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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Is America’s global dominance fading? Fletcher panel discusses implications of an expanded BRICS

Six new countries just joined an informal — but significant — consortium of fast-growing, non-Western economies.


The BRICS political alliance was discussed at a Fletcher School event, pictured on Sept. 28.

How will the addition of six new countries to an important supranational organization influence the global balance of power? Could it weaken the United States? Fletcher School Professors Daniel Drezner and Abiodun Williams along with Senior Fellow Mihaela Papa unpacked those questions during a panel discussion on Sept. 28 at the Cabot Intercultural Center.

An organization of fast-growing, non-Western economies, the BRICS group meets annually to discuss avenues for economic cooperation and geopolitical advancement. It’s not an official alliance, but more of a loose consortium of countries with a shared interest in chipping away at Western nations’ economic and political dominance.

Since 2010, BRICS has had five member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. At the most recent summit in August, the group admitted six new countries: Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Papa opened the conversation by discussing the potential implications of an expanded BRICS. It could help offset the existing imbalance in global decision-making, she said, where nations in the Global South are underrepresented despite making up the majority (85%, by one estimation) of the world’s population.

Williams agreed, pointing to the makeup of the United Nations’ most powerful body, the Security Council. The council has five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — plus 10 non-permanent members elected to two-year terms.

“If you look at the UN Security Council, the council reflects the realities of political and economic power of a bygone era: 1945,” he said. “Yes, there is China, a member of the council, but there is no India on the council. Africa, which has the largest bloc of votes in the UN General Assembly, 54 countries, is not represented. And you have no countries from Latin America.”

Papa and Williams believe the BRICS expansion as an important step towards creating a multipolar world order, one where the West — and the U.S. specifically — isn’t the sole, dominating force on the global political stage.

Countries in the Global South have become increasingly frustrated by wealthy, Western countries dominating international forums, according to Papa and Williams.

“[The BRICS expansion] highlights growing disenchantment with the prevailing international system, and systemic shocks, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine War, with all its consequences in terms of food and energy security for poor countries and the climate emergency,” Williams explained. “All of these are underlying the deep inequities at the core of the global order.”

The Global South is calling for change, and the BRICS expansion is answering that call. But what will the expansion mean for its member states?

“The world is like … a multiplex cinema,” Papa said, “In every room, there’s a different movie. So, for example, there is a Hindi movie in one and then there is a U.K. movie in another. ... What happens when we have [an] AI or climate change challenge where all the people need to be in the same room?”

BRICS allows member states to discuss issues that transcend borders, Papa said, which is essential to solving transnational issues like climate change. Moreover, it gives member states economic support, most notably by establishing trade pathways between states and allowing them to utilize the New Development Bank.

During the August summit, Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva even proposed the creation of a common BRICS currency to rival the U.S. dollar — a possibility Drezner dismissed.

“The BRICS are not going to replace the dollar. Let’s be very clear about that. There is absolutely no way that is going to happen,” Drezner said. The dollar’s dominance, he argued, will end eventually, but certainly not anytime soon, thanks to its historical precedence as the trade currency of the world.

BRICS won’t transform the global economy, according to Drezner — not yet, anyway. This doesn’t mean the West, particularly the U.S., shouldn’t take notice of the expansion.

“China’s role within BRICS has been changing and BRICS is aligning much closer with China, which affects China/U.S. relations,” Papa said.

Even Drezner, who rejected the idea that BRICS could be creating a multipolar world, acknowledged that the relationships BRICS fosters between China and its other member states is relevant to the U.S.

“What the members of the BRICS have in common is the desire for a more multipolar world,” Drezner said. “We [currently] live in a bipolar world. We have the United States on one hand and we have China on the other.”

Essentially, China is gaining allies through BRICS, and the U.S. cannot afford to lose allies to China, given competitive tensions between the two.

Thus, the professors concluded, the BRICS expansion is bigger than the sum of its parts. It concerns more than just its member states or even the Global South as a whole, and its implications have more to do with the signal it sends to the West than the success or failure of BRICS as an organization.

“[The BRICS expansion] is a signal to the US that there is a need to strengthen and renew its own relationships with allies,” Williams said, “because even in a multipolar world, there are some poles which will necessarily be closer than others.”