The Rise of BRICS: The Story of How Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa Shaped a New Global Order

The acronym BRICS, representing the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has become a ubiquitous feature of 21st century international relations and economics. Since the turn of the millennium, these nations have profoundly shaped global dynamics through their rapid growth, increasing political coordination, and demands for greater representation.

This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the BRICS phenomenon – its conceptual underpinnings, genesis, evolution of intra-group cooperation, shifting roles in global governance, accomplishments and limitations. It tracks BRICS from an abstract economic category to a concrete institution via multilateral coordination. The analysis reveals how five disparate rising powers have collectively formed a non-Western pole in an increasingly multipolar world.

Theoretical Context: Conceptualizing Rising Powers

Discourse on emerging powers gained traction in the 2000s as developing countries led by China and India achieved sustained high growth [1]. This challenged Western dominance of the post-WWII order. Debates proliferated around how rising states would integrate into or confront established institutions and norms [2].

Conceptually, international relations scholars categorized certain countries as emerging powers or middle powers based on criteria like economic size, diplomatic capacities and regional leadership claims [3]. This highlighted the non-static, transitional nature of power in global affairs.

BRICS as an Economic Category

The BRIC concept originated in 2001 at investment bank Goldman Sachs, which predicted Brazil, Russia, India and China could become a much larger force in the global economy by 2050 [4]. South Africa joined in 2010 to form BRICS. The category rested on several common characteristics:

  • Large populations and territorial size
  • Rapidly growing economies
  • Increased participation in global trade and investment flows
  • Abundant natural resources fueling development
  • Distinct demographic profiles with youth bulges
  • Emerging technological and R&D capabilities [5]

This forged them as especially promising emerging markets for finance capital and multinational firms [6]. But it was initially just an economic category rather than a political bloc.

The Rise of Non-Western Multilateralism

From sporadic meetings at the UN and G20 during the 2000s, the BRIC countries realized they shared interests in reforming global governance frameworks perceived as dominated by the West to better accommodate rising powers [7].

This spurred moves towards formalized coordination to leverage their growing weight. Concrete cooperation began through annual BRIC Foreign Minister summits from 2006 [8]. In 2009, the first BRIC leaders’ summit was held in Russia, inaugurating the shift towards an institutionalized alliance to push for a greater voice in institutions like the IMF and WTO [9].

South Africa joined in 2010 to provide an African perspective. BRICS now emerged as a force challenging global structures from the developing world. Shared identities as post-colonial states aiming to rectify economic and political inequality in the international system bound them together [10].

BRICS Summits: Consolidating Cooperation

BRICS summits rapidly developed as an arena to coordinate positions, initiatives and institutions. Annual summits were anchored by joint declarations staking unified stances – for example opposing Libya’s NATO bombing in 2011 [11]. Criticism of Western-dominated financial systems recurred, especially after the 2008 crisis [12].

Subgroups like the BRICS Trade Ministers meetings fostered sectoral cooperation [13]. The summits also spawned permanent institutions like the BRICS New Development Bank to finance infrastructure and a Contingent Reserve Arrangement as an alternative to the IMF [14]. A BRICS Payment System was implemented in 2015 [15].

These structures boosted BRICS autonomy and solidified the alliance as more than just shared grievances against the global order. Intra-BRICS bonds strengthened across various domains.

Expanding Engagement and New Institutions

Beyond its summitry BRICS expanded its activities and entities:

  • Academic forums like the BRICS Network Universities were launched for scholarly exchanges [16].
  • Policy planning groups like the BRICS Think Tanks Council were created for expert interactions [17].
  • The BRICS Business Council was formed to guide commercial partnership [18].
  • Blocs of parliamentarians, civil society leaders and labor unions developed BRICS ties [19].
  • Cultural cooperation was fostered through events like the BRICS Film Festival [20].
  • Initiatives targeted youth, such as the BRICS Youth Summit [21].
  • BRICS gained observer status in multilateral bodies like the Non-Aligned Movement [22].

This proliferation of engagements embedded BRICS within diverse communities and policy domains. It built organic linkages between BRICS countries across various levels.

Differentiation Within BRICS

However, BRICS should not be seen as a unitary bloc. Tensions and asymmetry mark relations [23]. There are divergences on issues like India and China’s border disputes, Russian energy pressures on Europe, and competition between China and India in Southeast Asia and Africa [24]. Economically, China dominates, accounting for over 70% of BRICS GDP [25].

BRICS struggle to balance unity and diversity. But selective cooperation in technical areas like trade and finance continues despite political and security differences [26]. The forum represents loose coordination between rising powers rather than a formal alliance. Alignment remains contingent and tactical depending on circumstances.

Shifting Global Role

As BRICS consolidated internally, its role in global governance evolved. Initially BRICS served mainly as a pressure group for established institutions like the IMF to enact reforms giving emerging powers more sway [27]. For example, BRICS advocated greater representation on the basis of economic weight rather than just historical quotas [28].

But with inconsistent results, BRICS states pivoted from pressuring existing structures towards creating their own parallel institutions like the NDB [29]. This allowed for greater autonomy in economic and political strategy. The balance thus shifted from transforming existing frameworks towards developing BRICS-centered mechanisms and linkages between developing country blocs.

Broader South-South Cooperation

Beyond just its five members, BRICS situates itself as a leader of the broader Global South. The summits involve outreach meetings with regional partners like ASEAN and the African Union [30]. The NDB also aims to support infrastructure financing across emerging economies.

The BRICS Plus concept suggests building a wider platform for South-South cooperation beyond the core members [31]. India’s presidency in 2022 championed this approach. This leverages BRICS as a nucleus connecting the developing world. But co-opting weaker partners sustains asymmetry.

Geopolitical Impact

As BRICS expanded its remit, experts debated its impact on world order geopolitics. Some characterized BRICS as a counterbalance halting Western primacy and enabling a multipolar order more equitable for developing societies [32]. Others argued BRICS merely sought greater status within the existing system rather than disrupting American hegemony [33].

Realists saw BRICS as an anti-Western bloc challenging the US [34]. But liberals contended it embodied cooperation between diverse rising states with some convergent and some competing interests [35]. Its geopolitical role likely lies between these extremes – recasting global dynamics but not radically overturning power balances.

Economic Implications

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Similarly, analysts split on whether BRICS represented authentic democratization of global economic governance or merely assimilation into the capitalist order [36]. Neo-Marxists argued BRICS ultimately reinforced global inequalities due to dependence on western capital and technology [37]. But others highlighted BRICS emphasis on human development over just growth [38].

In practice, BRICS economic strategies exhibit both resistance and conformity to neoliberal norms. The bloc prioritizes South-led development financing, trade and FDI [39]. But simultaneous endorsement of market principles persists. The economic implications remain contested.

Limitations and Critiques

For all its ambitions, BRICS has faced critiques:

  • Cohesion remains limited given diverging interests between members [40].
  • Converting rhetoric into concrete influence is difficult, as with IMF reform attempts [41].
  • Development financing pledges lag behinddemand across the Global South [42].
  • Democratization is questionable given dominance by large authoritarian states like China and Russia [43].
  • Benefits have disproportionately flowed to elites rather than common people [44].
  • Environmental standards, labor protections and human rights have been overlooked [45].
  • Charges of neocolonial relationships with Africa and extractive stances towards climate change [46].
  • Security cooperation remains minimal, unlike Western alliances [47].

These criticisms reveal BRICS states advocating for their own influence more than broadly reforming global affairs. But given vast developmental needs, even modest successes carry weight.

BRICS in the Era of Growing Multipolarity

Looking ahead, BRICS role depends on broader geopolitical trajectories. Some analysts expect containment from the West as U.S.-China rivalry grows [48]. Others foresee BRICS fading as members like Brazil and Russia stagnate economically [49].

But if multipolarity continues expanding with diversified power centers, BRICS may consolidate linkages between the Global South as Western primacy recedes [50]. Much remains contingent and uncertain. With flexibility BRICS could endure as an anchor between emerging economies.


Iran, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates join, as of January 1, 2024, the group of emerging countries that want to gain influence in the world.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) will expand their group and invite six new states to join them.

Iran, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will join, as of January 1, 2024, the group of emerging countries that want to gain influence on the world stage.

An agreement has been reached between the leaders of the bloc gathered at a summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, and formal invitations should be launched this Thursday.

Such an opening could allow the group to wield more influence on an increasingly polarized international scene, with Beijing and Moscow seeking to form a counterweight against the West.

“The membership will take effect from January 1, 2024,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told a joint press conference of the leaders of the five nations that currently make up the bloc.

“With this summit, the BRICS are starting a new chapter,” he said. Between them, the BRICS countries represent around 40% of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Some forty countries had applied for membership or expressed an interest. According to the leaders of the “club of five”, which produces a quarter of the world’s wealth and brings together 42% of the world’s population, this enthusiasm shows the growing influence of emerging countries on the world stage.


The question of the expansion of the group was the priority of this 15th summit which opened on Tuesday. A heterogeneous alliance of geographically distant countries and economies with uneven growth, the BRICS had to agree on the strategic choice of new entrants.

The negotiations took place during a plenary session held behind closed doors on Wednesday. Bilateral meetings have also multiplied since the opening of the summit.

China, a heavyweight accounting for around 70% of the group’s GDP, was clearly in favor of expansion. But India, another economic engine of the group which is wary of the ambitions of its Chinese regional rival, had reservations.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, recalled that a “consensus” on the modalities should be found. The decision-making process within the BRICS requires unanimity.

Brazil also feared that an expansion would “dilute” its influence globally and within the bloc, observers said.

The BRICS reaffirmed their “non-aligned” position at the summit, at a time when divisions have been accentuated by the conflict in Ukraine.

The United States has said that it does not see the BRICS as future “geopolitical rivals”, ensuring that it wants to maintain “solid relations” with Brazil, India and South Africa.


In conclusion, the trajectory of BRICS over the past two decades reveals the progressive institutionalization of cooperation between major rising powers discontented with Western dominance. From an economic concept, BRICS has become a real political force via summits and structures that socialized distinct nations. It exhibits the collective organizing capacity of the developing world.

But asymmetries, divergences and limitations persist. BRICS is far from a unitary bloc seamlessly coordinating policy. Its future will hinge on broader geopolitical currents. At its best, BRICS can serve as a bridge between diverse rising powers reshaping global dynamics. But fundamental reform remains incremental. Nevertheless, the alliance has cemented itself as a conduit between non-Western states, even if national interests continue driving its members’ calculations. Their shared identity and purpose as voices from the Global South in an era of flux will continue driving BRICS evolution.


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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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