The BRICS has been one of the central platforms of the Lula government. In it, the government seeks to advance the idea of greater participation and representation of the Global South countries in the international decision-making process. The invitation for the accession of six countries to the BRICS, made at the 15th Summit in South Africa, which concluded on August 24, should be understood within the framework of this movement to seek greater economic, political, and geographic representation of the grouping. After all, if the invitations are accepted, as of January, the group will include one more Latin American country, Argentina, two more African countries, Egypt and Ethiopia, and three Middle Eastern countries, the major oil producers Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Although enlargement was seen as a foreseeable path for the BRICS, the approval of the six countries even before the criteria were defined came as a surprise. The surprise can largely be attributed to the war in Ukraine, an event that, while decisive for the entry of the new members, ended up functioning as an invisible agenda.
Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin could not attend the Summit because of the risk of being arrested by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, the conflict in Ukraine was both present and absent at the same time. Absent because it was avoided because Russia, the power that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, is a member of the BRICS. And present, because following the conflict that led to Russia’s relative diplomatic isolation and the intensification of rivalries between China and the United States, these two countries need geopolitical and geoeconomical allies to balance the power of the United States and the Western bloc.
In turn, the asymmetry of power within the BRICS in favor of Russia and, above all, China, created the conditions for both powers to impose their agenda on countries such as Brazil. The latter, on the one hand, defended the principle of an increasingly inclusive bloc, was reluctant to an expanded and disorganized inclusion of members that could make it lose its leadership role and create problems of political coordination.
At the same time, the war in Ukraine has given impetus to the operationally complex ambitions to de-dollarize the economy, which is a claim of Lula’s government. The economic sanctions imposed on Russia, including the Russian Central Bank’s access to dollar reserves and its expulsion from the Swift payment system, have demonstrated the willingness of the United States to turn the dollar and the international financial system into weapons of war. This securitization of the dollar could have a boomerang effect against the very hegemony enjoyed by the dollar since the end of World War II, as it could contribute to the search for more reliable alternatives that are less subject to blackmail in times of geopolitical instability.
In this sense, Brazil finds itself in a delicate balance: on the one hand, it supports both the expansion of the BRICS and the de-dollarization of the economy with the aim of moving the system centrifugally toward multipolarity. That is, toward a system in which there would be several poles of power, but, on the other hand, it could become hostage to an increasingly polarized order in two antagonistic poles of power. Brazil faces, therefore, the difficult task of contributing to opening a space for dialogue and multilateral coordination in which the countries of the Global South can act with relative autonomy from the great centers of power.
Brazil has been demanding coherence from China and Russia in relation to the BRICS’ own objectives of democratization of the international system and the opening of spaces to take advantage of some of its historical agendas, such as the reform of the Security Council.
The entry of new members to the BRICS group, for example, was Brazil’s way of obtaining an explicit declaration from Russia and China, as stated in the Final Declaration of the Summit, in favor of the democratization of the UN Security Council with the entry of Brazil, but also of India and South Africa. In this regard, it is worth noting that, despite the entry into the BRICS of a number of states with a history of human rights violations and authoritarianism, Brazil managed to negotiate the opening of a space in the declaration in which the terms of democracy and human rights were present and in which the importance of applying them, both at the level of global governance and at the national level, was emphasized.
Brazil has also succeeded in bringing a regional ally, Argentina, into the grouping. It is still unclear whether Argentina will actually join the grouping, given that Javier Milei, the favorite in the Argentine primaries, has spoken out against the country joining the bloc, saying that it will not join the “communists”, has distilled hatred toward China and against the BRICS, and has proposed the dollarization of the country’s economy.
In this way, if Argentina’s accession to the BRICS is announced in January, perhaps we can conclude that we have won another small victory for Brazil. Depolarizing and opening ground for dialogue and politics in a scenario in which all alternatives seem to be exhausted in the face of the insistence of the United States and Russia to solve their conflicts by military means, seems to be one of the productive channels that are opening up for Brazil, Latin America, and the Global South.
*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Portuguese.