Can BRICS challenge the G7?

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are deciding whether it's time to go up against the powerful Group of Seven with a rival geopolitical alliance

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India could serve as the 'critical dissenting voice' during the summit
(Image credit: Marco Longari / AFP)

Leaders of the BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — are gathering this week for a summit in Johannesburg focused on whether to expand the bloc to make it a stronger rival to the Group of Seven, made up of the world's largest developed economies, including the United States. "If we expand BRICS to account for a similar portion of world GDP as the G7, then our collective voice in the world will grow stronger," said one Chinese official quoted by The Financial Times.

South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said ahead of Tuesday's meetings that boosting BRICS' influence would fulfill "a common desire to have a more balanced global order." Russia, desperate for allies as the West opposes Moscow's war in Ukraine, and China, locked in escalating trade and diplomatic clashes with the United States, are particularly eager to strengthen BRICS.

China has long aimed to broaden membership in the bloc, which already accounts for about 40% of the world's population and a quarter of the global economy. But India and Brazil are wary of following Beijing's and Moscow's lead, for fear of losing their own influence and increasing China's dominance. Can BRICS unite and grow enough to seriously counter the G7?

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BRICS is no G7, and never will be

BRICS is trying to convince everybody it's a "non- or anti-West geopolitical alternative to U.S. hegemony," said Andreas Kluth at Bloomberg. "But they're not, and never will be." Since the end of the Cold War's "bipolar world," a "dizzying array of blocs" has emerged. Africa has the African Union, of course, but also Comesa, Ecca, Ecowas, and more. Latin American has "SICA, Caricom, Mercosur, and what not." BRICS does boast something like 42% of the world's population, but next to the other groups the BRICS nations "arguably have the least in common, aside from a dislike of U.S. clout in global finance, economics and geopolitics." There's little chance this hodge-podge of "three democracies in different stages of backsliding and two increasingly repressive autocracies" will ever be able to cooperate as well as the G7, "a club of rich liberal democracies with a shared sense of custodianship for the world economy."

Expansion might only weaken BRICS' hand, said Alexandra Wexler in The Wall Street Journal. "The group's size is matched by the scale of its disunity on political and security issues — including relations with the U.S." Expanding the bloc "could multiply those differences." It's true that a beefed-up BRICS "would likely give China another mechanism for exercising leadership of the developing world," and Russia access to new markets in Africa and cheerleaders on Ukraine. But analysts say New Delhi and Brasília "share concerns that an expanded group could become too antagonistic toward the West and destabilize the bloc." And if the current members can't agree on expansion, their ability to "channel discontent and opposition toward the U.S. and its allies through a bloc aspiring to rival the Group of Seven major economies may be hampered."

Dismissing BRICS is a mistake

It's "a mistake" for the West to dismiss BRICS as "a talk shop with little impact on U.S. foreign policy," said Sarang Shidore at Responsible Statecraft. "BRICS is gradually making a mark." More than 20 countries have expressed interest in joining. "When a club has a waiting list for getting in, it is hard to characterize it as irrelevant." Prospective members see BRICS "as a serious attempt to fill a vacuum" in a U.S.-led global order that doesn't meet their needs on issues like development, or pressuring wealthy nations to take more responsibility for fighting climate change. These nations don't necessarily see the U.S. as the enemy. They just think Washington is constantly "impinging on their sovereignty" by insisting they fall in line with its policies. The U.S. should "take seriously" the gripes of smaller nations that are sick of feeling bullied.

This summit could be pivotal, said The Economist, and "the critical dissenting voice is likely to be India's." Early in the bloc's existence, New Delhi needed Russia to help serve as a counterbalance to China, but now it's wielding its own "growing economic and geopolitical" influence. And Moscow is of little help in the fight against Beijing's dominance now that it desperately needs China's cover during its war in Ukraine. India also "frets about some of the wannabes, such as Cuba and Belarus," fearing they "would be mini-Russias, repeating China's talking points" and derailing India's effort to present itself as "a rival to China for leadership of the global south." If China gets the expansion it desires it will prove its "sway on the scene. But if China is blocked it would underline the group's deep divisions."

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.