The new BRICS format

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By FYODOR LUKYANOV*

The idea of ​​giving BRICS a clear anti-Western bias was incorrect – with the exception of Russia, no member intends to maintain antagonism with the West

In a speech at the end of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg on August 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reassured those who wondered what the acronym would sound like after the addition of six new letters: “Everyone is for keep the same name, it has already become a brand.” Aware of this or not, the diplomat made an important observation. The brand has acquired a life of its own, although it no longer exists as an entity.

It gave way to a new form. Continuing with the metaphorical theme, we can say that the BRICS of the original model transferred the franchise to another creature.

Until this month, BRICS was a group with the possibility of transforming into a more or less structured organization or, instead, a free-form community. The second option was chosen.

There has been talk about the expansion of BRICS for a long time. But the discussions seemed pointless because there were no criteria for this to happen. The structure is deliberately informal, with no statute, procedures or coordinating bodies. Thus, classical diplomacy has worked – with direct negotiations, without the involvement of international institutions – to reconcile national interests. The only decision-making platform is meetings of member state leaders, and if they agree amicably, everything works. This is how the new states were invited – this was discussed and decided.

It is clear that the selection caused confusion – why them, what is the logic? But there was none, it was just agreed.

This is an important event. It is not about the number and quality of host powers, but about the choice of development model. Until now, the BRICS has been a compact group whose members, despite all their differences, have remained united by their ability and willingness to chart an independent course, free from external constraints. There are few states in the world that can boast of this – some do not have sufficient military and economic potential, and others already have commitments to other partners.

But the five more or less fit this profile. For this reason, BRICS was seen as a prototype of a structure that would be a counterweight to the G7 (behind which is rigid Atlantic unity). Hence the expectation that BRICS would deepen and institutionalize interaction through the creation of common structures and gradually become a unified force on the world stage.

But these calculations were unfounded. Not so much because of the differences between countries, but because of their size, which does not imply self-restraint for the good of anyone, including like-minded people. The idea of ​​giving the BRICS a clear anti-Western bias was also incorrect – with the exception of Russia, no member now intends to maintain antagonism with the West. In short, BRICS-5 would have remained a promising and very symbolic prototype without the prospect of becoming a functional model.

The future BRICS-11 – and beyond – is a different approach. Expansion is hardly compatible with complete institutionalization, as it would be very complicated. But there is no need for that; the expansion of the community's borders is now evident. The criteria are not essential. So what if Argentina or Ethiopia are in debt and have almost none of what was originally considered the hallmark of the BRICS? But these, and probably some other candidates from the next wave, are expanding the sphere of non-Western interaction.

This, by the way, is the only condition for an invitation: not to participate in Western military and political coalitions. The other parameters are conditional.

China is the main supporter of expansion. The new configuration is convenient for a power that promotes slogan of “a common destiny” that is unspecified and uncompromising. The BRICS franchise is more aligned with global trends than the previous type of BRICS. A rigid structure is unpopular; most countries in the world want a flexible relationship with maximum scope so as not to miss opportunities.

This new approach is acceptable to Russia. It is not realistic to turn BRICS into a battering ram against Western hegemony. But it is in Russia's interests to expand the sphere of interaction, bypassing the West and gradually creating appropriate tools and mechanisms. In fact, it is in everyone's interest, because hegemony no longer warms anyone's heart, it only limits opportunities.

Success is not guaranteed; enlargement could lead to the automatic addition of new countries on a formal principle. But in general, the soft separation between the West and the non-West is an objective process for the coming years.

Thus, the popularity of the BRICS franchise will grow.

*Fyodor Lukyanov is a journalist and political analyst.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the portal RT.


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