Speaking at the end of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reassured those wondering what the acronym would look like after the addition of six new letters: “Everyone is in favor of keeping the name the same, it has already become a brand”. Whether he knew it or not, the diplomat had made an important point. The brand has taken on a life of its own, even though as an entity it no longer exists.
It gave way to a new form. Continuing the metaphorical theme, we can say that the BRICS of the original model transferred the franchise to another creation.
Until this month, BRICS was a group with the possibility of transforming itself into either a more or less structured organization or a free-form community. The second option was retained.
The enlargement of BRICS has been discussed for a long time. But the discussions seemed pointless because there was no criteria for this to happen. The structure is deliberately informal, without a charter, procedures or coordinating bodies. Thus, classic diplomacy was at work – with direct negotiations, without the involvement of international institutions – to reconcile national interests. The only platform where decisions are made is at meetings of member state leaders, and if they agree amicably, it works. This is how the new states were invited, it was discussed and decided.
Of course, the selection caused confusion: why, what is the logic? But there wasn’t, it was just agreed.
This is a momentous event. It is not a question of the number and quality of host powers, but of the choice of development model. Until now, BRICS was a compact group whose members, despite all their differences, were united by their ability and desire to chart an independent path, free from external constraints. Few states in the world can boast of this: some do not have sufficient military and economic potential, while others already have commitments to other partners. But all five more or less do the trick. For this reason, the BRICS were considered the prototype of a structure that would act as a counterweight to the G7 (behind which a rigid Atlantic unity is hidden). Hence the hope that BRICS will deepen and institutionalize interaction by creating common structures and gradually become a unified force on the world stage.
But such calculations were unfounded. Not so much because of the differences between countries, but rather because of their size, which implies no restraint for the sake of anyone, including like-minded people. The idea of giving BRICS a clearly anti-Western bias was also wrong: with the exception of Russia, no member now intends to continue antagonism with the West. In total, the BRICS-5 would have remained a promising and very symbolic prototype with no prospect of becoming a functional model.
The upcoming BRICS-11 – and beyond – is a different approach. Enlargement is hardly compatible with real institutionalization, because that would be too complicated. But this is not necessary; widening the boundaries of the community is now self-evident. The criteria are not essential. What if Argentina or Ethiopia were in debt and had almost nothing of what was initially considered the hallmark of BRICS? But they, and probably other candidates of the next wave, are expanding the sphere of non-Western interaction.
This is also the only condition for an invitation: non-participation in Western military and political coalitions.
Other parameters are conditional.
China is the main supporter of enlargement. The new configuration suits a power which promotes the slogan of a “common destiny” indeterminate and without commitments. The BRICS franchise is more in tune with global trends than the previous type of BRICS. A rigid framework is unpopular; most countries in the world want a flexible relationship with maximum reach so as not to miss out on opportunities.
This new approach is acceptable to Russia. It is unrealistic to make BRICS 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 the appropriate tools and mechanisms. In fact, it is in everyone’s interest, because hegemony no longer warms anyone’s hearts, it only limits opportunities.
Success is not guaranteed; enlargement can lead, on a formal principle, to the automatic addition of new countries. But generally speaking, the smooth separation between the West and the non-West is an objective process for the years to come.
From our partner RIAC