The long-term objective for BRICS is to create a relationship of complex mutual economic interdependence that benefits all countries and decrease the odds of force-resolved disputes among themselves.
The 15th BRICS Summit in South Africa ended with the group’s historic expansion that more than doubled its number of official members. Prior to this event, reports circulated alleging that India was against expanding BRICS, but these were denied by its Foreign Secretary in the days before their meeting. The ultimate outcome of this year’s summit also put to rest speculation that India was standing in the way of expansion. That said, there do indeed seem to be two distinct schools of thought forming within BRICS.
Indian journalist Ullekh NP drew attention to these different approaches in his article for RT on 27 August about how “BRICS nations just want what is theirs, and that spells doom for the Western hegemony”. He informed this publicly financed Russian international media outlet’s global audience that “India seeks an enhanced multipolarity in the world, but it doesn’t want the forum to become overly anti-West to the extent that it becomes a platform for China’s one-upmanship.”
These concerns were taken into consideration during BRICS’ historic expansion. Iran was a shoo-in for official membership due to it recently becoming an official member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) earlier this summer. The Islamic Republic also has close ties with BRICS’ Russia-India-China (RIC) core, but its overly “anti-West” policies meant that its official membership in BRICS had to be balanced by invitations to states that enjoy cordial relations with the West in order to reach consensus.
Egypt and the UAE had earlier joined the New Development Bank, popularly referred to as the BRICS Bank, and also became SCO dialogue partners in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Saudi Arabia obtained the same status in the second-mentioned group in 2023 too. These countries’ relations with those multipolar organizations and close ties with RIC made them natural candidates for official BRICS membership, as did their cordial ties with the West that serve to balance out Iran’s “anti-West” ones.
The other geopolitical factor that influenced BRICS’ calculations is that the group didn’t want to offend Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE by inviting Iran to join without extending the same opportunity to those three as well. Each of them recently had very troubled ties with the Islamic Republic, and despite their relations improving over the past half-year, they could have felt snubbed if they weren’t invited to join this economic-centric group while Iran was able to despite having a smaller GDP than them.
This observation segues into the economic drivers behind BRICS’ decision to include those three in its historic expansion. Saudi Arabia and the UAE wield powerful influence on the global energy market. The scenario of them one day selling oil in non-dollar-denominated currencies like the ruble, rupee, and yuan could greatly advance BRICS’ shared goal of accelerating financial multipolarity processes. The group’s RIC core likely also wants privileged investment opportunities in their economic diversification projects.
The same investment-related motivation is also relevant for Egypt. It’s the most populous Arab country and has tremendous economic potential that RIC wants to tap into just like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are already doing. Additionally, Egypt controls the Suez Canal, and RIC investments in its special economic zone would give its companies equal geographic access to the European, West Asian, and African markets. These three Arab countries’ strategic economic appeal to BRICS complements Iran’s.
The Islamic Republic clinched a 25-year investment deal with China in 2021 that’s reportedly worth $400 billion. Its implementation is expected to result in Iran’s inclusion in a Gulf-directed branch corridor of the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor that could in turn facilitate more Chinese-Gulf trade. Likewise, Russia and India already rely on Iran as the crucial transit state in their North-South Transport Corridor that President Putin referenced during the BRICS Business Forum and BRICS leaders’ meeting.
Each RIC pillar espouses an inclusive connectivity vision that complements one another’s and is furthered by inviting the Arab countries and Iran to become official BRICS members at the same time. Russia pursues the Greater Eurasian Partnership, India practices the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (“One Earth, One Family, One Future”) that’s the theme of its G20 chairmanship this year, and China promotes a community of common destiny for mankind.
In the context of the latest BRICS Summit, their corresponding interests were collectively promoted by inviting those four into their group and therefore establishing the basis for encouraging multilateral economic cooperation between everyone. The long-term objective is to create a relationship of complex mutual economic interdependence that benefits all countries’ people in parallel with decreasing the odds that any disputes among them would be resolved with force due to that being detrimental to all.
The US’ attempted dual-containment of China and Russia in the Asia-Pacific and Europe in recent years led to it gradually disengaging from the West Asia-North Africa region, but instead of the chaos that some expected, peace and cooperation have surprisingly flourished. Previously competing parties put aside their differences in order to focus on the greater good. Most importantly, this is taking place in the tri-continental pivot space at the crossroads of Afro-Eurasia, thus imbuing it with worldwide significance.
The global systemic transition to multipolarity would forever remain at risk of failure if these countries continued feuding and a large-scale war by miscalculation in the center of the Eastern Hemisphere kept hanging over everyone’s head like a Damocles’ sword. In fact, the US had hitherto tried to divide-and-rule them for the purpose of indefinitely prolonging its global leadership per the precept put forth by the late US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in “The Grand Chessboard”, his 1997 magna opus.
Subtitled “American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives”, it warns that “the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an ‘antihegemonic’ coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances … averting this contingency, however remote it may be, will require a display of US geostrategic skill on the western, eastern, and southern perimeters of Eurasia simultaneously.”
As the present moment proves, a variation of that contingency has come to pass whereby those three have united to challenge “American primacy”, but not through the creation of an ‘antihegemonic’ coalition per se. Their cooperation through BRICS accelerates financial multipolarity processes with a view towards reforming the world order so that it’s fairer for non-Western countries, but it’s not “anti-West” due to its composition preventing it from becoming such.
Russia is indisputably “anti-West” nowadays while China’s relations with the West are rapidly moving in the direction of systemic rivalry, but India checks any intentions that its RIC counterparts might have of turning BRICS into an “anti-West” platform. Had Iran been shooed in as the only new BRICS member, then the group’s internal dynamics could have shifted in a way that made India fear that the US might consider it a threat and react accordingly, perhaps even as far as trying to actively subvert them all.
By making the Islamic Republic’s invitation conditional on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE joining at the same time, however, this scenario was averted after they balanced out Iran’s “anti-West” role. To be sure, Brazil, South Africa, and newly admitted Argentina and Ethiopia have similarly cordial ties with the West as India does, but the latter’s enormous population and market size make it much more influential in this regard than those four combined. Without India, BRICS might have already become “anti-West”.
Since expanding BRICS aligns with India’s philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, but it also feared BRICS becoming “anti-West” or being perceived as such by the US if Iran was the only new member to join, Delhi ensured that three Arab countries joined at the same time to balance this out. This outcome advanced everyone’s interests by reducing the chances that the US takes active measures to stop BRICS while also imbuing the group with the ability to further accelerate financial multipolarity processes.
Dr. Andrew Korybko is a political analyst and a regular contributor to the Sixteenth Council insights