American Power Just Took a Big Hit

For more than a decade, the United States mostly ignored BRICS. The grouping, formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, rarely registered on Washington’s radar. When it did, the impulse — as shown by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, recently stressing that the coalition is not “some kind of geopolitical rival” — was to downplay the group’s significance. Western commentators, for their part, largely painted BRICS as either a sign of Chinese attempts to dominate the global south or little more than a talking shop. Some even called for its dissolution.

Such complacency looks less tenable now. At a summit in Johannesburg last week, the group invited six global south states — Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to join its ranks. In the aftermath of the announcement, indifference gave way to surprise, even anxiety. Yet there’s no need for alarm. BRICS will never run the world or replace the U.S.-led international system.

It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss its importance. After all, any club with such a long waiting list — in this case, nearly 20 nations — is probably doing something right. BRICS’s expansion is an unmistakable marker of many countries’ dissatisfaction with the global order and of their ambition to improve their place within it. For America, whose grip on global dominance is weakening, it amounts to a subtly significant challenge — and an opportunity.

The critics have a point: BRICS remains a work in progress. Its two major initiatives — the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement — are quite small when compared with the scale of global development lending and finance. Other initiatives such as cooperation on health research and space exploration are in their embryonic stages. Expansion could make institution-building harder, with more players in the mix. There are, for example, some differences between the way China and Russia and the global south states view the grouping.

Read the full piece in The New York Times.