The rise of the BRICS countries is a media mirage

“Is the West breaking up?” asks the historian Heinrich August Winkler. The French sociologist Emmanuel Todd buries the leading Western power under the title “The USA as a world power – an obituary”.

“The New World Disorder: How the West is Destroying Itself” is the title of the book by political scientist Peter Neumann of King’s College in London.

The shelf with the western literature of doom is well filled. This swan song to the West is accompanied by a song of praise to the new powers Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, known as BRICS for short. 

But both come far too soon. The decline of the West stems from the wishful thinking of its opponents. And the rise of the BRICS countries is a media mirage that disappears on closer inspection. Here are seven reasons why this group of states can excite but not challenge the West:

1. The dollar dominates.

40 percent of world trade is still settled in dollars, 38 percent in euros. This emerges from data on international payment transactions that are settled via the SWIFT payment information system. The Chinese renminbi does not even have a market share of two percent.

A BRICS common reserve currency, a project from last year, has been taken off the agenda. Neither country wants to give up the sovereignty of its central bank. Almost 85 percent of the volume of goods is also settled in dollars among themselves, transactions in renminbi account for a share of 4.5 percent.

2. The development bank of the BRICS countries is a bogus giant.

The New Development Bank, which was launched with great expectations and promises, which, like the World Bank, was supposed to create a support system in favor of the BRICS, cannot keep up.

In the fiscal year 2022, the World Bank financed projects totaling almost 71 billion US dollars – a record figure in the Bank’s history. Another significant increase is planned for 2023.

The BRICS development bank has financed 96 projects with a volume of around 33 billion US dollars – but in total since it was founded in 2014. In plain language: the annual funding volume is less than 5 percent of what the West spends on poorer countries each year.

3. China is an uncanny hegemon.

China is an economic superpower, but none of the other countries involved see it as an intellectual or cultural inspiration. This is exactly what distinguishes the BRICS countries from the West and the US leadership role there.

The West is shaped by American pop music, the Hollywood film industry, the digital innovations of Silicon Valley and last but not least by the fast-food culture including Coca-Cola.

For everyone involved in this group of states, China is an uncanny hegemon, to whom one would definitely not want to be at the mercy of.

Antipathy towards the authoritarian giant China is even growing among the BRICS population. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of respondents in South Africa have a negative opinion of China, up from 35 percent four years ago. In Brazil, the share rose from 27 percent in 2019 to 48 percent today, in India from 46 to 67 percent. We learn: China is big, but unpopular.

4. The ascension story doesn’t work.

Apart from the People’s Republic of China, no other BRICS member country has a growth story to tell. The economist Thomas Mayer from the asset management company Flossbach von Storch calls the five states in the debate magazine Cicero “an impossible BRICS family”. He writes:

“Economically, the BRICS don’t go together. For example, over the past ten years, only the Chinese economy has grown faster than the American economy when measured in terms of gross domestic product in US dollars at constant prices.”

India lags “behind the US with 8 percent growth”, whose GDP rose by 26 percent. South Africa has “downright crashed” with minus 47 percent, Russia with minus 52 percent and Brazil with minus 65 percent.

5. Economic integration is missing.

The West can look back on a long phase of prosperity, which it also owes to its deep economic ties. The BRICS countries, on the other hand, are closely intertwined with China in particular: Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa traded goods worth 435 billion US dollars with the People’s Republic in 2021.

Without China, the trading volume within the group was just under 49 billion US dollars. As a result, this group of states lacks a more in-depth economic basis for their political will.

6. Extension splits.

The expansion ideas within the BRICS countries split this consortium. China and Russia would like to add other pro-China nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia to increase relevance vis-à-vis the US.

However, India does not want to position itself against the USA, since it traditionally has good relations with Washington. South Africa and Brazil do not want to reduce their influence through enlargement. That means: The ambitions of the five block each other.

7. No mutual defense

Unlike the West, the BRICS countries lack the last willingness to stand up for one another. It is a purely economic event that is not based on a military defense alliance. 

Article 5 of the NATO treaty, that one country is ready to stand up for the other, to send weapons and, if in doubt, to die – this readiness does not exist between Brazilians, Indians, Russians, Chinese and South Africans. The headline of the Hans Fallada novel applies here: Everyone dies for themselves.

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