The bloc known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the latter only since its World Cup year of 2010) has various dates of origin, all in this century. Although its image as the antithesis of Yankee imperialism has made it the object of intense interest for a Frente de Todos administration seeking entry (hence its choice as today’s topic), the acronym was actually coined on Wall Street – in the 2001 forecast models of Goldman Sachs. The first informal meetings of Brazilian, Chinese, Indian and Russian leaders were held in the summer of 2006 with the first BRIC summit held in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg (where the Romanovs were bumped off in 1918) on June 16, 2009.
And who were those leaders? In 2001 the President of Brazil was Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jiang Zemin headed the People’s Republic of China, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister of India – while Russia was under Vladimir Putin. In 2006 the President of Brazil was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Hu Jintao the President (and secretary-general of the Communist Party) in China, Manmohan Singh was prime minister of India – and Russia still under Putin. In 2009 Lula, Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh all held the same posts while the change was in Russia for once with Dmitry Medvedev president in the Kremlin – but as a rather more successful prototype of Alberto Fernández here with premier Putin pulling all the strings. And today? Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Xi Jinping in China, Narendra Modi in India – and Putin as always in Moscow.
By now the shrewd reader should be able to see where all this is heading. Given that Putin is the red thread of BRICS throughout its two decades of conceptual existence, what on earth is Argentina doing in seeking membership in his club in precisely the same year in which the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has shattered the ground rules of international co-existence, disrupting commodity prices in such fundamental markets as food and energy? Not only has Russian ultra-nationalism fragmented the international community but it has thrown BRICS itself into some confusion. China gives Putin a warily disapproving support, torn between loyalty to its BRICS ally and its spectacular growth owing much to its respect for the new rules of a globalised planet. If the Indo-Pakistani tensions of the last century saw a consistent pattern of Russian support for India and Chinese for Pakistan (often accompanied by the United States), this year’s crisis has placed New Delhi on the brink of becoming a Washington ally in an axis also including London and Canberra.
If the question of why Argentina should wish to join BRICS is extremely valid, so is the question of why BRICS should want to have us. If there are qualitative and ethical objections to BRICS (with the spotlight on Russia but China no paragon of human rights either), Argentina falls quantitatively short of this league of giants. BRICS takes pride in its colossal data – 41 percent of the world’s population with over three billion people, almost 30 percent of total land surface, nearly a quarter of global economic output and a sixth of world trade (the G20 has even bigger percentages but here we’re talking about just five countries, not 20). How much would Argentina add to these numbers? The heavyweights of BRICS do not need to bother about soft power (as Putin makes all too clear) – Argentina does.
Advocates of BRICS entry argue that in a multipolar world the G7 needs to be counterbalanced but was that not already achieved last February when President Fernández joined the Silk Road initiative during his visit to China? Argentina would thus seem to be acquiring 90 percent of the benefits offered by BRICS without the odium of association with the Russian invader. At last count no less than 149 countries had joined the Belt and Road Initiative, including, for example, Chile while under the centre-right presidency of Sebastián Piñera (although no G7 country apart from Italy) – nothing too controversial about that.
If Argentina did indeed join this bloc with other countries also expressing interest (we are accompanied in the queue by the Islamic Republic of Iran, hardly more reputable company than Russia), then BRICS would have to change its acronym and rather more besides – there is no sign of this heavyweight club having any interest in becoming an impossible alphabetical soup. South Africa was admitted as representing a continent with over a sixth of the world’s population and the fastest demographic growth, as well as a backyard for China – BRICS thus came to span every continent except Oceania whose total population is smaller than Argentina’s – but has added very little otherwise with not much appetite for new members.
Instead it would be both more realistic and less controversial for Argentina to show interest in the New Development Bank (NDB), as it is indeed doing. This bank, created in 2014, is formed by not only the five BRICS members but also Bangladesh, Egypt the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay – if one side of the River Plate can join, why not the other, one might ask? In its eight years the NDB has approved almost 80 projects for some US$30 billion with the accent very much on key infrastructure – the danger here is that Argentina would seek the dollars for the black hole of its fiscal deficit.