BRICS: historic first expansion, USD challenged | Sunday Observer
Johannesburg Summit:

BRICS: historic first expansion, USD challenged

27 August, 2023

The entry of both Sunni Monarchist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as well as Shia Republican Iran simultaneously, as members at the apex of the BRICS geopolitical power bloc, must be sending tremours through First World capitals. The monarchy in Riyadh and the vastly popular theocracy in Tehran were bitter enemies till recently, which kept only NATO (and apartheid-labelled Israel) happy.

That is a geopolitical worry for Washington and Brussels. What also worries Western capitals is the BRICS’ inexorable push towards economic independence from and, countervailing build-up against, First World liquidity especially in terms of currency and fiscal reserves. ‘De-Dollarisation’ looms, whatever the braggadocio of ‘MAGA’ and the ‘conditionality’ of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Although Western great power politicians disparaged BRICS’ new found unified global power, even the Western media grudgingly recognised last week’s summit of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as a challenge to current global dominance by the West.


It may have been a coincidence, but the fact an Indian probe (Chandrayaan-3) touched down on the Moon while the Summit was underway was not lost on international analysts.

The BRICS Summit was hosted by South Africa in Johannesburg on 22-24 August with over fifty other Third World states and major world political bodies, such as the UN, sending representatives. Scores of top global business conglomerates, on invitation, were also represented.

Dozens of countries of the Global South have shown interest in joining BRICS, and 12 had formally applied before Johannesburg, but just six applications were accepted. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been invited to join as full members from January 1 next year.

From its beginnings, BRICS has been driven by a geopolitical pragmatism of States seeking escape from a world system that has first subjugated them and then exploited them.

Free of any legacy of imperialist or colonial mentality, the BRICS’ pragmatism is based on sheer economic and political realism – a realism that looks to a future global community free of power hierarchies and exclusivism. They are keenly aware, however, that it will never be goodwill or morality that will re-order the world system, but careful, pragmatic geopolitics.

‘Countervailing power’ is the name of the game in realpolitik, after all, as theorists from Kautilya to Machiavelli to Sun Tzu have long pointed out.

In the face of a currently rampant United States and NATO that is free of the previous deterrent of the Warsaw Pact allies, the BRICS are taking measured steps toward an end to one-sided superpower hegemony.

‘Multipolarity’ is the first step away from the unipolar order humanity now lives under. And multipolarity, by its very nature of accommodating plural interests, can be expected to lead humanity toward a more stable, better organised, world system. This is the message that comes through from the speeches at Johannesburg.

One cannot go beyond that, at present, and seek things like ‘justice’; not in a BRICS alliance in which the political leaderships – whether in Delhi, Beijing, Moscow or elsewhere - preside over unjust and unequal societies within their States. That has to come later, perhaps with this same multipolarity dynamic helping reorder national societies.

It was this pragmatic strategising that prompted the original BRICS four to quickly expand to five with the inclusion of South Africa to represent the African continent even though Pretoria cannot claim the economic punch nor the military capacities of the other four powers. South Africa’s long struggle and ultimate victor of colonial rule provides Pretoria with a convening power that transcends Africa.

Even though already the sheer scale of economy and market that originally brought together BRICS, geography and geopolitics have clearly been equally important in building this world-straddling alliance. The selection of the six new BRICS members reveals the consistency of geopolitical interests that drive this emerging superpower bloc.

In this first member ‘intake’, there is once more that emphasis on economic capacities. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are both financial heavyweights even as they are geo-strategically located in the world’s greatest concentration of fossil fuel reserves – vital energy sources for two BRICS founders, China and India.

Egypt and Ethiopia are economic lightweights but are military heavyweights. Cairo with geostrategic influence over both West Asia and northern Africa, and Addis Ababa wielding similar influence in the Horn of Africa.

They cover the northern end of the vast African continent as does South Africa the southern end. Nigeria and Algeria are both formal, but yet unsuccessful, membership applicants, but these two West African powers are likely to be part of the next ‘intake’ precisely because of their geographical coverage over that part of the continent.

New member Iran is currently the most stable and self-sufficient State in West Asia and among only a handful of nuclear-equipped States in the world albeit not yet nuclear armed.

Iran’s military dominance at the entrance to the oil-rich Persian Gulf is also of strategic value for fuel-dependent China and India.


The concentration of four of the six new members around, or in, the Persian Gulf betrays the current principal strategic interests of the original BRICS five. Especially India, China and South Africa, are not only focused on the location of natural resources for their industrial power and expansion, but also on the ways and means (regional allies) of defending access to these resources.

Likewise new member Argentina is an economic middleweight (it has gone to the IMF many times) but is South America’s current military heavyweight with also extensive territory that enables it to cover the southern half of that continent.

Argentina has the prestige of standing up, in 1982, to colonial United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands (Known as the Islas Malvinas in South America) located just off-shore in the south Atlantic Ocean, although Argentinian forces were overwhelmed by the technological superiority and sheer wealth of London.

Founder member Brazil, a bigger economic power, is there to cover the South American continent’s northern half as well as the southern Caribbean region where the Panama Canal is located.

Thus, the geographical expansion of membership is designed to cover all the regions of the globe that are politically and economically important to BRICS. China’s historic diplomatic initiative earlier this year in brokering a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia can now be appreciated for the sheer geopolitical mastery in preparing the way for bringing these two vital regional powers into BRICS. Beijing has now paralleled the USA in its global diplomatic capacities.

The Johannesburg Summit is also noteworthy for painstakingly taking the BRICS framework forward in various spheres of geo-strategic action: from the New Development Bank (NDB), to multilateral currency transaction practices, to creating new compulsions for regional trade within the new network of Member countries.

Many of the BRICS group are already beginning to trade using their own currencies rather than the traditional currency of global trade, the US Dollar (USD). Neoliberal economists grudgingly describe this practice as ‘currency swaps’, implying these to be the exceptions to the rule of dollar-based trade.

Saddam Hussein

Not any more. The late Saddam Hussein of Iraq was among the first Third World leaders to attempt to make use of their own national currencies in trade. The dictator of Iraq realised that Baghdad’s oil wealth could go beyond ‘petro dollars’ towards direct international transactions with the national currency. Some analysts point to this move by Hussain as the original motivator for Washington’s and NATO’s invasion of Iraq and elimination of Hussain and his modernist-secularist regime. Decades later, Washington today is reportedly discouraging Saudi Arabia from trading with China using currency swaps instead of the US dollar. Meanwhile, China has offered Riyadh to help start up its nuclear energy production program.

BRICS is now working to create new frameworks that will standardise currency exchanges in bilateral trade using national currencies rather than an additional ‘international currency’, namely the USD. Will BRICS lead the way in what is now being called ‘de-dollarisation’?

Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former President of USA, now in the running to reclaim the Presidency next year, will do well to ponder what this will do to his efforts to “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) presuming that Trump ever really knew what he was really talking about.

But then, becoming the first-ever President to have his mug shot taken inside a country jail over a charge of election racketeering may not be the best way to go about it.