The potential expansion of the BRICS group of nations could fundamentally transform the future of global alliances, but it will likely fall flat. BRICS is an acronym for its member countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The countries created an alliance as a counterweight to similar Western partnerships in 2009.
Since South Africa gained entry in 2010, there has been a constant debate about expanding the bloc to include more countries from the emerging world. The expansion debate recently kicked into high gear but reveals more about China’s foreign policy interests than those of the BRICS. The original and ongoing challenge facing the BRICS remains the ability of emerging market economies to create institutions that compete with Western counterparts successfully.
The decision to include more members won’t bring the objectives any closer. South Africa’s ambassador to the bloc confirmed that the BRICS would decide this year on whether to admit new members and by which criteria. Saudi Arabia and Iran have formally asked to join the group along with countries like Argentina. Renewed interest in expanding the group of nations took shape last year while China was the chair nation.
There is precedent for including new members without changing the delicate relations between member countries. The New Development Bank, the BRICS development bank created as a counterweight to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, has already included several countries outside the founding nations. Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates joined the bank in 2021. Egypt and Uruguay are expected to be admitted to the bank soon.
Joining the bank to facilitate transactions is different to joining the bloc as a full member. According to one economist interviewed by Bloomberg there is little economic logic in expanding the bloc at this stage because there is no clear collective purpose. Without clear objectives regarding trade, health, green energy, and other issues, there is little point in adding new members. This hasn’t stopped the list of interested countries from growing. The UAE, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, Indonesia, and several African nations have all expressed strong interest in membership.