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BRICS Summit: The Foundation for a Multipolar World – Part 1

By Somar Wijayadasa*

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part article dealing with an issue of immense interest to our readers and a subject that affects all developing countries.

NEW YORK. 28 August 2023 (IDN) — With a massive gathering of leaders of non-Western nations—surpassed only by that of the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit meetings—South Africa hosted the 15th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg from 22-24 August 2023, under the theme: BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.

BRICS unites the largest non-Western world economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

An unprecedented participation

Around 1,200 delegates from the BRICS nations, dozens of other developing countries, and 65 leaders from the Global South attended the Summit —perhaps the largest-ever BRICS gathering in terms of foreign participants.

Other dignitaries participating in the Summit were the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Chairman of the African Union Commission, the President of the New Development Bank, the Chairs and Executive Heads of African Regional Economic Communities, African financial institutions, and the Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat.

The prominent absentee was Russia’s President Vladimir Putin—a founding member of BRICS. By mutual agreement, Putin decided not to attend the Summit. Instead, Putin fully participated via video conferencing, and Russia’s veteran top diplomat, Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, represented Russia at the Summit.

Such impressive participation at the Summit and its remarkable achievements debunk the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s contemptuous garden metaphor that “Europe is a ‘garden’ and the rest of the world is a ‘jungle’‘.”

Such derogatory comments prove the starkly divided world we live in today and the perception and the ingrained animosity of Western leaders towards the rest of the world. 

A Summit for Peace and Development

The Summit took place amid a divided world due to sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, US ‘trade wars’ with China, inequalities between the North and South, the US’ unilateralism, weaponization of the US dollar, and its rules-based international order—with countries of the Global South seeking a better deal for themselves.

Also, it took place when many countries in the Global South aspired to remain independent without taking sides with the United States, Russia, or China—or without taking sides in the raging war in Ukraine. 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping and other leaders have reiterated at various international forums that “The illegitimate sanctions practice, the illegal freezing of the assets of sovereign states, and, in fact, the violation of all the basic norms and rules of free trade and economic life, which not so long ago seemed unshakable, also have a serious negative impact on the international economic situation.”

But all of them have one thing in common: All countries in the Global South are united in finding favorable and peaceful solutions to their problems.

During the first two days, BRICS leaders addressed the most crucial global and regional problems, calling for more economic cooperation and collaboration in health, education, and climate change.

The most significant and impatiently anticipated accomplishment at the Summit was admitting six new members to the organization.

Since more than 40 countries were clamoring to join BRICS, with 23 of them doing so officially—the whole world anxiously awaited (many with optimism and others with trepidation) the final decision of the Summit.

I would first dwell on the expansion of BRICS and discuss the Summit’s discourse in part two of my article and the significance of its final Declaration in part three.

Much ballyhooed expansion of BRICS

On the final day of the summit, having unanimously agreed on the fundamental guidelines, principles, and processes for electing new members, its leaders finally announced that Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will officially become full members from January 1, 2024. 

The BRICS leaders agreed that the group’s name will not change to demonstrate continuity.

Now, with eleven member nations, the expanded BRICS will serve as the “foundation stone” for building a free and just multipolar world and heralds a new era for BRICS.

BRICS now consists of wealthy “heavyweights” with advanced militaries, oil and gas exports, food producers, and countries with booming populations in strategic locations.

[For example, Brazil, China and India are among the biggest food producers in the world; Russia and South Africa are leading producers of gold, diamonds, bauxite, lithium and chromium; Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the biggest oil producers and exporters; and Ethiopia is rich in gold, platinum, tantalum, copper, niobium and offers vast potential in oil and natural gas exploration. Iran, Egypt and Argentina are also rich in multiple resources – too numerous to mention.]

Adding these powerful countries will bolster BRICS’ global influence; their combined GDPs would race ahead of the US and other Western powers and open up lucrative trade and investment opportunities to develop their economies within BRICS and other countries of the Global South.

Furthermore, using their currencies—as agreed—these countries could mitigate the impact of potential sanctions, lower their dependency on the dollar in international transactions, and accelerate the de-dollarization.

With the addition of six new members, the aggregated gross domestic product of BRICS will total 37% of global GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP). At the same time, the group’s population will account for 47% of the global population.

Saying that the expansion is “historic” and adds “vigor” to BRICS, China’s President Xi Jinping urged the members for “unity’ and to “write a new chapter” for emerging markets and developing countries working together.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin congratulated the new members and assured them we would work together to “expand the influence of BRICS in the world”.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We have always believed that the addition of new members will further strengthen BRICS as an organization and will give our shared efforts a new impetus”.

Though the Western media portrays BRICS as an anti-West organization, it’s noteworthy that some members of BRICS (Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the UAE) have long-standing economic and security arrangements with the US.

For example, the US gives Egypt $1.5 billion annually in aid. Such diversity could be an asset to BRICS rather than a liability—but remains to be seen.

With an increased membership, BRICS could provide both boundless economic opportunities and security guarantees in our insecure world, expand their diplomatic influence, and provide a common voice in international organizations, including the United Nations.

Truly a multipolar world: It’s only the beginning

On the eve of the BRICS Summit, Sergei Naryshkin, Chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said, ”The great potential for creating a fair and democratic architecture of international relations lies in structures like BRICS”.

Saying that “these are indeed the building blocks in the foundation of a truly free and equal world,” Naryshkin said, “the structure of multipolarity will continue to grow and strengthen, protecting the rights of nations to sovereignty and identity while promoting real economic development … and no beast on earth will succeed in dismantling this structure”.

Also, China’s President Xi Jinping predicted a few months ago that “a shift to a multipolar world is ‘irreversible” and said that “The international community has recognized that no country is superior to others, no model of governance is universal, and no single country should dictate the international order”.

XI opined that “the common interest of all humankind is in a world that is (in a) united and peaceful, rather than divided and volatile”.

*Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer, was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1980-1995 and was the Director and Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000. [IDN-InDepthNews]

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