Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in an extraordinary BRICS summit via video conference, while China's President Xi Jinping can be seen on the screen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in an extraordinary BRICS summit via video conference, while China's President Xi Jinping can be seen on the screen.

© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Mikhail Klimentyev

The enlargement of the BRICS group at the beginning of the year to include five new member states raises questions about the political and economic consequences. What do the existing members expect from the expansion? What do the new ones expect? What does BRICS enlargement mean for the West, and what could a liberal response to this look like?

Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the BRICS alliance at the beginning of the year. This was only the second round of expansion after South Africa in 2010. The alliance was founded in 2009 by its namesake countries Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The BRICS group now comprises almost 46 per cent of the world's population (with China and India alone accounting for 86 per cent of BRICS), 36 per cent of global GDP (of which China alone accounts for 65 per cent of BRICS) and 25 per cent of world trade, measured in terms of exports. The new members are thus strengthening their already dominant role as suppliers in the energy and raw materials sector, particularly for crude oil, magnesium and graphite. This global significance of the BRICS group is likely to increase in the future: Around 30 other countries have expressed an interest in joining.

Argentina did not join BRICS. The country had also applied for membership at the summit in Johannesburg in August 2023. As one of his first official acts, the new President Javier Milei withdrew the application. Argentina's withdrawal was in line with the new foreign policy objective of reducing the financial and economic dependence on China that had grown under previous President Alberto Fernández and not cooperating with Russia, after Javier Milei had repeatedly and clearly positioned himself on the side of Ukraine.

Der argentinische Präsident Alberto Angel Fernandez ist auf einem Bildschirm zu sehen, als er am Donnerstag, den 24. August 2023, in Johannesburg, Südafrika, vor dem 15. BRICS-Gipfel spricht.

Argentina's President Alberto Angel Fernandez is seen on a screen as he addresses the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Kim Lubrook

In the following, we want to shed light on what expectations the existing and new member states have of BRICS. We will then show what similarities and differences arise from this, what this means for the West and its political and economic positioning and what recommendations for action arise from a liberal perspective.

© picture alliance/dpa | Sergei Bobylev

What do the current member states expect from BRICS?


Brazil, under the leadership of President Lula da Silva, wants to use BRICS primarily as a platform for pooling the interests of the "global South". This is intended to strengthen the influence of Brazil and its partners, particularly in the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions World Bank and IMF. This objective was emphasised by da Silva's trip in mid-February to the two new African BRICS member states Egypt and Ethiopia, including a meeting at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo and a speech at the African Union in Addis Ababa. It also fits in with Brazil's agenda for the G20 presidency, which the country is holding for the first time this year and wants to use as a spokesperson for the interests of the "global South". A reform of global governance and a stronger voice and institutional representation of the interests of the "global South" are at the top of the list of priorities for the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro in November.

Brazil also wants to establish closer bilateral economic relations with other BRICS countries, both for investments in Brazil (particularly from China) and to secure sales markets, for example for agricultural machinery in Africa. Brazil also expects BRICS to provide new financing solutions. Since 2015, the BRICS group has had its own development bank, the New Development Bank based in Shanghai, headed by Dilma Rousseff, who was Brazilian President from 2011-2016 and previously da Silva's Chief of Staff.

However, Brazil's explicit aim with BRICS is not to set itself apart from the United States and Europe. On the contrary, Brazil sees BRICS as part of the solution to its diversification strategy and openness in all directions. The country is endeavouring to use its importance as the largest and economically strongest country in South America, its wealth of resources and its significance in terms of climate policy to exert greater political influence on the United States and Europe.



Russia holds the BRICS presidency this year, and President Putin is inviting his counterparts to the summit in Kazan in October.

Russia is pursuing two key strategic goals with its BRICS membership, both of which have the potential to severely impact the existing Western-dominated world order. On the one hand, the Kremlin is seeking to open up new sources of sales following the loss of Europe as the main buyer of the only marketable Russian export, namely fossil energy in the form of natural gas and oil. With an eye on China and India, Vladimir Putin has already gained significant customers in this way. It is unlikely to be very effective for the West to appeal to China and India, the largest emerging industrialised countries in the East, not to import energy from Russia. Both countries have economic interests at the forefront of their minds. Both are still faced with the task of lifting millions of people out of abject poverty. The rise of the middle class in Asia, as in the western industrialised nations before it, has so far been inextricably linked to a greater need for energy.

However, even more important to the Kremlin than sales policy in the geopolitical competition between systems is the opportunity, as the BRICS leading power, to become the antithesis of the West and, as the advocate of the "global South", to charge itself with - from the Kremlin's perspective - moral legitimacy. Putin has evidently recognised that his invasion of Ukraine has raised questions around the world about the moral integrity of the Russian model of rule. Russia is thus capitalising on emerging conflicts such as the one between Israel and Hamas or the precarious situation in the Sahel region to use disinformation and propaganda to present itself as the advocate of the "poor South" against "Western capitalism". This is all the easier because many other BRICS member states are by no means led by flawless democrats, but are also autocratic. Russia is undeniably successful in its propaganda offensive to turn the global conflict between autocracy and democracy into a conflict between South and North, in which the (Western) North - according to the Kremlin's narrative - is not a haven of freedom, democracy and human rights, but the supposed "oppressor" of the majority of the planet's population.



India's interests in BRICS are as diverse as its memberships in international institutions. India's perspective on BRICS is characterised by a so-called "multi-alignment", i.e. a foreign and security policy perspective that does not strictly adhere to a single geopolitical centre of power, but is characterised by participation in various forums. Here, the Modi government's "multi-alignment" is modelled on India's policy of "non-alignment" in the East-West conflict.

The policy of "multi-alignment" gives India the opportunity to take on different foreign policy roles and thus pursue different strategies. Within the BRICS group, this is expressed in India's claim to represent a counterweight to Russia and China and consequently to balance this power bloc politically and economically in order to contain its influence. This balancing act is reflected within BRICS in the confrontation with China, particularly in the "global South". Here, India and China are competing for the favour of various developing countries, whereby India's claim to be the leading power of the "global South" has not yet been fulfilled.

The character of the Indian multi-alignment is also reflected in India's role as a bridge builder to the West within BRICS. As a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, India is a close partner of the USA, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific region and aims to limit China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. India sees China as a latent threat, not as a true ally. The diverging interests of the BRICS member states - for example between commodity producers and commodity importers such as India and China - ultimately raise the question of the extent to which the BRICS states have sufficient means and resources to pursue a collective interest with joint capacities. The current conflict-ridden structure of interests is likely to become even stronger as a result of the latest round of enlargement. India supported the accession of all new members, but particularly the accession of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. At the BRICS summit in August 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised that the expansion and modernisation of the BRICS is a sign that the world's institutions need to adapt to the changing times.

Der indische Premierminister Narendra Modi nimmt an einer Pressekonferenz im Rahmen des 15. BRICS-Gipfels im Sandton Convention Centre teil.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a press conference during the 15th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre.

© picture alliance/dpa | Sergei Bobylev


Beijing dominates BRICS. Although China has recently ceased to be the most populous country in the BRICS group, it is by far the strongest economically. The Chinese economy is larger than that of Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil combined. China also has by far the greatest weight on the international stage. China's dominance within the group has not changed as a result of enlargement. On the contrary: countries such as Ethiopia, Egypt and Iran are economically and in some cases financially dependent on China. This could become even stronger as a result of closer relations due to BRICS.

It is in China's interest that the more anti-American countries are now clearly in the majority in the expanded BRICS group. This is because Beijing remains on a confrontational course towards the USA and the West as a whole. Should the conflict with the USA escalate further or the situation in the Taiwan Strait escalate, China sees the BRICS group as a kind of "insurance policy" against international isolation. It has already proved to be such an insurance policy for Russia.

In addition to strengthening its own position, China is pursuing a further, longer-term goal with the BRICS expansion: to become less dependent on the US dollar and American clearing and payment systems such as SWIFT. China has already established the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS), its own system for international payment transactions. The motivation for this is that the USA uses the SWIFT exclusion as a sanction instrument. It is true that China's alternative CIPS has hardly been used to date, with the majority of international trade still being conducted in US dollars. However, an initial success within the BRICS group was the agreement to settle trade in their own currencies in future. As China is the largest trading partner of all BRICS countries, more international payments will potentially be made in Chinese renminbi than in US dollars.


South Africa

South Africa, the small "S" of the large BRICS founding states Brazil, Russia, India and China, received an invitation to join the alliance of states in 2010 and took part in a BRICS meeting in China for the first time the following year.

By joining BRICS at an early stage, South Africa hoped to strengthen its economic relations with these major emerging economies in particular. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of around USD 405 billion in 2022, South Africa is the strongest economy in sub-Saharan Africa alongside Nigeria, but is a dwarf compared to the other BRICS countries, whose GDP ranges from USD 1.92 trillion (Brazil) to USD 17.91 trillion (China).

The fifth meeting of the BRICS states in 2013 in Durban, South Africa, was held under the motto "BRICS and Africa - Partnerships for Integration and Industrialisation". South Africa saw itself as the gateway to the African continent with its great potential for economic development due to its growing consumer markets and abundant raw materials. The country hoped that its closer links to important global players would promote the continent's development.

In addition to economic interests, the political interests of South Africa's government now also play a major role in joining the alliance. Leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), which has been in power since 1994, were trained in the Soviet Union and are strongly influenced by it ideologically. The party still sees itself as a liberation movement - liberation from apartheid, colonisation and influence from the so-called "West". In the context of the 15th BRICS Summit, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2023, multipolarism was the big buzzword. South Africa's government sees itself as a pioneer for an Africa that is increasingly self-confidently propagating its own opinions and behaviours, some of which are in stark contrast to those generally accepted by the multilateral global community. With the accession of Egypt and Ethiopia, South Africa has now reached another milestone in this endeavour.

What do the new member states expect from BRICS?


Egypt hopes to gain both economic and geostrategic advantages from joining the BRICS group. As the largest and most populous country in the Middle East and in view of its geographical location at the interface between Africa and Asia as well as the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, including the Suez Canal global trade route, Egypt is particularly affected by geopolitical developments.

Thus, joining BRICS is also fuelled by Egypt's traditional striving for geostrategic multipolarity and the highest possible degree of foreign policy autonomy, with analogies to Egypt's leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement at the height of the East-West conflict.

Furthermore, highly indebted Egypt, which is in the midst of a profound economic and financial crisis, hopes that joining the BRICS group will have a positive economic impact.

BRICS membership is expected to facilitate Egypt's access to favourable financing opportunities and new investments, particularly in the areas of infrastructure and economic development. The expectations of technological exchange and capacity building through cooperation with the BRICS members in the field of renewable energies should be mentioned here in particular.

The Egyptian military regime is also hoping for greater political support and approval from the other BRICS member states in regional conflicts (e.g. Libya, Sudan, Nile countries) and geopolitical challenges, an aspect that has become even more important as a result of the current Middle East conflict.



Ethiopia is of increasing geostrategic importance as a core country in the Horn of Africa and due to its proximity to the Red Sea and the Middle East. In addition, the capital Addis Ababa is the seat of the African Union. The country, with a population of around 120 million, has annual growth rates of over 5 per cent and is already striving to further expand its rapidly growing economy against this background. At the same time, even accession to the WTO is still a long way off.

The fact that Ethiopia was chosen to join this BRICS round out of a total of around 30 potential members is certainly not least due to its close economic ties with BRICS heavyweight China. As part of its "Belt and Road" infrastructure initiative, China has invested heavily in Ethiopia, including in a railway line to the seaport in neighbouring Djibouti and a metro in the capital. Even the office building of the African Union was built by the Chinese government.

Ethiopia is suffering from high inflation and high national debt. The country hopes that BRICS will expand its economy with new partners among the member states. Deutsche Welle quotes Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide, who said the following in an interview with the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN: "Ethiopia's BRICS membership is above all a very important diplomatic gain for us. Ethiopia will continue to co-operate with its existing partners, which is important to know. But Ethiopia will also massively expand relations with new partners such as the BRICS countries, whose economies are growing rapidly." Less helpful in this context is the smouldering conflict with Egypt over its position on Somalia and the use of the Nile.



For Iran, too, there are obvious economic and geopolitical interests behind the motivation to join the BRICS alliance. Against the backdrop of the conflict between Iran and the West, Iran hopes that BRICS, which it sees as a counterweight to the Western-dominated order, will shift the balance of power in its favour and thus reduce its international isolation. Closely linked to this is the hope that the alliance will also mitigate the economic impact of Western sanctions. The regime in Tehran hopes that a partnership with the BRICS countries will lead to greater investment and technological expertise, particularly in the areas of energy and infrastructure development. Access to new markets through membership also raises expectations of economic recovery and diversification.

Membership could also give new impetus to the stalled rapprochement or understanding with Saudi Arabia, which has been supported, if not initiated, by China, and emphasise Iran's role as an important regional power even more strongly. This aspect is particularly topical in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Iran actively supports all three terrorist actors (Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels) financially. At the same time, it contributes to Iran's destabilisation policy towards Jordan when Jordan's neighbours and key countries in the region act in the same alliance through the BRICS membership of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Existing local and regional rivalries, such as with Saudi Arabia, can thus be better controlled or contained from an Iranian perspective.


Der iranische Präsident Ebrahim Raisi spricht während der Außerordentlichen Gemeinsamen BRICS-Tagung in Teheran, Iran, am 21. November 2023.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during the BRICS Extraordinary Joint Meeting in Tehran, Iran, 21 November 2023.

© picture alliance / Anadolu | Iranian Presidency / Handout

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is striving for closer cooperation with the BRICS countries in order to drive forward its economic diversification and reduce its dependence on oil. As a leading oil exporter, Saudi Arabia sees joining BRICS as an opportunity to develop its economy on a broader basis and open up new trade opportunities. In addition, membership of the BRICS group could help Saudi Arabia to strengthen its regional ambitions and play a greater role in the geopolitical arena.

BRICS can indirectly reactivate the rapprochement with its former major rival Iran, which had been put on ice, strengthen its own weight as a regional power and improve its standing on the international political stage. Saudi Arabia is particularly keen to play a leading and mediating role in the Arab world and hopes that membership will lead to greater support from the UAE and Egypt. As part of its ambitious "Saudi Vision 2030" agenda, Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman is striving to radically modernise and diversify the country at an unprecedented speed, which is also reflected in a more aggressive domestic and foreign policy. Saudi Arabia also wants to make itself less dependent on the USA, its long-standing close and strategic partner.


United Arab Emirates

The UAE's motives for joining are primarily economic in nature. BRICS membership opens up the opportunity for expanded access to the large and rapidly growing markets of the BRICS group. This can create new opportunities for bilateral trade agreements and investments and help the UAE to drive its economic diversification away from oil. In addition, the country expects to benefit from the increasing "de-dollarisation" and promotion of trade in local currencies within the BRICS group. This could help to reduce dependence on Western currencies and strengthen the UAE's resilience to economic sanctions and fluctuations on the foreign exchange markets.

Through membership of the BRICS group, the UAE also hopes to gain access to financial resources and technological know-how to modernise its infrastructure and promote its economic development. In particular, co-operation with China and India can help the UAE to strengthen its bilateral trade relations and open up new markets. The UAE is also likely to benefit from its participation in BRICS in the form of a more active role in financing infrastructure projects and sustainable development in the region. This offers the UAE the opportunity to utilise its financial resources more efficiently while deepening its diplomatic relations with other BRICS members.

While the economic benefits of membership are obvious, politically speaking, UAE membership brings with it several problems, if not obstacles. The UAE currently has close relations with Western countries, particularly the US, and is an important partner on security and trade issues. These alliances of the UAE could be at odds with efforts by parts of the BRICS group to position themselves in a geopolitical competition as a counterweight to Western-dominated institutions and political systems. Furthermore, the Emirates are part of a region characterised by numerous conflicts and tensions, including the conflict in Yemen, the tensions with Iran and the conflict in Libya. A policy of non-intervention or neutrality in these regional conflicts by the BRICS group could be at odds with the UAE's interest in playing an active role in resolving regional issues.

What does enlargement mean for the future political and economic role of BRICS?

As the above individual analysis of the interests of the BRICS member states shows, there are some similarities but also considerable divergences. There are also some existing conflicts within the BRICS group, such as between India and China in the Himalayas and between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam on the Nile, as well as religious tensions such as between Iran and Saudi Arabia, for which the BRICS organisation has not yet been able to develop solutions. In general, there is no common orientation or manifesto of principles. All the BRICS states have in common is an interest in being more strongly represented as political and, in particular, economic superpowers and middle powers in global multilateral organisations, especially the United Nations and Bretton Woods organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or in establishing alternative structures, such as the New Development Bank.

The BRICS countries also share an interest in stronger bilateral economic cooperation and triangular transactions to promote and secure sales and procurement markets, including financing solutions for the provision of infrastructure capital and liquidity assistance. The aim of BRICS is to become more independent of the previously dominant role of Western financial and capital markets. New payment flows and funds are to be created through the establishment of a BRICS currency as an alternative to the dollar, a stronger handling of intra-BRICS trade in their own currencies and a stronger capitalisation of the New Development Bank as BRICS' own development bank.

It is questionable whether this goal makes sense or is even feasible. In view of the dominant role of the dollar as the global currency and the lengthy process of establishing a new currency that enjoys the trust of international partners - as even the example of the euro shows - a far-reaching decoupling from the West in terms of financial and monetary policy seems unrealistic in the short to medium term. At USD 100 billion, the capitalisation of the New Development Bank is also still limited compared to other development institutions. In addition, the example of the eurozone shows how difficult it is to implement monetary policy coordination without economic policy guidelines. This is all the more true for such economically, geographically and politically diverse players as the BRICS group.

These considerable differences are also reflected in the political and economic interests within the BRICS group. Some states, such as China, Russia and Iran in particular, are explicitly pursuing an objective in geopolitical systemic competition that is directed against Western institutions and values. Membership of the BRICS group also makes it easier to circumvent economic and/or political sanctions. Other countries, such as Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, hope that BRICS will lead to greater diversification, but remain aligned with the West.

A liberal response to BRICS

Formal cooperation between multilateral institutions and the Western community of states with the BRICS group is currently inconceivable. On the one hand, this is due to the heterogeneity of interests within the BRICS group and, in particular, the interests of some BRICS states that are explicitly directed against the institutions and values of the West. Secondly, inter-institutional cooperation would be made more difficult by the current lack of an organisational structure for BRICS. To date, the alliance has neither a permanent seat nor a secretariat, but operates on the basis of rotating presidencies of the member states.

From a liberal perspective, the aim should rather be to give individual BRICS states, such as Brazil and the African member states, the opportunity to become more closely involved in the global governance of multilateral organisations. The West's lip service must be followed by action. At the same time, the BRICS states with a claim to greater participation should also realise that more say, including representation in multilateral decision-making and management bodies, must always go hand in hand with more responsibility.

The critical human rights situation in most BRICS countries is just as incongruous with this as aggressive rhetoric and misplaced interpretations of history, such as Brazilian President Lula's recent Holocaust comparison in the Gaza conflict. A rules-based liberal foreign policy also includes clearly addressing the universal validity of human rights and civil liberties politically.

It is also important to expand political and economic relations between the West and individual BRICS states that do not openly oppose the West and its values in order to make them allies rather than adversaries. Many BRICS states, especially among the new members, have not joined the alliance out of ideological conviction or because they expect BRICS to bring them economic benefits (as important and legitimate as this is). Rather, they want to demonstrate to the West that they have alternatives if it does not make them appropriate and attractive political and economic offers. There is then a risk of a vacuum being created that other countries, such as China in particular, would be only too happy to fill.

In this context, for example, the trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, which has been under negotiation for 22 years, should finally be finalised. The negotiations on a free trade agreement with India must also be swiftly brought to a successful conclusion - as the EFTA Group has just demonstrated. Europe as a whole must recognise that the growing political and economic importance of the "global South" is a fact. It is in Europe's own geopolitical and economic interests to enter into new strategic partnerships geared towards longer-term cooperation. This also includes respecting the national sovereignty of the BRICS states and not using trade policy to impose instructions, conditions or even sanctions against alleged violations of exaggerated Western ideas of environmental or social standards that go beyond principles agreed under international law and undisputed appropriate minimum standards (e.g. prohibition of child labour).

Such an approach offers Europe the opportunity to gain international allies. Politically in favour of a rules-based global order, democracy and freedom. Economically for greater prosperity through trade, investment and resilient supply chains in the form of new sales and procurement markets as well as required raw materials (e.g. rare earths). At the same time, the partner countries have opportunities for real "win-win situations", especially if the EU finally ends its agricultural protectionism.

This is also Europe's geopolitical claim, in contrast to China with its often quick and supposedly tempting short-term investment offers due to the financial support. The risk of expropriation in the event of payment defaults and low local employment effects due to the predominant use of Chinese labour stand in contrast to the enormous financial support provided by the West through the IMF, World Bank and other development institutions. The focus here is precisely on strengthening the long-term economic development of the respective country itself in partnership and not unilaterally withdrawing resources, as is often the case with Chinese investments.

BRICS expansion round as a wake-up call for the West

In conclusion, it can be said that BRICS does not yet pose a threat to the West in view of the heterogeneity of its composition and interests as well as its still weak organisational substructure. Nevertheless, it should be seen as a warning sign for the West that, beyond the ideological rivals China, Russia and Iran, many middle powers with ties to the West are also looking for alternative or complementary alliances of states. Dual membership in alliances of states should be possible in principle, but only on the condition that BRICS sees itself as representing the interests of the "global South", but not as a group - particularly politically - hostile to the West in the geopolitical competition between systems. It remains to be seen in which of these two directions BRICS will primarily develop. However, the West itself must also become active by making political and economic offers to BRICS states that are fundamentally willing to co-operate. This is all the more important as the BRICS group is likely to continue to grow in future in view of the interest shown by dozens of other countries in all parts of the world in joining.

The latest round of BRICS enlargement should therefore be a wake-up call for the West and not be ignored as a "non-event". The hope that the "superstars" within BRICS (especially China and India) will block each other and that the diversity of voices and interests of the individual members will prevent a stronger political and economic influence of the BRICS group may be deceptive in the medium to long term.