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BRICS Summit 2023: Clarifying the Vision and New Members

BRICS, an informal platform aiming to bring a new or reformed world order was only recently, compared to NATO, EU, and G-7, established. The acronym contains the initial letters of the main five members: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The acronym first appeared in a research paper published in 2001 by Jim O'Neill, former Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs, when South Africa was not included. The growth potential of the other four members was mentioned, and it was estimated that these countries would outgrow most European countries in terms of both GDP and growth rates if they grew to their potential. The part of the predictions that includes India and China remains relevant despite COVID-19, while Russia and Brazil are underperforming economically, Jim O'Neill reports[8].

According to the BRICS Information Portal, the first BRICS-based dialogue between the states started in 2006 at the United Nations General Assembly, at the proposal of Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, with a meeting attended by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Russia, and China, and the Indian Defense Minister. The first BRIC (South Africa joined in 2011) Summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on June 16, 2009, while the international questioning of the US-based economic structure after the 2008 economic crisis was being made.

Now that we have some general information about BRICS, let us examine its objectives, its position in international relations, and its approach to world events. The official website for the BRICS 2023 Summit mentions that it has three pillars of cooperation: Political and Security Cooperation, Financial and Economic Cooperation, and Cultural and Person-to-Person Cooperation.

First and foremost, let’s look at the Political and Security Cooperation. The most striking phrase under this heading should be the discourse of a “reformed United Nations”. Multilateralism, equality, and representation are terms that have been emphasized commonly by BRICS states. Indeed, the idea of a reformed UN could be directly linked to these terms. According to this term, BRICS states consider the United Nations as a venerable but insufficient institution. In a recent Summit for a New Global Financing Pact President Ramaphosa expressed widespread criticisms of "Western world order" by African nations crediting his colleagues who spoke at the summit.

While you may agree that the aforementioned discontent is a valid agenda that needs to be listened to, the recognition of BRICS as anti-western is controversial. One of the major reasons for this is that BRICS is not formalized; it does not bind its members to strict conditions that should be followed by every member country. Therefore, we cannot say that every member is anti-western, and it is a well-known fact that some of its members are trying to establish advanced economic relations with the USA and European countries.

The BRICS countries have a large share of the world's population and nearly %30 of the world’s GDP. Therefore, if Russia and Brazil can show the potential growth mentioned above, and if new members are added, they can become even more important in the world economy. BRICS countries have also created new institutions to create alternatives to the economic order. For example, the New Development Bank is a bank similar to the World Bank or IMF (International Monetary Fund) established by the BRICS countries that provides financing to both private and state initiatives, and it has welcomed new members in 2021. At the same time, infrastructure investments such as water supply, telecommunications, and transportation are also supported and funded within BRICS as part of economic cooperation.

The issue of sanctions is the most important point because it is a factor slowing the rise of the BRICS economies. Since the reserve currency is the dollar, the amount of dollar reserve a country owns is an important factor in keeping its local currency valuable. The most important factor in maintaining the balance between the dollar and the country's currency is foreign investors, and sanctions can cause foreign investors to withdraw their money from sanctioned states to other cheap-labored countries. In addition, increases in the prices of products imported in dollars are highly reflected in countries, and debts borrowed in dollars can increase in proportion to the depreciation of the country's currency. All this shows the importance of a reserve currency, and the BRICS countries discussed this issue at their last summit. Although no definite conclusion was reached, it is seen that trading in local currencies instead of dollars is encouraged.

Political commentators point out that there are points where BRICS countries have conflicting interests on the reserve currency issue. Therefore, it is considered an unrealistic expectation for BRICS countries to choose a currency instead of the dollar and accept it as a reserve currency. This would endow the currency of the country chosen as the reserve currency with an unbalanced power, and its relevance to the BRICS discourse of difference from the so-called outdated world order is questionable. There are other alternatives, such as a decentralized currency.

The last topic, Culture, and Person-to-Person relations, is particularly important in terms of country images. Since sanctions often restrict participation in sporting and cultural events, athletes, scientists, and artists from countries like Russia are negatively affected. In addition, many developing countries need to cooperate to provide opportunities for their citizens who are talented in these fields at the level of developed countries. The BRICS 2023 Summit website states that it is also useful in many other areas such as the development of tourism, mutual information sharing, and understanding of different education systems.

Finally, here is the summary of the key events of the BRICS Summit 2023, held in South Africa on August 22-24:

  1. Russian President Vladimir Putin is considered a war criminal by the International Criminal Court, and if he leaves the country, he must be arrested in any country that recognizes the court's authority. Since South Africa is one of the countries bound by the court's ruling, Putin attended the summit online.

  2. As a result of the unanimous decision taken at the summit, 6 new members are joining BRICS. They include the natural resource-rich countries; Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia. The new members are expected to contribute to issues related to opposition to petro-dollarization, problems in international relations, food supply, and infrastructure building.

  3. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among the participants of the BRICS summit, several countries were in attendance as guests, and the foreign ministers of the BRICS countries were tasked with finding new potential partners and contributing to the development of the BRICS model of partnership.

  4. The procedures for BRICS enlargement were agreed upon. All member states support the decision to hold the next summit in Russia. Regarding the reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, the members maintain their national positions as stated in the United Nations Security Council.

  5. The bloc calls for the need to make progress towards the achievement of a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system, ending hunger, achieving food security, and improved nutrition.

On Tuesday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan attempted to play down the bloc's expansion plans. He said that due to BRICS countries' divergence of views on critical issues, he did not see it as "evolving into some kind of geopolitical rival to the United States or anyone else.” This statement reveals some of the West's thinking on BRICS and suggests that territorial disputes among the members may pose problems for the formalization of BRICS. Let's not forget that BRICS cannot become an effective counterpower to create change without formalization, except for the exchange of ideas and cooperation, but we have already mentioned above that not every member is anti-western or anti-American.

There are also commentators who describe BRICS as a group that agrees on what it opposes but has no idea about how to reform or what it wants. For example, organizations like the New Development Bank also suffer from sanctions because we still live in a Western-centric financial sector, which the BRICS claim. In addition, the biggest difference between BRICS and Western states is the issue of liberal values. Do the BRICS want a world in which liberal values are not dominated in the international arena and remain the internal affair of each state, or do they want an organization that protects authoritarian regimes that are opposed to liberal values, freeing them from sanctions and opening space for trade? It is up to you to think about this question and decide. We will always hope for the best scenario for the world to happen and that the world will evolve into a better place over over all conflicts.

Written by Nehir Türkmen

Edited by Melisa Altıntaş

Works Cited:

“Three Pillars of Cooperation.” BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, 2 October 2022.

Granville, Samantha. “Brics summit: Is a new bloc emerging to rival US leadership?” BBC, 24 August 2023.

“BRICS Sets Out Key Points in 15th Summit's Declaration.” Sputnik, 24 August 2023.

du Plessis, Carien, et al. “BRICS welcomes new members in push to reshuffle world order.” Reuters, 24 August 2023.

“The BRICS Summit 2023: Seeking an Alternate World Order?” Council on Foreign Relations, 31 August 2023.

“President Ramaphosa's remarks at Closing Ceremony of the New Global Financing Pact Summit in France.” YouTube, The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa, 23 June 2023.

“History of BRICS.” BRICS Information Portal, 2015.

O'NEILL, JIM. “Jim O'Neill: Is the Emerging World Still Emerging?” International Monetary Fund, June 2021.

Acharya, Bhargav, et al. “What is BRICS, which countries want to join and why?” Reuters, 21 August 2023.


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