Wider Eurasia
At the Crossroads: Brazil in the Face of BRICS Expansion

The option for disengagement from BRICS is gaining adherents among Brazilian diplomats and is being actively promoted by sectors of Brazilian organized civil society, especially those NGOs and think tanks that receive financial support from European and American institutions. The engagement of these sectors in the G20 events during Brazil’s Presidency of 2024 and the lack of interest in the BRICS process during Russia’s Presidency in the BRICS in the same year is another sign of alertness, writes Fabiano Mielniczuk.

During the South Africa Summit held in 2023, the BRICS countries agreed to invite Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to become new members in 2024. Although it was welcomed by the foreign offices of the member countries as a demonstration of the group’s strengthening, when viewed from the Brazilian perspective the results were far from satisfying. Depending on how harsh the critic is, the expansion can even be seen as a defeat. In this sense, the country needs to re-evaluate its strategy towards BRICS in general, and towards the expansion process in particular, in order to continue to be a relevant actor in the multipolar world.

In 2010, Brazil supported South Africa’s entry in the BRICS, but analysts tend to consider that decision as motivated by interests of domestic politics; an attempt of president Lula da Silva to curry favour with the Brazilian Black Movement. Moreover, at the international level, the inclusion of South Africa could facilitate Brazil’s diplomacy due to the curious situation in which the informal group began to function within another, namely IBSA, formed a few years earlier by India, Brazil and South Africa. Since then, Brazil had been cautious regarding the expansion of BRICS. The country fears that the dilution of power among new members could negatively affect its influence in the process of transforming the structure of international governance.

As it is well-known, Brazil sees obtaining a permanent seat at the UN Security Council as one of its strategic foreign policy goals and does not want to have other competitors inside BRICS.

The salutary caution from the beginning gave place to one of a different kind from 2022 onwards. It seems that the cautionary position on the expansion stems from Brazil’s lack of clarity regarding the possible benefits that BRICS can offer. Russian actions in Ukraine and increasing tensions between China and the USA have brought discomfort to Brazil. In this context, Brazilian diplomacy interpreted the actions taken by the Chinese presidency of BRICS in 2022 as aimed at strengthening the pillar of political and security cooperation to the detriment of the others. In the same vein, the accelerated expansion of the group sponsored by Beijing was interpreted as a decision to meet the needs of the security interests of China and Russia. This stance by Itamaraty seems to be out of line with Lula’s presidential diplomacy, as he has offered himself as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and the West and quite explicitly supported the inclusion of new members in the BRICS. This misalignment between Itamaraty and the Presidency has crippled Brazil’s capacity to assess the importance of BRICS and has resulted in some inconsistencies, which are highlighted below.

Firstly, it is worth noting that Brazil’s erstwhile support for the informal and flexible format of the group was jettisoned with Brazil’s insistence on the establishment of explicit criteria for the accession of new members. In what could be seen as a Brazilian victory, these criteria were defined in the “Guiding Principles, Standards, Criteria and Procedures” for expansion, adopted in South Africa. However, the “Guiding Principles” did not contemplate the Brazilian proposal. Brazil supported three criteria for the entry of new members: the new members’ commitment to the BRICS reform agenda, participation in the G20 and participation in the NDB. An analysis of the document clearly indicates that only the first proposal was covered, albeit in a very general way. There are no references to the G20 and the NDB in the document. Brazilian diplomacy would argue that, despite not being incorporated in the “Guiding Principles”, the Brazilian proposal was accepted, at least partially, in practice: of the six new members invited, two belonged to the G20 (Argentina and Saudi Arabia) and two to the NDB (the United Arab Emirates and Egypt). However, considering Argentina’s refusal to join BRICS and the entry of Iran and Ethiopia, which do not belong to either of these organizations, this positive assessment is attenuated. The insufficiency of this outcome from Brazil’s perspective is even clearer when one considers that the definition of the formal criteria for entrance did not impose any limits on the number of future members, as Brazil wished.

Brazil’s defeat in the enlargement process is not surprising and reflects a certain disengagement on the part of Brazil from the BRICS. In fact, the drastic change in the direction of world politics from 2022 onwards has fuelled an already well-known stance in Brazilian diplomacy that has been openly reproduced by diplomats occupying key positions in the BRICS negotiating process. According to them, IBSA would better serve Brazil’s interests, as it is a coalition where there would be no “taboo-issues” such as democracy, human rights or gender. The fact that this idea disregards the way in which India has redefined its contemporary identity does not go unnoticed. The negative impact of such reading on the expanded BRICS is also not ignored, as the incorporation of Arab Muslim countries in the BRICS necessitates that the current members take a more sensitive and generous look at intra-bloc differences. In this context, the pro-IBSA discourse seems more like an escape route from BRICS than a bet on IBSA itself.

Another inconsistency that harms the country’s participation in the BRICS-Plus format concerns the appointment of key figures in the BRICS ecosystem. After the presidency of the pro-Western liberal Marcos Troyjo at the NBD (appointed by former President Jair Bolsonaro), President Lula da Silva appointed former president Dilma Rousseff for the position in 2023. Seen as the political rehabilitation of the former President of Brazil after her 2016 impeachment, her appointment was considered appropriate by the other BRICS members due to Rousseff’s role in launching the NDB at the Fortaleza Summit, in 2014. 

Impeachment in Brazil: No Cause for Joy - and No Cause for Grief
Lyudmila Okuneva
The "updated" Brazil will not make any sudden moves and walk away from any international associations. Brazil will remain in the BRICS group, but the activity will be more muted.

This interpretation neglects that it was during Roussef’s first term (2010-2014) that Brazil distanced itself from allies such as China and Russia in an attempt to rebalance relations within BRICS through the relaunching of partnerships with the USA and Europe. This strategy of rebalancing was advocated by chancellor Antonio Patriota (2011-13), who was dismissed from his position after a diplomatic fiasco in Bolivia — a Brazilian diplomat at the Embassy in La Paz fled by car to Brazil without the government’s authorization with a Bolivian senator who was accused of corruption by the Morales government, had received asylum at the Embassy, but did not have a safe-conduct guarantee to leave the Embassy. That episode damaged Roussef’s authority and created a crisis with Bolivia. The responsibility was fully assumed by the diplomat involved and years later he received an administrative penalty for his participation in the escape. Last year, Roussef was not particularly happy to meet him at the BRICS Summit in South Africa where he was Brazilian Sherpa for the BRICS and, apparently, demanded that President Lula da Silva dismiss the diplomat.

These inconsistencies suggest that Brazil, despite the competence of its diplomacy, is confused in its relationship with BRICS. The fact that the Biden administration has contributed decisively to the maintenance of Lula da Silva in power after the failed coup attempt attributed to former President Jair Bolsonaro must also be considered. Lula da Silva wants BRICS to be strengthened, but he is indebted to the USA and some European countries for guaranteeing him in office and does not intend to jeopardize relations with them — not at least until the justice concludes the judgment of the former President. Meanwhile, the option for disengagement from BRICS is gaining adherents among Brazilian diplomats and is being actively promoted by sectors of Brazilian organized civil society, especially those NGOs and think tanks that receive financial support from European and American institutions. The engagement of these sectors in the G20 events during Brazil’s Presidency of 2024 and the lack of interest in the BRICS process during Russia’s Presidency in the BRICS in the same year is another sign of alertness.

In this complicated scenario, the best strategy is to appeal to the direct involvement of Celso Amorim, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and current Chief Advisor for International Affairs of President Lula da Silva. As one of the fathers of BRICS, Amorim is trusted by the other partners and has the moral authority to realign the major Brazilian actors from both the government and the civil society towards the BRICS. Moreover, the doubled-in-size BRICS-Plus will demand a different organizational strategy from Brazil, which has enormous difficulty in keeping up with the workload involved in all the BRICS dimensions. One might think of the creation of a BRICS Task Force that could well be headed by Amorim and aggregate a quantitatively significant group of diplomats under his leadership. In the short term, this looks like the only way to put Brazil back on track in the BRICS process.

Wider Eurasia
What Should We Expect from BRICS and What Should We Not?
Timofei Bordachev
Discussions about what BRICS can actually do and what it can’t should begin with an understanding of how much the achievements or failures of other international institutions are related to their individual characteristics. The second may be a theoretical task, but it makes clear what the BRICS will not do, Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.