BRICS expansion: Shaping global dynamics and India's strategic role - Hindustan Times

BRICS expansion: Shaping global dynamics and India's strategic role

ByHindustan Times
Sep 25, 2023 10:50 AM IST

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Sing, scholar, international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

In the recent 15th BRICS Summit, the grouping took a major step in expanding its reach and influence with the announcement that six more nations have been invited to join as new members. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have received invitations to become full members of BRICS starting from January 1 of the upcoming year. Ahead of the commencement of its annual summit in South Africa this week, over 40 nations had expressed their interest in joining BRICS, with 23 submitting formal applications. The selection of these six countries was based on the consensus reached among the BRICS nations concerning the guiding principles, standards, criteria, and procedures for the expansion process. Finding commonalities among the invited nations is challenging, except for their significance within their respective regions. With the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Egypt, there is a discernible Middle East focus, bearing geo-economic, geostrategic, and geopolitical implications.

BRICS (Reuters | Representational Image)
BRICS (Reuters | Representational Image)

The addition of new members bolsters the BRICS group's influence as a representative body of the developing world. At present, BRICS encompasses approximately 40% of the global population and over a quarter of the world's Gross Domestic Product. With the new members, this representation will expand to encompass nearly half of the world's population and will include three major oil-producing nations: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran. The growing interest in BRICS is driven by two primary motivations: firstly, a significant anti-United States sentiment prevailing globally, leading these countries to seek a platform where they can leverage this sentiment for collective action. Secondly, there exists a strong inclination towards multipolarity—a desire for a forum through which countries from the Global South can demonstrate their unity.

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While the economic performance within the BRICS consortium has shown variations, the war in Ukraine has triggered notable repercussions. This conflict has united Western nations and concurrently reinforced the strategic collaboration between China and Russia. As a consequence, the BRICS grouping has evolved into an ambitious entity that has the potential to challenge the established western geopolitical outlook. Its trajectory positions it as a counterforce to western-led forums like the Group of 7 and the World Bank.

The process of expansion has the potential to bring about two significant alterations within the BRICS institution. First, it might lead to a transformation in the internal negotiation framework. The addition of new members introduces a wide range of differences in terms of economic scale, macroeconomic conditions, and relationships with non-BRICS nations. As the BRICS operates based on consensus-driven decision-making, attaining consensus among eleven countries characterized by diverse economies, geographical locations, and interests proves to be substantially more challenging than doing so among the original five members. To ensure the continued effectiveness and consistency of the institution, in the long run, BRICS might opt to focus on easier-to-achieve objectives.

Second, the inclusion of new members might shift the institution's focus away from its initial geo-economic foundation, where five countries shared similar growth trajectories. Instead, it could transform into a more geopolitically complex organisation comprising diverse economies with distinct characteristics. Calls for swift expansion have been primarily championed by Russia and China. However, efforts to present BRICS as a counterbalance to the G7 could create discomfort for nations like India and Brazil. These countries already find themselves navigating a sensitive equilibrium in their relations with western powers.

While India's participation in the recent G7 summit held in Hiroshima, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi also engaged in an informal Quad summit, was interpreted as an indication of India's alignment with the United States, India’s active participation in BRICS shows that it remains committed to the "non-western" coalition. Due to the historical dominance of economic influence within western-led institutions since World War II, India and other countries from the Global South have often experienced a sense of marginalisation and neglect. For India, the expanded BRICS has the potential to serve as a forum for introducing a fresh and fairer outlook on global collaboration and addressing challenges. Consequently, India also intends to strategically position itself as the voice of the Global South and the new growth engine of the world. The enlargement of the BRICS from a group of five nations to eleven could lead to increased influence for both India and the collective body. This is because the expanded coalition encompasses a higher proportion of energy-producing countries, and there's also the possibility of collaborative efforts to shift trade transactions away from the dominance of the dollar. Additionally, the member countries are likely to leverage the expansion to advocate for reforms within the United Nations and other global institutions.

Although China desires BRICS to embody an anti-western stance, India's perspective is inclined toward maintaining the group as a "non-Western" entity. Among the newly admitted members, India regards each as a valuable partnership to cultivate. Nonetheless, apprehensions have emerged regarding the potential for the group to become more pro-China, potentially overshadowing India's influence and concerns.

The grouping now represents a larger share of the world’s population and economy. However, this only means that the group is potentially a powerful voice for reform of the arrangements for global governance and a powerful actor in these arrangements. Whether it becomes such a voice will depend on whether the expanded group is more effective than the BRICS have been in forging agreements. For BRICS to maintain long-term effectiveness, India and China must address their border disputes and cooperate on complex global matters, including allocating resources for the growth of developing economies. If India aims to genuinely represent the voice of the Global South, harmonisng these diverse interests into a unified stance could present a more formidable challenge than initially anticipated.

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Sing, scholar, international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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