Will the BRICS Economies Topple the West?

Sean Rego ’26

Staff Writer

Recently, the term “BRICS” has made headlines globally. Closer cooperation, a proposed currency and talks of expansion have all sobered the West to the reality of potential opposition, not seen since the 20th Century. Yet while these cooperative agreements between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are indeed important, I find it hard to believe that the nations involved will amount to anything truly formidable, let alone succeed at working together. Ultimately, each BRICS nation faces massive adversities that must be overcome if they ever hope to coalesce and topple America and the West. 

I want to start by reminding readers that “BRIC” was coined by a Brit at Goldman Sachs in 2001, to describe the countries as rapidly emerging economies (South Africa was tagged on later). It has yet to be any seriously cooperative, intergovernmental, or military organization. Above all else, the conception of BRICS was a momentary designation for a handful of large states seeming to do well in the wake of the millennium dawn. 

Two decades later, we haven’t seen any grand movements by BRICS. Sure, they have set up a few financial institutions and there are murmurs of distancing themselves from the dollar, but to that I ask: so what? How will five countries, with miniscule amounts of their own reserve currencies– and virtually no cohesion– create a currency that will overcome the dollar? 

After Britain handed the reins of finance to her American cousins in Bretton Woods, USD has dominated. Today, almost two thirds of global reserves are still in dollars. Let’s not forget that the euro, created by a supranational organization of wealthy states, is still dwarfed by the dollar. And while I mean no animosity to our euro-friends, their currency exists with the blessing of the United States. In this not too dissimilar scenario, I cannot imagine America being so kind to BRICS if they ever made a currency with aims of toppling the dollar. 

But for speculation’s sake, let’s imagine that the dollar wasn’t so stable, and the BRICS nations see the path to economic success. They’d still be a long shot from world hegemony. Each player still faces massive dilemmas that continue to stunt their growth. 

Brazil is a massive country with considerable potential and is the powerhouse of South America. As a lusophone, I feel obligated to say more good things, but the truth is Brazil has struggled to fully industrialize and catch up to the likes of North America. Since its highpoint in the early 2010s, Brazil’s GDP has declined from $2.6 trillion to $1.6 trillion. The Brazilian economy is resource-based, meaning that without decent commodity prices on resources, the economy fails to grow or sustain itself. The beast of corruption always stalks Brazil, with Presidents Lula and Rousseff both accused of massive corruption scandals last decade. The 2022 election worsened the situation, making the country more divided than ever. It doesn’t help that Brazil’s birth rate crashed, leaving an aging workforce and destroying hopes for an easy recovery. Brazil isn’t ready to stand opposed to America, and honestly will never be without durable, complex industries. It’s in Brazil’s best interests to focus inward and work her way out of internal crises, and not tie herself to unholy promises from Moscow or Beijing of Western Hemispheric supremacy. 

Russia is a mess. While Brazil is quite chaotic, Russia’s toils are tenfold. Historically, any glimmers of hope are snuffed by Russia’s status quo of authoritarian incompetence. The 1991 dissolution had lots of benefits, but it still left most of the economy in the hands of government-supported oligarchs. Russia (like her fellow BRICS nations) is extremely unequal in terms of income, with the urbanites living lavishly while their rural counterparts wander in the ashes of a shattered society. Russian industry is tied to its energy resources, so the country is subject to tides of demand, and thus the will of her political customers. The embarrassing Russo-Ukrainian War has cut off most income sources, with even the Chinese wary of helping. Resilient the Russian bear may be, but it’s in no position to maul the world order. At this point, it must return to the den of isolation or die. 

Continuing with faunal symbolism, India can best be described as the elephant of Asia: steady, moderate, usually pacifist. Not to be underestimated though. This behemoth is now the world’s most populated nation, with impressive GDP growth. India naturally has major problems like ethnic tension, poverty and pollution, but the country follows a respectable democratic system that works to facilitate these complexities. Yet India is by no means ready to cut herself from the West and join a BRICS rebellion. More importantly, India doesn’t really want to. Remember, China and India ferociously dispute territory and are diplomatically at odds with each other. China has good relations with Pakistan, so I doubt India is going to cozy up to her archenemies anytime soon. Unless there’s a fundamental change in Indian policy, India won’t defect so willingly.  

I won’t spend much time on China, as I’ve already discussed my opinions on China’s upcoming crises. BRICS is a China-led fantasy; one of many crazy projects the CCP cooks up to peddle notions of Western collapse. It’s like the Belt and Road Initiative in the sense that both are unfathomably ambitious and hopeful. China dominates BRICS economically, so for her it might be a power move to essentially puppeteer other members. That’s if it’s even possible. 

Oh poor South Africa. Some say this addition in 2011 was to conveniently pluralize “BRIC”, and I honestly agree with that assessment. Corruption, race tensions, economic woes, resource scarcities all plague the post-apartheid state. The rainbow nation might not even survive the next few decades, especially under the neglectful eyes of BRICS. South Africa is beautiful but incredibly fragile, and must tread careful in the presence of geopolitical leviathans. BRICS is nothing more than a chimera. Most of these nations have passed their economic prime or have stunted themselves. They’re far flung and at odds with each other. They vary between democracies, communists and downright tribalists. I’m sure one of these countries will probably surprise me, but it’s for these reasons and more that I deeply question their collective chances. I doubt BRICS will expand in a meaningful way, because who jumps on to a sinking ship? Maybe desperate countries, already drowning. But still, that won’t save BRICS and I doubt much else can.

Cover photo courtesy of Library of Congress Research Guides

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