Expansion of the BRICS?

Image: Marina Leonova


Expanding the number of countries sounds like a good idea, but it is not – neither for Brazil nor for the BRICS as a whole

The BRICS are currently discussing two strategic issues: the entry (or not) of new countries into the group and the creation (or not) of a new currency sponsored by them as part of the efforts to de-dollarize the world economy. The two themes will, as far as we know, be on the agenda of the BRICS leaders' summit to be held in South Africa in less than a month. I'll deal with the first and leave the second for another time. I will give a counterintuitive answer to the issue of expanding the number of countries. It sounds like a good idea, but it is not – neither for Brazil nor for the BRICS as a whole.

The BRICs were founded by four countries in 2008 – Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa joined later, in 2011 (with the acronym changing from BRICs to BRICS). What do the five have in common? Among other things, the economic, population and geographic dimension. This point, we will see, is crucial to answer the question posed. The original four members are among the planet's giants. South Africa is not comparable in size, but it is one of the most important nations in South Saharan Africa. I discussed the origins, characteristics and initiatives of the BRICS in my most recent book – Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard, especially in the second edition, published in 2021.

The number of emerging and developing nations applying for membership in the BRICS is very expressive. They are countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America – an unequivocal sign of the group's growing prestige in the so-called Global South. It is reported that dozens of countries would be interested in joining, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Argentina.

Are the BRICS interested in welcoming new countries? China and Russia support the idea. Supporters of the group all over the world, including in Brazil, have manifested themselves in favor of the initiative, sometimes with enthusiasm, seeing it as part of the consolidation of a multipolar world and the definitive overcoming of Western hegemony.

These supports are entirely understandable and even intuitive, but intuition is not enough, particularly in intricate subjects like this. An examination of the issue reveals, in my view, that expansion is of no interest either to Brazil or to the BRICS as a group. This has, in fact, been the traditional position of Brazil, since China put the issue up for discussion in 2017. The position is, I admit, a little unsympathetic – how to disappoint, for example, our dear Argentine allies who are among those who Have you expressed an interest in joining? But let's face it, the fear of disappointing other countries should not override the strategic national interest.

Despite being complex, the subject can be explained, in its essential points, relatively briefly. Expansion tends to harm the BRICS in two ways: (a) first, by making the group's operation more complicated, especially if the number of new members is large; and (b) second, because there is a risk that smaller nations, potentially less independent and more vulnerable to pressure from the United States and the rest of the West, will enter.


A enlargement hampers the functioning of the group and weakens its cohesion

The first point seems obvious. Groups like BRICS, G7 and G20 operate by consensus. Even with just five members, it has always been difficult to reach a common understanding on the various issues put on the table since 2008. In my book cited above, I described the tortuous negotiations between the five to create the New Development Bank (NBD) and the Contingent Arrangement BRICS Reserve Board (ACR).

We struggled to establish and run our development bank and monetary fund. Imagine, reader, how the group with, say, ten members or more will work. Any enlargement, I believe, will have to be geographically balanced. Thus, the group will grow to a minimum of ten, perhaps 15 members, with each original member sponsoring the entry of one or more neighboring or politically proximate nations. Is it not clear that the difficulties of coordination and consensus building will grow exponentially?

The second point is equally important. Few countries in the world, even among the developed ones, compare to the original four BRICs in terms of size and importance. New members will almost always be smaller, more dependent and perhaps more likely to be influenced by the US or Europe. Partly because of this, they may also be more subject to changes in government and even political regime, which would make them unreliable or less reliable as strategic partners.

To give an example from our region: the Argentina that would join today is that of Alberto Fernández, close to the international point of view of Brazil and the other BRICS. But what direction will Argentina, a deeply polarized society, take after the presidential elections at the end of this year? Will we have a government similar to the current one, or an extreme right-wing one, or even a traditional right-wing one, allied with the US? Better not risk it.

I say this with all modesty, because we Brazilians don't have much moral to express this kind of concern. After all, not long ago we elected a President of the Republic like Jair Bolsonaro. In any case, with Lula, we took a different path, more consistent with our membership in the BRICS. And, more than that, we can now have well-founded hopes that Jair Bolsonaro was an outlier.


The expansion does not interest Brazil

Looking at the issue from an exclusively Brazilian perspective, there are still other reasons to reject the expansion of the group. Increasing it to ten or 15 members would considerably dilute Brazil's weight, reducing our influence. The same argument applies to Russia, India and South Africa.

For China, no. One of the reasons for rejecting the group's growth is precisely the reason that makes the idea attractive to China. Not by chance, it was she who launched the proposal, having also been the sponsor of South Africa's ticket 12 years ago. The risk for us is that among the new members of the group there will be nations dependent on China, whose influence today reaches not only countries in Asia, but also in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Several emerging and developing economies depend on China for trade, investment, development finance and even emergency balance-of-payments support. In its current configuration, the group is already unbalanced, due to the relative weight of China. Magnification would exacerbate the problem.

Russia, which might object to the expansion of the group, currently has another, perfectly understandable, position. Engaged in a war that it considers an “existential threat”, Russia welcomes everything that can reinforce the BRICS as a representative pole of the Global South in opposition to the West. China has a similar motivation, as it also faces systematic hostility from the US, which sees its rise as a strategic threat.

Brazil must understand China's and Russia's priorities, of course, but it cannot assume them as its own. We are interested in preserving some internal balance within the group, preventing the Chinese from increasing their influence further. And we cannot reason like the Russians, accepting that the BRICS become an instrument of struggle against US imperialism and the rest of the West. For us, it is interesting to maintain the BRICS as a pro-BRICS and pro-other developing countries cooperation group, and not as an anti-West or anti-anything else group.


Alternatives to increasing the number of members

The Brazilian government can, at the limit, block the entire process of expanding the group, preventing a consensus from being formed. However, to avoid unpleasant isolation, it would be opportune to propose another format for the expansion of the BRICS I see two possibilities, both interesting for Brazil and for the group: (a) accelerating the entry of new countries as partners in the NBD, today chaired by the former president Dilma Rousseff; and (b) formalize and expand the mechanism already in existence for some years, called BRICS+, which allows the participation of non-members in the group's activities, including annual summits.

Finally, I will expand on these two possibilities, which are non-excluding and even complementary. On the first: the expansion of the NBD was part of the original plans of the development bank created by the BRICS, but it made little progress in its first eight years of existence. The new president of the NBD is committed to speeding up the process, which is essential for the bank to become a world-class institution, as we intended from the beginning. It can be assumed that many of the countries interested in joining the BRICS political formation also want to become members of the NBD. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have already joined the bank and are, as I mentioned, wanting to join the BRICS.

The functioning of the BRICS political formation – this is the second interesting alternative – can be adapted to give more space to nations that want to approach the group. BRICS+ has worked well. In 2014, for example, under the presidency of Brazil, in the Dilma Rousseff administration, Brazil invited the countries of South America to the summit in Fortaleza.

All came and participated in a meeting with the five leaders of the BRICS. Something similar was organized by South Africa in its shift presidency in 2013, when all or almost all countries on the African continent attended the BRICS summit for a dialogue with the five leaders. In other domes, a more or less similar format followed. Each year, however, the composition of the group of guests changed, and their participation was basically restricted to the summits.

A step forward could be taken by creating a permanent group of countries that would form a second circle and would have access to summits and ministerial or other meetings organized by each BRICS presidency. Without prejudice to involving an even larger group, it would be possible to extend the invitation to five or ten countries, with some geographic balance, which would become, if accepted, members of the BRICS articulation without, however, becoming full members.

They would, however, be represented in the various activities and instances of cooperation in operation in the BRICS, without having the right, however, to participate in meetings of a more strategic nature that would continue with only the five current members. The BRICS would become broader and more influential, without threatening its internal balance, its political independence and the operational agility that only a lean group is capable of providing.

That was what I wanted to argue, male or female reader. I hope that the Brazilian government does not get carried away by merely sympathetic, falsely interesting proposals, and does not give in to pressure from other BRICS, whose agendas and interests, naturally, do not always coincide with ours.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. is an economist. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letteron July 28, 2023.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles


  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • João Cândido and the Revolt of the Whipwhip revolt 23/06/2024 By PETRÔNIO DOMINGUES: In the current context, in which there is so much discussion about State reparations for the black population, the name of João Cândido cannot be forgotten
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • The collapse of Zionismfree palestine 80 23/06/2024 By ILAN PAPPÉ: Whether people welcome the idea or fear it, Israel's collapse has become predictable. This possibility should inform the long-term conversation about the future of the region
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Why are we on strike?statue 50g 20/06/2024 By SERGIO STOCO: We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions