While the US labors to maintain the unipolar world it leads, a multipolar world is springing up all around it. Africa and Brazil cry for it. China and India support it. Germany has whispered it, and France has called for it. Iran and Saudi Arabia are joining the multipolar Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But the most stunning sign of the reality of the new multipolar world may be the explosive growth of BRICS.
BRICS is an international organization whose primary purpose is to balance US hegemony in a new multipolar world. Its roots go back to 1996 and the emergence of the core group of Russia, India and China (RIC). In 2009, along with Brazil, BRIC held its first summit. In 2010, South Africa joined, and BRICS was formed, making it, perhaps, the only major international body in which representatives of Africa and Latin America have an equal voice.
The group is neither an alliance nor a bloc, and it is not against the United States. But it does seek to end the American led unipolar world and replace it with a world with many poles and many nations with equal voices. With members from almost every continent, the BRICS nations represent 3.2 billion people, or almost 41% of the planet’s population.
And that counterbalance is growing. At the recent BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and Thailand were all welcomed as guests. Turkey, a NATO member, is seeking membership. At their annual summit in South Africa in June, the five BRICS members will discuss enlargement and the nineteen countries that have expressed interest in joining. Thirteen countries have formally requested membership in the multipolar organization, and six have made informal requests. Iran and Saudi Arabia have formally requested membership. Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain and Indonesia are all known to have declared their interest. That list represents another 600 million people and would push BRICS’ share of the global population well past 41%. The list also reportedly includes Mexico and at least three other African nations. Russia has previously said that Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sudan and Venezuela are also on the list.
But the growth of BRICS is not confined to membership and share of the world’s population. Thought impossible only a few years ago, BRICS has now passed the US led G7 as the biggest gross domestic product bloc in the world. In 2021, the combined GDP of BRICS reached $42 trillion, or 31.5% of global GDP, versus $41 trillion, or 30.7%, for the G7. That trend is expected to continue. Bloomberg reports that, based on the latest IMF data, in 2023, BRICS will contribute 32.1% of GDP versus a G7 contribution of 29.9%.
In 2014, BRICS launched its own bank, The New Development Bank, as an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF. Financial assistance from the Western controlled World Bank and IMF often comes with dictates for ideological alignment or economic or political structural adjustments. Brazilian President and founding member of BRICS Lula Da Silva has explained that The New Development Bank, “is the product of a partnership among BRICS countries with a view to creating a world with less poverty, less inequality and more sustainability," unlike the IMF that Lula has accused of “asphyxiating countries’ economies.” The BRICS bank has reportedly “approved 99 loan projects totaling more than $34 billion, mainly for infrastructure projects, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.”
But the significance of BRICS goes beyond its economic impact. It was originally conceived as an antidote to US hegemony in international affairs. The two are not mutually exclusive as several BRICS members have called for a BRICS currency as a mechanism to emancipate themselves from US hegemony.
BRICS members have had a significant impact in global affairs, including the world’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the push for multipolarity. Brazil’s president has criticized the US for "encouraging war" in Ukraine instead of "talking about peace." He as challenged the US by "positively receiv[ing] the Chinese proposal" to help broker a peace in Ukraine and by endorsing multipolarity by proposing a joint effort, or a "peace club," that could include the members of BRICS. Brazil has neither joined the US in sanctioning Russia nor voted against Russia in the UN
Lula has been a fierce promoter of multipolarity and a more "just and equitable international order.” He has called for "multilateralism" and for strengthening "BRICS and other multilateral institutions.”
Lula has also suggested that "the BRICS bank have a currency to finance trade between Brazil and China, between Brazil and other BRICS countries" so that countries are not compelled "to chase after dollars to export, when they could be exporting in their own currencies."
India has also declined to condemn Russia at the UN. Far from sanctioning Russia, India has increased imports from Russia, especially of oil, promoting Russia from India’s eighteenth largest import partner to its fourth. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that "Relations between Russia and India have significantly improved," and India has recently called its relationship with Russia "among the steadiest of the major relationships of the world in the contemporary era."
India has reiterated its "commitment to a multi-polar world." Like its BRICS partner, Brazil, India has sought to demote the US dollar by promoting trade with the rupee and by beginning to purchase some of its Russian oil in Russian rubles.
China has supported Russia diplomatically at the UN and economically by offering it an outlet from the sanctions regime. China-Russia trade has swollen to $190 billion a year. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not only “reaffirm[ed] the special nature of the Russia-China partnership,” but "signed a statement on deepening the strategic partnership and bilateral ties which are entering a new era."
South Africa has rebuffed US pressure to join the sanctions regime and has abstained from voting against Russia at the UN. In February, South Africa held joint military training exercises with Russia and China off its coast. The South African National Defense Force said that the drills are a “means to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China.”
South African President Cyril Ramphosa has joined the counter choir of calls for negotiations in the war and has even criticized the US, saying that "The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.”
Like the rest of its BRICS partners, South Africa has continued the call for a multipolar world.
Growing both in size and in economic might, BRICS is amplifying the voice of the global majority in the call for a multipolar world.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.