Perhaps the US really doesn't see the BRICS plans as a serious threat. Or perhaps downplaying the group's intention to bring in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Argentina is simply political strategy. At any rate, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan has said that the BRICS bloc is not a geopolitical rival to the United States because their interests are too different.
The White House is clearly trying not to rock the boat. No one has denounced the initiative as an open attack on American global supremacy. A State Department spokesman said that, in order to maintain global peace and security, the US "will continue to work with our partners and allies in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora ...The US reiterates its belief that countries may choose the partners and groupings with whom they will associate."
Instead Washington is seeking to focus on the 18th summit of the G20 countries, which will take place in New Delhi in two weeks' time. The five BRICS countries will be represented there as will potential new members, Argentina and Saudi Arabia — but not the UAE, Egypt or Ethiopia. Most importantly the US' archenemy, Iran, will not be present. The White House stated that Western nations were looking for "strong outcomes" at the New Delhi meeting that would demonstrate the G20's role as "the premier forum for economic cooperation."
"First and foremost an economic alliance"
Many Western countries remain guarded about the possibility of BRICS becoming a new center of power. Only a few media outlets have ventured to break cover, expressing what many governments may well be thinking behind closed doors.
The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten commented that the BRICS group has "become a global club for authoritarian and reactionary leaders, with China and Russia at their head." The people of these countries deserve better, the paper said.
"The fact that, in the end, only Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were invited to join is a setback for China," Dutch newspaper NRC wrote. South Africa stressed that it was "completely wrong" to see BRICS as an anti-Western platform. "The group is not yet an alternative to the G7, as China would like it to be," the paper concluded.
NRC also wrote that, as long as the economic differences between the member countries remain considerable, the common currency to which Brazil aspires is unrealistic. "In a multipolar world, many countries in the global South are understandably wary of putting all their eggs in one basket," the newspaper argued. "The symbolism of the cooperating global South should not be underestimated but the BRICS group is, and remains, first and foremost an economic alliance."
And what about Germany? In public, the line foreign minister Annalena Baerbock is taking is that it's really not that big a deal, and perfectly legitimate for countries to be looking elsewhere for alliances in the globalized world of 2023. "In times like these, every country in the world is aware of the importance of cooperation and partnership," she said. "Every country must keep asking itself: Which partnership best suits its own values and interests? Which are of most benefit to it in the long run?"
Germany's strategy is clearly to extend invitations, play it cool and emphasize that in Berlin the door is always open to all new BRICS members. Baerbock pointed out that Germany already has channels of communication with them all, except Iran.
The German foreign minister spoke strongly in favor of cooperating with the new members of this group of important emerging economies. She did not share the view being aired in the German media that meetings of the BRICS countries were a problem, she said, pointing out that Europeans, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, and the G20 also had the freedom to choose their meeting partners for themselves.
European Union facing a challenge
However, one member of Baerbock's party is not mincing his words concerning the outcome of the summit in South Africa. "The BRICS summit has established historic facts. This will significantly increase the international importance of BRICS, even if there are appreciable differences between its members," said Reinhard Bütikofer, the foreign policy coordinator of the Greens in the European Parliament. "The character of BRICS will change with this round of enlargement. China's dominance will increase and BRICS will become a clearly authoritarian group," he said.
Bütikofer conceded that the BRICS group is not homogeneous, as can be seen from its stance on Russia's war against Ukraine. Where it does appear to be united is in its "anti-Western" stance, he said. "BRICS was already non-Western, now the emphasis is shifting towards confrontational."
The EU politician warns that the EU now faces a tremendous challenge. "We don't have many years to prove that Europe wants to be a credible, reliable and fair partner for poor and developing countries," he said. "If we don't succeed, then many of these countries may turn to BRICS instead."
This article was originally published in German.