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Expanding BRICS

Foreign Policy magazine reported on the recent BRICS meeting, which added six new members. It said:

This week’s geopolitical headliner is expanding the clique. BRICS—an economic bloc consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—invited six new nations to join its fold on Thursday, capping off a successful three-day summit in Johannesburg. Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will all be able to add BRICS membership to their resumes.

The move is a historic decision for the organization, further cementing it as a counterweight to Western-dominated institutions, such as the G-7, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank, and paving the way for potential future expansion. “BRICS has embarked on a new chapter in its effort to build a world that is fair, a world that is just, a world that is also inclusive and prosperous,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

But why these six nations were chosen out of the more than 40 countries that demonstrated interest in joining is complicated. Both Brazil and India had initially expressed hesitation over expanding the bloc, saying it could dilute BRICS’s power and hurt their own ties with the United States. Therefore, having nations such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia join appeased those concerns. Both Persian Gulf countries are close partners with Washington and host U.S. troops within their borders. By adding them to BRICS, the bloc would show that anti-U.S. sentiment is not required to join the alliance while, at the same time, pushing against Western influence in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia has not yet confirmed if it will join the bloc, saying it wishes to wait for further details on what membership might require.

Saudi Arabia’s membership would be significant in other ways, too. With Riyadh joining BRICS, the economic bloc would host the world’s largest oil exporter as well as its largest oil importer, China, and another key OPEC+ member, Russia. That would likely lead to greater cooperation on oil production decisions that could vastly impact the global market.

But just because BRICS may be adding two U.S.-friendly nations into the fold doesn’t mean it’s giving up on its goals to act as a bulwark against the West. Iran is a staunch foe of the United States, something it’s not backing down from anytime soon. Joining BRICS decreases Iran’s global isolation and thereby increases its leverage against the United States in any future negotiations it might have with Washington, such as over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Then there are the two African additions: Egypt and Ethiopia. Among aspiring BRICS members, greatest interest has come from the African continent, as the United States, Russia, and China all vie for a foothold there. For BRICS, securing Egypt’s and Ethiopia’s membership diminishes Western influence in a region increasingly turning to Beijing for economic relief and Moscow for arms deals. Both countries would also benefit under BRICS’s policy of noninterference, giving their governments political cover for accusations of rights abuses.

Lastly, there’s Argentina, the only Latin American country to clinch a membership invite. Buenos Aires hopes that BRICS support under its New Development Bank will boost the country’s worsening fiscal crisis, particularly as Argentina suffers from dwindling U.S. dollar reserves. The bloc spent much of the summit discussing ways to support developing nations’ economies, such as by using domestic currencies and China’s yuan instead of the U.S. dollar in trade.

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