s existing and aspirant members aim to stamp their relevance on the international order.

But if that is the bloc’s aim, it already appears to be a failure. For starters, Brics is neither an alliance nor an institution; it has no by-laws and its members are too divided to agree on any serious steps. China and India, for example, remain uncomfortable bedfellows, resulting from frequent clashes along their disputed border in the Himalayas — not to mention that New Delhi hopes to gain from further trade and investment from the West as Sino-Western decoupling proceeds apace.  


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


The few structures that the Brics organisation does have in place are already falling apart. The first major effort was the Brics Bank — since renamed the New Development Bank — which was envisaged as a challenger to the World Bank and IMF. But despite the steady decline in Sino-Western relations, the bank, which is primarily financed by Beijing, has been unwilling to support Russia where it risks running afoul of US sanctions. After the invasion last year, it even suspended loans in Russia — and reiterated its unwillingness to loan to the country just last month.

This year, the expansion of Brics is on the agenda, with Russia wanting fellow travellers in sanctions-afflicted Iran and Venezuela added to the bloc. Beijing and other members are not on board with these initiatives due to fears that the organisation will be indelibly associated with sanction-busting. That would also make it less attractive to other aspirant members, and this is partly why Brazil and India are reportedly set to oppose formally accepting any new members too. 

But even if other countries are ultimately welcomed to the new group, it remains unlikely that this will be a genuine challenge to the international order. That is because none of the Brics countries (except for Russia) seek a direct confrontation with America and its allies. Given the perilous state many Brics economies currently find themselves in, antagonising Washington risks adding fuel to the fire. And if they lean too far into positioning the bloc as a challenge to Western institutions, they run the risk of being cut off from their support in the event of a major financial crisis — something of which South Africa is particularly wary, given that its economic crisis may soon require an IMF bailout.

Thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Brics summit has received more attention in the press that it would otherwise. But it is important to remember that this is not the first effort by middle countries and third powers to challenge the international order through economic structures. On 1 May 1974 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration for the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, claiming that the “system (represented by the IMF and World Bank)… [is] completely dominated by a few Western powers led by the United States, [and] no longer met contemporary needs” — exactly the kind of criticism Brics advocates make today. 

The UN General Assembly even approved an accompanying agenda for reform that was far more wide-reaching than anything proposed by today’s Brics states. But much to the chagrin of the countries that introduced the resolution, very little changed as a result. Indeed, 1974’s “new international economic order” proposal never amounted to much, despite coming at a time of Western inflation, low growth, and in the aftermath of the US defeat in Vietnam.  ​​Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago

Fancy acronym with little substance. Fake nooos ?

Who’d want to get into bed with Venezuela or South Africa ? At my garage there now are 2 South Africans working because (presumably) the place is about to implode. Then we can feel guilty and bail it out while that recent Idi Amin lookalike makes excuses for the rampant cronyism and corruption (see also Robert Mugabe etc etc ).

Tiaan Fourie
Tiaan Fourie
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Don’t worry. A bunch of fear-mongering. SA is still functioning. We have a strong constitution and private sector. Not saying there isn’t cronyism and corruption, but Zimbabwe is a bit of a stretch. Tell those two “South Africans” to stop being so pessimistic.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 month ago
Reply to  Tiaan Fourie

Really?
My friend has SA girlfriend.
Last weekend he was at gathering of 32 members of her family in uk.
About 20 already in the West and the rest wants to escape as soon as possible.
SA is functioning?
Tell us about murder rate, unemployment and corruption.
Yes SA was functioning before low IQ savages took over.

Last edited 1 month ago by Andrew F
Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew F

My daughter’s classmate’s grandfather was hoping to escape SA and move to the UK.
The week before he was due to come here, he was killed in a carjacking.
I understand there are still pockets of civilisation there (I hear Cape Town is nice), but South Africa is not a functioning country, even by the low standards of the modern West.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
1 month ago

BRICS isn’t much of a threat to the West and was never intended to be. It exists out of necessary because countries perceive the West as a potential threat to them after the US used the action of barring access to the SWIFT banking system as a sanction, and confiscated foreign reserves for violations of the arbitrary ‘rules based international order’.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago

My comments keep on getting parked. Is this the same as YouTube?

Last edited 1 month ago by mgdowning
Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 month ago

“none of the Brics countries (except for Russia) seek a direct confrontation with America and its allies”

It’s hard to know what the Russians and the Chinese really want.
Do they just want to be left alone (as China was for centuries)? Do they want to dominate their neighbours? Or are they set on world domination (as the USSR was)?
I don’t pretend to know the minds of Putin or Xi Jinping, I don’t trust most western commentary on their views, and I’m not sure how representative those two tyrants are of Russian and Chinese opinion.
Is Russian and Chinese meddling in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America part of a plot to rule the world, or just a defensive move against American domination?
Of the two, China has always seemed more dangerous to me. But the greatest threats to our freedom are domestic, not foreign.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 month ago

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m wondering why the Ringworld is unstable, and I realized that it is unstable because it is stable. In other words, a solid ring around a star cannot change in response to a shifting environment and therefore is unstable.

Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
1 month ago

Exaggerated as usual. The weaponization of sanctions by the US led West pits the Global South against it. Face up that many ex colonial countries donot want to be a cuckold of the West which colonized it. Power is shifting and while BRICS is not immediately replacing the G7 it may well do so in the decades to come.

Jeff Watkins
Jeff Watkins
1 month ago

Rather a one sided argument. The BRICS are slowly but surely getting their act together. They already have a GDP(PPP) greater than the G7, If Iran and Saudi Arabia join BRICS this will eventually lead to the demise of the petrodollar, if BRICS members trade between themselves in their own currencies this wll also lead to the end of the dollar for trading, they are also starting to link their currencies to gold and natural resources. So yes all this will take a long time – but it will happen sooner or later.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Watkins

The BRICS countries have the following US$ per capita

China $12.5k
Russia $12.2K
South Africa $7k
Brazil $7.5k
India $2.3k

In contrast the G7 has

US $70.2K
Canada $51.9k
Germany $51.2k
UK $46.5
France $43.6k
Japan $39.3k
Italy $35.6k

There are also much bigger structural problems in the BRICS countries than the G7 ones, despite all the handwringing that goes on. Chinas population is ageing incredibly quickly before it’s had chance to get rich enough to support an older population like Japan. It’s birth rate is half that of replacement level and has little inward immigration to supplement it. It also has a massive property bubble that is close to collapse.
Russias actions in Ukraine has seen it shut out of its largest markets for gas and oil, while it still sells them elsewhere it will be hard pressed to find countries that buy the volume Europe used to.
South Africa is a basket case that can’t even keep the lights on, I’d expect it’s GDP to fall rather than rise.
Brazil may come good, but we’ve been saying that for the last 20 years so I’m not holding my breath.
India has the greatest scope for improvement, however it’s much more aligned with the west rather than the other BRICS nations. It is however pragmatic enough to take advantage when the situation arises, such as the recent cheap Russian oil.
All in all I simply can’t see any threat from BRICS in the near to middle future. They are much poorer than the West and have much deeper problems to overcome

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

We’re still consuming Russian oil & gas. We’re just paying a premium because it’s going through intermediaries.