From BRIC to BRICS+ : how to go from a simple acronym to a partnership capable of overthrowing the world order in 25 years
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From BRIC to BRICS+ : how to go from a simple acronym to a partnership capable of overthrowing the world order in 25 years

BRICS+ and “flying” PIIGS: have we wiped the slate clean? (part 1/3)


Thanks to Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates joining BRICS1 – which became BRICS+ – on January 1st 2024, the GDP of this partnership2 now exceeds that of the G7 members (Banque de France Bulletin, 9 January 2024).

As for PIIGS3, the countries criticised in the past for their poor economic management, their economic growth rates in 2023 were higher than those of France or Germany (Peralta, 19 June 2023).

How can we incorporate this new situation? What effects will these changes have on the global and regional order? What challenges do they represent for existing international institutions? Will the traditional organisations be able to adapt? To shed light on the dynamics that are currently redefining the planet’s geopolitical landscape, this tripartite study undertakes to analyse the operation of the BRICS+ and PIIGS groups of countries, their heterogenous make-up and their importance in international relations, while comparing them to devoted multilateral structures such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU). Focusing on BRICS+, it highlights the growing influence of new members, which are remodelling the world order according to an ever-increasing multipolarity. At the same time, it examines the economic and political challenges faced by PIIGS and their impact on European cohesion. Finally, it evaluates the tensions between the emerging groups and the established institutions (UN, IMF, EU) by providing tangible examples of cooperation and conflicts of interest (the reconsideration of the dollar’s place in global exchanges, the creation of a second EBRD4, etc.). This study concludes by considering the need to adapt the multilateral organisations to new geopolitical realities.

In this first part, we will look at the origins of BRICS and their evolution to BRICS+, before discussing their goals for 2024. The new dimension of this partnership, in economic, demographic and military terms, will thus be highlighted, in particular thanks to a discussion of the recent measures aiming to strengthen its global influence (Duggan, Hooijmaaijers, Rewizorski & Arapova, 17 December 2021).

BRICS+: from the beginnings to the present day (2001-2024)

2001-2010: the economic, financial and geopolitical motivations behind the group’s birth

The creation of BRIC, an acronym grouping together four emerging countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China – dates back to the start of the 2000s. The idea to form an economic and political alliance emerged during an informal meeting between these countries’ leaders in 2001, at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. At the time, it was not an organisation or even a legal entity. In October 2003, a Goldman Sachs study confirmed the rapid growth of the economies of these four countries, none of which were G7 members, and predicted that they would soon become dominant world economies (Goldman Sachs, October 2003). Consequently, it highlighted the need to reform the G7 to incorporate these four countries.

On 16 June 2009, the four heads of state met officially for the first time in Yekaterinburg, Russia. During this summit, they declared that they wanted to develop their cooperation so as to bring about a “more democratic and just” multipolar world orderIn this declaration, we can read the group’s objectives, in particular with regard to the necessity of a “reformed financial and economic architecture.

There were, therefore, many reasons behind BRIC’s creation: first of all, these countries were seeking to diversify their economic and political partnerships and to challenge the western hegemony within international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Secondly, they were seeking to promote economic and social development in their respective regions, as well as to strengthen their position in international negotiations in matters of trade and climate change. Finally, the BRIC partnership was also motivated by geopolitical considerations, aiming to assert its influence on the world scene and to shape a more multipolar world order.

Thus, in 2010, during the BRIC Summit in Brasília, South Africa was invited to join the group, transforming BRIC into BRICS.

2010-2024: development paths: expansion, new World Bank and first legal form

Since 2009, BRICS had been organising annual summits, which were pivotal moments for strengthening cooperation between members. After their official creation in Yekaterinburg, the 2014 summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, gave BRICS their first legal existence, with a fund and a directory (Menezes de Carvalho, 2017). 

In fact, after proposing alternative solutions to the traditional international financial system and calling for a reform of the IMF following the 2008 crisis, BRICS moved into action by launching their New Development Bank (NBD): a multilateral financial institution funded with an initial capital of 50 billion dollars evenly distributed between the association’s five members. The goal was to support the economic and social development of the member countries but also of other emerging economies, in areas such as renewable energy, transport, and water. The NBD’s initiatives have consequently reinforced BRICS’ role in international development cooperation. Furthermore, the NBD agreement provides for a Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) of 100 billion dollars (Menezes de Carvalho, 2017).

Unlike the IMF and the EBRD, often criticised for their conditional approach to loans and their lack of fair representation for emerging economies, the NBD offers developing countries a more important place in decision making, reflective of the equal participation of the five BRICS members in the management of the institution, aspiring to a fairer form of governance (see the NBD website).

BRICS+ in 2024: using all available levers of influence to carry weight on the international scene

An extended group and representative of the “Global South”: changing the paradigm to reinforce its credibility

The expansion of BRICS+ in January 2024 marked a significant milestone in the global balance.  The integration of new members (Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates) gives this partnership new scope: through the number of member countries (nine5), more than the G7, their variety and their influence in many fields.

The new members only represent 4% of the GDP of the BRICS+ group. These countries have not, therefore, joined the cluster for economic reasons (European Parliament, 15 March 2024)In fact, BRICS already carried twice as much weight as the EU. Furthermore, BRICS already had a presence in Asia (China, India), Eurasia (Russia), South America (Brazil) and Africa (South Africa) before 2024. Nonetheless, the incorporation of African and Middle Eastern nations has enabled a significant increase in the representation of countries from the “South”. In addition, the list of candidate countries for entry further accentuates this geographic focus6. In all likelihood, the first inflections caused by the newcomers will become clear during the October 2024 summit – which should take place in Russia. We can, however, highlight several lines of interpretation and foresight.

Integrating representatives of the different religions: an asset in a future balance of power ?

The simultaneous joining of Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (not to mention that of Egypt and soon Saudi Arabia) demonstrates the group’s capacity to attract countries representing Islam’s two main branches, additionally in a region (the Persian Gulf) that is historically full of intense diplomatic tension. We can now consider that BRICS+ brings together all the big religions: Hinduism (India), Buddhism (China), Christianity (Orthodox for Russia; Catholic for Brazil and South Africa) and Islam. This certainly constitutes a guarantee of credibility and power in any potential balance of power with the other groups of countries or organisations.

Jonathan Fox, a professor of political science, explains that, while religion is not the driving force, it remains impossible to deny its influence on the course of international relations (Fox, 2006). It would seem, in fact, that most societies “grant religion a paradoxical role in human affairs – as a force both for peace and for conflict” (Appleby, 2000, p. 3). This is, therefore, also true on the international geopolitical scene, where religion can be a powerful tool for persuasion or pressure.

A military mastodon: a tool of hard power

The group’s expansion does not only confer an advantage in terms of spiritual influence. Although BRICS+ do not form a military alliance and certain members have been in conflict (latent or real) for years, the army plays an important role for all current and future members. The group’s impressive military capacities carry more weight in any proposal or request to modify existing multilateral treaties and are likely to cause some fear.

Indeed, according to the Global Firepower Ranking, six of the nine BRICS+ countries (Russia, China, India, Brazil, Egypt and Iran) are among the world’s 20 most powerful nations. While this military upper hand was already a reality before the January 2024 expansion – with Russia, China and India respectively possessing the world’s 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-largest armies – then the arrival of new members has significantly strengthened it. Moreover, recent events between Russia and Ukraine, and between Iran and Israel, are indicative of the BRICS+ military positioning. Over the past months, China has considerably increased its trade with Russia (with a doubt regarding the trade in elements which may be used for weapons), while Iran is ostensibly providing it with combat drones. As for India, it is buying Russian oil, enabling the country to finance its war economy.

BRICS+ facing the challenges of the future: geographic and vertical integration, attractiveness and conflict management according to the new “rules of the game” favourable to China (2024-?)

Greater diplomatic weight in traditional institutions: new balance of power or rebalancing?

Without a legal existence outside the NBD, this new group of countries will probably create another form of solidarity within the existing bodies (UN, IMF or World Bank). A striking example is the absence (or virtual absence) of condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by the BRICS+ member countries during the voting of resolutions presented at the UN General Assembly. Likewise, the declaration of the heads of State and government of the G20 (which now includes eight BRICS+ members) in New Delhi in September 2023 did not mention the war begun in February 2022 (Perruche, 9 September 2023). Another meaningful point is China and Russia’s measured position, to say the least, following the Iranian drone attack on Israeli territory. As Frédéric Lemaître, journalist at Le Monde, explains, this confirms the willingness of BRICS+ to make this event “an opportunity to drive a wedge between the West and the rest of the world” (Lemaître & Vitkine, 17 April 2024).

New goals?

According to Christophe Ventura, Director of Research at IRIS, this is how BRICS are seeking to pursue, with their evolution into BRICS+, the ongoing construction of an international space that may focus on “two potential future projects depending on the evolution of international restructuring and the balance of power. The first involves positioning BRICS+ as the instrument of a negotiation aiming to impose a multipolarity that meets their interests. The second is to gradually form a counter-hegemonic alliance bringing together, around China (and secondarily Russia), a coalition of countries that are recalcitrant in the face of the domination of the United States and other western powers aligned with the policies of the world’s leading power.” (Ventura, December 2023).

Could one of these goals be to create an alternative to NATO7 ? On this subject, it is interesting to note that Argentina has just requested to join the Atlantic alliance, whereas it had initially planned to join BRICS on 1st January 2024 (see Argentinian Ministry of Defence website).

Many challenges

However, many challenges, contradictions and limits will impact on the approach and the future of this cluster: the economic heterogeneity and asymmetries of the member countries, poverty and inequality in many of them, but also geopolitical rivalries (today, between China and India with the Himalayan conflict, New Delhi’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – Quad – directed by Washington against Beijing; tomorrow, the Shia–Sunni conflict between Iran and the UAE).

These imbalances and contradictions already existed with five members; they will be amplified with nine. Furthermore, the risk of diluting the founding members’ influence is emerging as the group expands and as China, in its strategic confrontation with the United States, seeks to reinforce and bring together its support networks within the whole. Therefore, 2024 is a key year for the future of this cluster: taking initiatives as nine members and issuing a statement at the end of the annual summit will necessarily imply seeking out more compromise than when there were only four or five members.

More than 20 countries are candidates today: the acceptance of more members would certainly lead to the implementation of a more structured form of governance, running the risk of falling into the very same pitfalls for which BRICS+ rebukes the dedicated institutions. Which criteria should be adopted to consider the applications of these States and grant them the right to sit within the whole, if BRICS+ remains only a partnership, a group of countries?


The example of BRICS+, which stayed together while under construction, shows the extent to which groups of countries may rapidly evolve by using many levers of influence. It illustrates the ability of certain States to use new geopolitical networks to modify the existing balance of power within multilateral institutions. Although BRICS+ are a major player when it comes to rebalancing at a global level, the question of increasing multipolarity, more representative of the state of international relations, also arises at a regional level. So, what about within Europe? Are there countries whose common initiatives are likely to influence EU policy?

We immediately think of the Franco-German couple, the zone’s founding countries and largest economies (the United Kingdom aside), whose policies have always carried weight in the strategic decisions taken within the Union. Yet, in the same way that BRICS came together to defy the Anglo-Saxon hegemony within the international institutions, there exists within the EU a long-criticised group of countries whose collective approaches have enabled some common policies to evolve, i.e. PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). In 2010, the economic journalist Katie Allen was already comparing them to BRICS in The Guardian (Allen, 12 February 2010). Their trajectory as a group of countries driving shared interests and their future as a collective will be the focus of the next part of our study.

  1. Formerly BRIC, this acronym designates the group of countries made up by Brazil, India, China and South Africa ↩︎
  2. We have decided to talk about BRIC (which became BRICS, then BRICS+) as a “group” or a “partnership”, as per the definition given during the 2023 meeting in South Africa.  ↩︎
  3. Acronym designating Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain ↩︎
  4. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development ↩︎
  5. Saudi Arabia had also been admitted but decided to defer its final membership decision ↩︎
  6. The candidate countries are Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Serbia, Senegal, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam. ↩︎
  7. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ↩︎