BRICS expansion: A step towards global shift and strategic multi-alignment

As Moscow took over the presidency of BRICS, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward the news that the bloc has turned into a 10-country body now with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates going along with it as new members. In August, the top BRICS leaders at the grouping’s summit in […]

As Moscow took over the presidency of BRICS, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward the news that the bloc has turned into a 10-country body now with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates going along with it as new members. In August, the top BRICS leaders at the grouping’s summit in Johannesburg approved a proposal to admit six countries, including Argentina, into the bloc with effect from January 1. Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates joined BRICS as new full members which is a strong indication of the growing authority of the association and its role in international affairs.
The Russian President said BRICS is attracting an ever increasing number of supporters and like-minded countries that share its underlying principles such as sovereign equality, openness, consensus, aspiration to form a multi-polar international order and a fair global financial and trading system.
The grouping took shape in September 2006 and it originally comprised Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). It was renamed as BRICS after South Africa was accepted as a full member in September 2010. With Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as its members, BRICS represents a quarter of the global economy and it has been a major engine of global economic growth over the years. Putin said enhancing the role of BRICS in the international monetary system, expanding inter-banking cooperation as well as boosting use of national currencies in mutual trade will be areas of focus of the Russian presidency of the grouping.
The Russian 2024 BRICS chairmanship under the motto ‘strengthening multilateralism for equitable global development and security’ will focus on positive and constructive cooperation with all concerned countries. Russia is sparing no effort to ensure that, while preserving traditions and being guided by the experience gained by the association in years past, there id need to facilitate the harmonious integration of new participants in all formats of its activities. Putin said the priorities under the Russian presidency of the grouping will include promoting cooperation in science, high technology, healthcare, environmental protection, culture and sports.
The Russian presidency of BRICS will focus on contributing to the practical implementation of the strategy for BRICS economic partnership 2025 and the action plan for the grouping’s innovation cooperation 2021-2024 for ensuring energy and food security.
This diversification is not just a mere addition of countries; it’s a strategic move that ushers in a new chapter for BRICS. The inclusion of three Middle East energy giants – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran – significantly amplifies the alliance’s impact, collectively constituting a formidable 42 percent of the world’s oil supply.
The next BRICS summit is scheduled to be held in October 2024 in the Kazan region of Russia. The 16th BRICS summit could see many more developing countries being inducted and the expansion might be announced this year. The alliance is assembling a series of nations that are willing to ditch the US dollar and trade in local currencies. The move puts the US dollar on the back foot while local currencies look to take the driver’s seat of the global economy. With this expansion, BRICS is consolidating its status as the voice of the Global South and bringing more weight to bear on international politics.
This trajectory is all the more astonishing because democracies such as Brazil, India and South Africa have been working pragmatically across ideological lines with autocracies like China and Russia. Even deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops on the disputed border in 2020 did not break up the bloc. The newcomers will also bring with them considerable risk of conflict. BRICS can only make decisions unanimously, so neither China nor Russia, and soon Iran, will be able to easily implement their own agendas. Amidst varied opinions on security and military matters, BRICS members find a common thread in advocating for de-dollarisation.
This shared objective aligns with their broader focus on bolstering infrastructure to facilitate the use of local currencies, signaling a concerted effort to reduce reliance on the U.S. dollar in international transactions. As we navigate the landscape of 2024, the world is witnessing a subtle shift towards a multipolar order, where middle powers increasingly assume central roles.
The expansion of BRICS, now encompassing diverse regions and economic powerhouses, positions the alliance as a key player in shaping this evolving geopolitical paradigm. While the economic agendas of BRICS participants and invitees are relatively aligned, their geopolitical interests differ greatly, which is likely to bring complications to the group. Though its agenda was initially economic, the bloc has  increasingly become a kind of rival strategic alliance, especially with rising tensions between the United States and China and the war in Ukraine prompting West-imposed sanctions against Russia.
The addition of US allies such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia alongside countries rivalling Washington could hinder efforts at deepening cooperation between members, as the current influence of Russia and China has led to a more explicitly anti-Western leaning. Such political bias could make the grouping look like a platform for defending the geopolitical agendas of Beijing and Moscow, causing concern among members focused on economic outreach with both eastern and western partners.
In essence, the evolution of BRICS with its new members represents not just an expansion but a strategic recalibration of global influence. Nonetheless, the clamouring from such nations to join BRICS+ demonstrates not only the group’s bright prospects over the next few years but also the potentially substantial transfer of economic power from the Global North to the Global South. As these nations come together, each with its unique strengths and perspectives, the alliance quietly asserts its significance in shaping a multipolar world, where collaboration and economic interdependence take center stage.

Sharanpreet Kaur in an Assistant Professor of International Relations at School of Social Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. She is the author of the book ‘India’s Soft Power Diplomacy: Prospects, Challenges and the Way Forward’.