Russia and China have long been struggling to establish a new world order, an order that will not have the West as its centre and the US dollar as the main currency shaping the global economic system. The new world order will be multipolar. Within this order, it will be possible to trade without USD. But while multipolarity and non-USD currency arrangements indicate some of the key features of the new order – and they are very important – they are not by themselves the mechanisms that could potentially yield a new world order. For a new order to become possible, it requires a lot more countries than Russia and China to support it. More recently, this has become possible via what is so far known as BRICS – an extra-regional grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that the West has until very recently dismissed as both insignificant and inconsequential. This, however, is no longer the case.
As the host of the latest BRICS summit, South Africa, recently reported, almost 40 countries have expressed interest in joining the group. This number far exceeds the potential candidates NATO currently has, showing not only which way the global wind is blowing, but also reflecting that this might be the beginning of the end of Western hegemony. As reports in the Western mainstream media have noted, the main reason for the heightened interest in joining BRICS is the growing dissatisfaction with “the traditional Western powers”, with the willing countries also hoping that “membership will unlock benefits including development finance, and increased trade and investment” – something that the West dominated system has failed to deliver over the past many decades.
Another report noted the list of grievances against the West, saying that many countries are affected by:
“Abusive trade practices. Punishing sanctions regimes. Perceived neglect of the development needs of poorer nations. The wealthy West’s domination of international bodies, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.”
More dangerous for the West is that many powerful – and resourceful – countries are falling in line with the politics of a new, alternative world order. This, for instance, includes Saudi Arabia, a country that once was a prime US ally but is now one of the most enthusiastic countries to join the group – not only because BRICS offers a platform that might help the Kingdom achieve its goals of economic development away from its traditional reliance on oil but also because Saudi Arabia also happens to be a state that has, in the past few years, grown increasingly dissatisfied with Washington, even as the latter has tried to plot a coup against Muhammad bin Salman (MBS).
With Saudi fully allied with Russia and China, it could bring its ‘oil power’ to really bear upon the West, most of which depends upon cheap oil prices for its economy to grow and survive. Saudi Arabia’s participation in BRICS will, thus, reinforce, the OPEC+ as well. This is a major setback for Washington and the EU, which have been trying to – and hoping for – the OPEC+ to break ever since the beginning of the Russian military operations in Ukraine and the consequent jump in oil prices.
Iran is another case. It has rich reservoirs of oil, and it also happens to be a country massively affected by the US betrayal of the nuclear deal and the sanctions imposed thereof. Thanks to China’s proactive diplomacy, Iran and Saudi Arabia have already normalised their ties, with OPEC already eyeing Iran’s oil to hit the markets as soon as possible. If Saudi Arabia and Iran join BRICS, it could mobilise the entire Middle East.
In Southeast Asia, Indonesia – another regional powerhouse – is also eyeing BRICS membership, with President Jokowi all set to attend the BRICS summit in South Africa. Deputy Trade Minister Jerry Sambuaga told the media that “The interest is there, the potential is clear, and the opportunity is up for grabs”. Indonesia being Southeast Asia’s biggest economy could yield a boomerang effect spreading across the region, where the US has been trying to get a strong military foothold for the past several years.
Southeast Asia is a region very deeply interested in economic development. BRICS offers just that via the possibility of trade in non-USD currencies. De-dollarization – which is being overseen by BRICS’ New Development Bank – is the exact opportunity that countries like Indonesia may have in mind, i.e., to be able to expand trade and not risk sanctions.
Such possibilities have certainly created hysteria in the West. There are very strong reasons for that. First, when the Biden administration decided to expand NATO to include Ukraine and, thus, sparked the conflict in Eastern Europe, it hoped that this conflict will create a scenario in which Russian – and Chinese – isolation will become inevitable. That move has clearly backfired now, which is nothing short of a major geopolitical setback.
Secondly, it has also turned out to be counterproductive insofar as Russia’s and China’s counter manoeuvres e.g., the normalisation process in the Middle East, have allowed more and more nations to actually benefit from the big power competition. They are increasingly doing their own manoeuvres.
Of course, these states gain from this, but Russia and China, more than the US, also gain insofar as part of the smaller states’ manoeuvres include escaping from the US pressure to choose between the West or Russia/China. They have been successful so far. “BRICS Plus”, in this context, is creating yet another space that will make it even harder for the collective West to impose its will unilaterally. When no state, or region, can impose its will unilaterally, it means it no longer carries the power it once had. When more and more countries are able to exercise strategic autonomy, that is when we can truly talk of multipolarity and a new world order.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.