05.12.2023 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

How BRICS is Reinventing Itself Amidst Chaos

How BRICS is Reinventing Itself Amidst Chaos

Israel’s war on Gaza has shaken global politics – not only because of its sheer brutality, but also because this war has reified geopolitical alignments further along the pro and anti-Israel – which also translates directly into pro or anti-US – standings. These geopolitical alignments have created a possibility of realignments, including reforming existing blocs. The extraordinary BRICS summit held in the 3rd week of November points to this possibility very clearly. At one level, the proceedings of the summit revealed the pro or anti-US/Israel positions – especially of India – within the bloc, and, at another level, the summit revealed the bloc’s openness to expand itself in ways that include more and more anti-Israel elements, i.e., Pakistan (Pakistan has formally applied for BRICS membership).

Unlike Russia and China, both of which called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, India, aligned with its ties with Israel and the US, avoided criticizing Israel. Whereas China and Russia have been referring to Israel’s war on Gaza as a “collective punishment” for the people of Palestine, India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar called it the “Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza”. The difference in approach is constructive. This difference is not just semantics. In fact, it shows how BRICS members view the conflict differently, i.e., as Israel’s war on the people of Palestine or as an outcome of the “terrorism” of Hamas only. Due to these differences, the BRICS meeting couldn’t agree on a joint statement.

But the summit still holds a lot of importance. The fact that an extraordinary session was conducted on a geopolitical issue that does not concern, at least directly, any of the members states means that the bloc is gradually coming out of its primarily economic outlook to intervene, diplomatically, in geopolitical conflicts. In that sense, BRICS is reinventing itself into a platform that can help mediate complex global situations such as the Palestine question. In fact, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has been pushing for a new, alternative, multipolar world order, unequivocally favoured the idea of “the BRICS states and countries of the region” playing “a key role in this work” of finding a “political solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict”.

Russia’s position – which was echoed by China’s Xi as well – broadly represents the dominant opinion, at least in the Global South. It means that by geopolitically reinventing itself, BRICS is actually making itself a suitable option for countries in the Global South to join BRICS. This is in addition to the fact that many developing countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are already looking to join the bloc. But the fact that the BRICS is pushing for an economic and political multipolarity allows for countries in the Global South to see it as a manifestation of the alternative global order away from the West.

To the extent this expansion matters globally, it matters for BRICS itself as well. If more and more anti-US voices can be included in the bloc, it will automatically marginalize countries like India that seek to play on both sides of the geopolitical chessboard. A typical example of BRICS’ moves in this regard is Pakistan’s efforts to join the bloc.

While Pakistan is generally seen as a pro-US country – and Islamabad is currently battling a severe economic crisis with help from the International Monetary Funds’ financial facilities – Islamabad still holds a very strong pro-Palestine position. But the possibility of Islamabad’s inclusion in BRICS is not tied just to its pro-Palestine position. There are at least two other factors involved.

First, Pakistan has been an ally of China for almost 60 years now. China being one of the leading members of the BRICS, Pakistan stands to benefit from the bloc and use it to push for an alternative, multipolar world. As a state that has not received much benefit from an alliance with the US, multipolarity does work for Pakistan, as it creates opportunities for it to draw support, both diplomatic and financial, from multiple resources to buttress its own regional and global position.

Pakistan is not the only case pushing for BRICS expansion. For one thing, China stands to gain from the BRICS expansion not only because it will help neutralize Indian influence within the bloc but also because it helps Beijing tackle Washington’s push for decoupling from – and eventually isolating – China. For instance, China is one of the founding members of the bloc. However, more than that, it is also one country within the bloc that has strong economic ties with almost all members, both existing and new entrants, i.e., Saudi and Iran. Pakistan too, if and when it becomes a full member, is a country with very strong economic ties with Beijing. For Beijing, therefore, BRICS expansion directly serves its economic and global geopolitical interests as an alternative global platform.

The vitality of this alternative platform was made visible, as mentioned above, by pushing it into the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza in the latest summit. Now, this push has a clear geopolitical objective. It comes at a time when the US policy for the ‘new’ Middle East, i.e., The Abraham Accords, has already collapsed, as its failure to recognize and push Israel to resolve the Palestine question contributed directly to the present crisis. The US failure to bring peace to the Middle East is, in other words, an opportunity for Washington’s rivals states to present themselves as proponents of peace – something that both Putin and Xi underscored unambiguously in their remarks at the last week’s summit.

More importantly, when a delegation of Arab and Muslim states started visiting all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council last week, their first stop was China (rather than the US). The second choice was Russia. While the visit may have only symbolic significance for the resolution of Israel’s war, the Arab world is still sending a clear message to the West about its geopolitical choices. For BRICS members – especially, Russia and China – this choice reflects a success of their push for a new, alternative world order located away from the West. This choice also sends a message to BRICS’ own members, i.e., India, who are still unable to cut the umbilical cord keeping them tied to Washington.


Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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