The BRICS coalition of emerging economies, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, has declared the inclusion of six new members, as announced by its leaders on the concluding day of their annual summit.
This coalition, presenting itself as an alternative to the predominant US-led global order, has agreed to extend membership to Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, starting from January 2024.
While all the leaders of the alliance have expressed their backing for this decision, analysts posit that the push for expansion is primarily being led by Russia, which is increasingly isolated due to Western sanctions related to the Ukrainian conflict, and China, which considers this development as a momentous milestone.
While critics remain divided regarding the actual impact of the coalition thus far, with some viewing it mainly as a symbolic gesture, the current member states collectively account for 40 percent of the global population and approximately a quarter of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — with the new entrants poised to contribute to these figures further.
However, much like the present diverse composition of the coalition, consisting of three democracies and two autocracies, the fresh additions aren’t all naturally aligned.
According to Priyal Singh, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, the new inclusion seems somewhat peculiar, encompassing a concentrated group of Middle Eastern and North African countries, potentially granting this region considerable influence within the BRICS framework.
Singh pointed out that, similar to the ongoing border dispute between China and India, a few of the new entrants also harbor tense relations. For example, Ethiopia and Egypt have had disagreements concerning the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile River.
Similarly, Iran and Saudi Arabia have a history of diplomatic and military hostilities, engaging in a proxy conflict in Yemen for years.
Their inclusion in the same coalition might seem counterintuitive due to their longstanding rivalry. Steven Gruzd from the South African Institute of International Affairs suggests that there might be surprises in store, particularly considering Iran and Saudi Arabia’s antagonism over the years.
However, the Chinese managed to broker some reconciliation between them earlier in the year.
It’s noteworthy that the six nations set to join next year are just a fraction of the around 40 countries expressing interest in joining the coalition, which positions itself as an advocate for the developing world, often referred to as the Global South.
The final declaration of the BRICS summit underscores the need for reforming global financial institutions and moving away from a system dominated by the US dollar, favoring the use of local currencies.
While the Ukrainian situation remained a significant topic during the summit, with Russian President Vladimir Putin attending remotely to avoid potential arrest under an International Criminal Court warrant, there was no direct criticism of Russia’s actions.
The summit’s concluding declaration addressed various conflicts explicitly but did not directly mention Ukraine while expressing support for the sovereignty of other nations.