The Expanded BRICS At Fifteen – Analysis


By Sourabh Gupta

Four years after they last met in-person in Brasilia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa convened in Johannesburg from August 22nd to 24th for a fifteenth and landmark BRICS Leaders Summit. The summit will long be remembered as the ‘expansion summit’, joining the 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2017 summits as the notable ones in the BRICS pantheon.

In 2009, the leaders of the BRIC countries met in Yekaterinburg, Russia, for their first-ever standalone summit meeting, elevating the BRIC grouping which had formally been established in September 2006 by their foreign ministers. Two years later in Sanya, China, the BRIC became the BRICS with the induction of South Africa. In Fortaleza, Brazil, three years later, the five countries established the New Development Bank (BRICS Bank) and their Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA). The Brazilian president at the time, Dilma Rousseff, is today the president of the BRICS Bank. And in Xiamen, Fujian province, China – the province that had once launched a hundred ships along the ancient Maritime Silk Road to the Middle East from its great ancient port city of Quanzhou, the Chinese chair introduced the BRICS-plus format in 2017 as a first step towards expanding the BRICS membership.

Fittingly, in Johannesburg at the fifteenth summit, the Middle East countries stand at the head of the inductees into the expanded BRICS grouping. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Egypt along with Ethiopia and Argentina are to become full members of BRICS starting January 1st, 2024. The current expansion, furthermore, is not the end of the story. The five BRICS leaders have tasked their foreign ministers to develop a BRICS country partner model and report back at their summit in Kazan, Russia, next year with a list of prospective partner countries.     

The induction of important Middle East and North African countries, many of which have internecine quarrels with one another, should not be seen as a liability to the grouping’s larger coherence and operation. Much like China and India could set aside their bilateral differences, even on the topic of BRICS expansion, the induction of conflicted neighboring countries should be seen as a strength – that is, as a commitment on their part to rise above narrower differences and champion an equal partnership of countries that share a common vision of a fairer world where the right to development and modernization is jointly defended. Like-minded, small cliques of countries that package their own rules as international norms is not the only or the preferred way to proceed in this age of global multipolarity. 

Besides, many of the new BRICS entrants are not just fossil fuel-rich countries but may also be critical minerals-rich exporters that could be key to setting up end-to-end supply chains in a number of clean energy technologies. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Egypt’s inclusion will also institutionally improve the relative underrepresentation of Muslim-majority states within the hallways of multilateral governance at a time when Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and intolerance in some parts of the world.

Looking ahead, the principles, purposes and ambitions that animated the four and thereafter five original members should serve as the principal doctrine for the expanded 11-member BRICS grouping.

First, the BRICS must retain its character – and core strength – as an association without compulsory elements and where every cooperative action flows from a common and conscious interest. There must be no recourse to litmus tests on intra-group cooperation. Bilateral frictions should be kept out of larger group dynamics. Geographic or functional issues where interests do not overlap should also be set aside, with the hope that they can be addressed positively another day.

Second, the original BRICS countries individually share the rare attribute of being among a select list of non-Western states which, with variances, can more-or-less afford the luxury of a certain independent-mindedness within the international system. This basic attribute should inform the criteria at the time of drawing up a list of prospective partner countries being considered for admission. Candidate countries must not be constituents of closed-ended alliance systems or have their security formally guaranteed by an external power. Indonesia, an internationalist and secular-minded Muslim-majority state with a defined doctrinal tradition of pluralism and independent mindedness, should be an obvious front-runner. As Nigeria gets its house in order, its induction too should be fast-tracked.

Third, the expanded BRICS must remain the premier developing country platform to pilot South-South cooperation. The New Development Bank should expand its unique imprint in the global development space by implementing faster loan approvals, operate with a lean organizational structure that results in lower loan cost, broaden the range of financing instruments at its disposal, and adopt country systems whenever possible to respond to local needs. The bank should also expand its membership and capital subscription base beyond the expanded BRICS countries. A ‘Friend of BRICS’ forum that invites members of the Global North to attend BRICS summits as a dialogue partner or a special invitee of the chair should also be mooted.

Fourth, the BRICS grouping must become the most important emerging market economy and developing country forum to discuss the overhaul of the international monetary and financing system. The New Development Bank should accelerate its work on trade invoicing and settlement in local currencies, diminishing the need to use established ‘vehicle currencies’ like the dollar and the euro. To this end, the bank should also increase its local currency financing as a share of its overall portfolio. Modernizing the IMF’s concessional financing facilities to adapt to today’s capital flow realities should be an important priority too. Concurrently, the BRICS should enlarge and convert their Contingent Reserve Arrangement into an Emerging Market Crisis Prevention Fund that is large enough to lean against sharp swings and self-fulfilling market panics. Over the medium-term, the BRICS should lead the effort to broaden the existing Special Drawing Rights (SDR) arrangements within the international monetary system, making its issuance automatic and regular.

Peering beyond the mere international monetary and financing system, the BRICS must also aspire to equip itself with the collective capability, down-the-line, to deter an external power or powers the means to weaponize the chokepoints of the global economy’s infrastructural plumbing to the grouping’s disadvantage. This could concern a transaction denominated in a ‘vehicle currency’, a product commingled with U.S. or Western-origin technology that is export controlled or, for the matter, a data packet that travels through a server or digital infrastructure located in and falling under the jurisdiction of that external country.

Finally, the BRICS should ramp up their political cooperation and speak in one voice on the important global challenges of the day. The purpose should neither be to splinter the international high table into rival political blocs nor soften the ground for the ‘Rest’ to wrest global leadership from the West. Rather, it should be to return the international system to the United Nations-centered moorings envisioned by its founders. As the Johannesburg Declaration notes, the BRICS seek to overcome polarity and division – not entrench it – and play its role in creating a world without barriers between North, South, East and West. For this to be the case, the expanded BRICS countries must also constrain their actions within the ambit of international law.

The BRICS stand at the cusp of a new and complex era in global politics. They must rise to the challenge with fairness and grace and restore a sense of community and equilibrium to the United Nations-centered international economic and political order. 

About the author: Sourabh Gupta is a senior Asia-Pacific international relations policy specialist with two decades of Washington, D.C.-based experience in a think tank and political risk research and advisory capacity.

Source: This article was published by ICAS and was originally released on China-US Focus on September 18, 2023


The Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) is an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to strengthening the understanding of U.S.-China relations through expert analysis and practical policy solutions.

7 thoughts on “The Expanded BRICS At Fifteen – Analysis

  • October 1, 2023 at 4:44 pm

    The flaw in the “optimism” of Gupta is the certainty that a good number of its members will not do that => “For this to be the case, the expanded BRICS countries must also constrain their actions within the ambit of international law.”. The only possible benefit of BRICS to the world will be if it can adopt a solid (probably gold-based) currency. Frankly, I doubt it. In the end the BRICS will not be able to “get along” due to differing aims and goals.

    • October 2, 2023 at 7:35 pm

      I am a Ghanaian citizen, retired after 25 years of practice as a Management Consultant.I have lived studied travelled and worked in many countries. My view is that BRICS will find common denominator ‘currency’ as the basis for determining the relative values of the different currencies being traded amongst the member countries.Just as the post-war circumstances favoured the US Dollar as a unit of exchange, current geopolitical situation has thrown up the idea and impetus for the formation of BRICS..It is incorrect to view BRICS as the intent of any group to unseat the dollar.

  • October 2, 2023 at 5:45 pm

    I think in the end BRICS will BREAK because the main objective is not to benefit the world but to break the US dollar. A lot of countries will suffer if that happens, benefiting only China and Russia. In other words, BRICS is just some sort of proxy weapon against the US. Besides, it is obvious that each BRICS country has their own agenda and the whole BRICS organisation is held together very loosely together by a common objective of breaking the international law and order – just look at the 2 biggest country: Russia trying to annex the whole of Ukraine and possibly more former eastern european bloc nations under the former soviet union and; China claiming the wholebof south china sea as their territorial water, etc. I cannot stop asking myself what will happenbif we let BRICS succeed: likely we will all fall under the rule of iron curtain communist ?

    • October 4, 2023 at 1:48 am

      Russian is not annexing whole Ukraine those in Ukraine who wants to join Russia and voted to Russia, what happened in Donbas is really terrible for those living there at this time till this day in Ukraine want join Russia, because 2014 fighter jets hail bombs on citizens of Donbas in Ukraine and it was bloodie at the time in Ukraine, a serious genocide happened there

    • October 7, 2023 at 8:32 am

      Yes, the main BRICS project is to take the USD down a peg or nine.
      The other major purpose of the BRICS is to provide China with an extended economic base, both in raw-material supplies and markets. Given how the Chinese Communist Party tends to see the world, this relationship is not a two-way street, but something heavily tilted in China’s favour.
      It remains to be seen how far BRICS members, especially the larger ones with more diversified economies like India and Brazil, are willing to go to accommodate China.

  • October 2, 2023 at 10:04 pm

    This an excellent write up and I hope more countries that have shown interest should be given opportunity to join, let’s see BRICS as a global economy driver and as a rival to other economic organs.
    Thank you Mr Gupta.

  • October 5, 2023 at 12:51 am

    I can foresee a kind of rivalry between the dollar and the yian, or whichever other currency the BRICS block may adopt. The world’s economy should not suffer in the process, and the periphery nations must not be reduced to mere footmats of the core nations with healthier economies both in the western and eastern blocks.


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