At the BRICS foreign ministers meeting, a focal point of utmost importance revolved around deliberations on the growing trajectory of the bloc’s expansion
On June 2, the meeting of foreign ministers of the BRICS countries, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, began in Cape Town. Apart from the member states, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Comoros, Gabon and Kazakhstan, which are called “Friends of BRICS,” also sent representatives to the meeting. It is also known that Egypt, Argentina, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia actually participated in the BRICS meetings.
Opinions were exchanged on global and regional issues during the foreign ministers’ meeting, which has critical importance before the leaders’ summit meeting of BRICS, which will be held in South Africa in August. Among the topics discussed at the meeting were topics such as U.N. Security Council reform, protection of multilateralism, unilateral international sanctions against international law, regional and global security issues, sustainable development, global economy, fight against terrorism, climate and energy security.
In this heavy agenda, it is possible to say that certain issues left their mark on the meeting. First of all, the host of the meeting, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, in the opening speech of the summit, reemphasized BRICS’s anti-West rhetoric by saying, “The developed countries have never fulfilled their commitments to the developing world and are trying to shift all responsibility to the Global South.”
As it is known, BRICS was a project put forward by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001 (the only BRIC at the time). In 2010, South Africa was included in this formation. The main purpose of the formation is to act independently from the West in the economic and diplomatic fields and to break the Western hegemony in the international system. In this context, it is also possible to say that BRICS is a formation against the G-7. As remembered, strong messages against China and Russia were given at the G-7 meeting, which took place between May 19-21. It is possible to say that the foreign ministers of the BRICS members also responded to the G-7 messages in a way.
Although the hegemony of the West in the international system has not been fully broken yet, BRICS, with its current members, has approximately 42% of the world’s population, a quarter of the global gross domestic product (GDP) and 26% of the world’s geographical areas. For this reason, it has agendas that worry Western actors, especially the United States. Russia and China, which are already founding members, have openly anti-Western rhetoric and actions in foreign policy. With BRICS, which promises expansion, it is aimed to gain strength against the West and bring the international system to a multipolar structure. Issues such as the reform of the U.N. Security Council and the damage caused by the Bretton Woods system to the global economy are frequently emphasized by BRICS members and other supporting countries.
Putin’s participation in doubt due to warrant
The second issue that marked the meeting was the question about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s participation in the summit in August, for whom an arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
As is known, South Africa is a member of the ICC. Therefore, South Africa faces pressure to arrest Putin if he attends the summit.
In the press statement after the meeting, this issue was the focus of attention of many journalists. After persistent questions, Pandor stated it is a standard procedure for South Africa to provide diplomatic immunity to the participants of the summit and that this situation is not taken against any decision made by international courts. In the continuation of his speech, he said that they will continue to evaluate “legal options” to host Putin. After these statements by Pandor, it is obvious that South Africa will not arrest Putin in any way if he attends the summit.
However, according to a Bloomberg report, South Africa may leave the hosting of the summit to China or Mozambique. Thus, South Africa can break the pressure on itself due to being a member of the ICC.
Perhaps, the most crucial point of the BRICS foreign minister meeting was the discussions on the expansion trend of the formation. The intention of at least 19 members, including Türkiye, to join the BRICS is known. So far, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Indonesia, Egypt and the UAE have applied for BRICS membership. On the other hand, the UAE, Uruguay, Bangladesh and Egypt became members of the New Development Bank (NDB), which was established in 2015 by BRICS members to lend to development projects in developing economies. Bank officials reported they had important discussions regarding the membership of Saudi Arabia to the bank.
During the meeting, promising rhetoric about enlargement was shared, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar emphasized BRICS should be formed after the enlargements, and that works should be carried out on the standards and principles required for participation. This is a point that should be carefully considered. Although Russia is the founder and one of the most powerful members of the formation, it is known that Russia caused direct and indirect damage to BRICS due to the Russia-Ukraine war. In fact, the NDB, which was established by BRICS to provide loans to development projects and provided $33 billion in loans to over 96 projects with five founding members, stopped transferring funds to Russian projects after the Ukraine war.
Bank officials announced the funds were stopped to prevent the secondary effects of the Ukraine-Russia war on BRICS and the NDB. Therefore, it is important to be selective in accepting membership, as there is always the possibility that a member within the bloc will bring new problems rather than benefits to BRICS.
Saudi Arabia’s involvement crucial
Saudi Arabia’s participation in BRICS and NDB has immense importance. Because, as it is known, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest crude oil exporters. It also owns 15% of the world’s oil reserves.
According to a news report published recently, while OPEC+ members slowed down oil production, Saudi Arabia started to work to increase daily oil production from 10 million barrels to 13 million barrels per day by 2017. Therefore, the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the formation is vitally important for ending the petro-dollar, which BRICS sees as essential to breaking the Western dominance of the global economy. As Saudi Arabia trades oil within BRICS in the future, many actors, especially European countries, who need its oil, may trade with a new currency instead of dollars. There are already discourses on the creation of a common currency within the BRICS.
Saudi Arabia’s accession to membership will not only offer advantages to BRICS. When the representation rates of BRICS in the world population and economy are considered, Saudi Arabia will be able to access a wide trade and economic network and the room for negotiation in its relations with the U.S. will enlarge.
China has long cared about the participation of Saudi Arabia and Iran in BRICS with their enormous potential. For this reason, China brought the parties together at the same table by ending the seven-year conflict between Riyadh and Tehran with its mediation efforts. Even during the meeting in Cape Town, private meetings were held between Iran and Saudi Arabian foreign affairs. This development has two meanings: first, BRICS will expand against the West, especially the U.S., and become the symbol of multipolarity in the global arena. The second is that China gives the message that it is the most powerful actor in strategic regions, especially in the Middle East, not the U.S. anymore.
As a result, we can say that the enlargements to be experienced in BRICS after the upcoming summit will lead to significant changes in the global system. However, this change is not a change of hands of global hegemony by overthrowing the U.S. as expected by China, Russia and Iran. The inclusion of important actors in the global economy such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, Venezuela and Algeria in BRICS will not eliminate the petrodollar in the short and medium term. On the contrary, it may create new tensions between the East and West by paving the way for a new polarization in the global economy. After all, BRICS can become a key symbol of multipolarity in the international arena.
On the other hand, there are two states that will benefit most from these developments: China and Russia. With the expansion of BRICS, which is in a dominant position, China will turn its long-standing expansion strategy into a tangible success. Russia, on the other hand, will overcome the isolation enforced by Western actors because of the ongoing war in Ukraine through the BRICS channels.
It is not yet known for certain whether the BRICS leaders’ summit in August will take place in South Africa, as previously announced, or in another country. All that is known is that Western actors, especially the U.S. and other G-7 members, and the rest of the world will follow BRICS developments, worried about how their destinies will be shaped.
Huriye Yıldırım Çınar/kafkassam Afrika çalışmaları