The BRICS Fallacy

MADRID – The recent downgrade of Brazil’s credit rating to junk status was followed by a raft of articles heralding the crumbling of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). How predictable: schadenfreude almost always follows bad news about the BRICS, whose members were once hailed as the world’s up-and-coming economic powerhouses and next major political force.

There is something deeper going on here. The world’s seeming obsession with the BRICS’ perceived rise and fall reflects a desire to identify the country or group of countries that would take over from the United States as global leader. But, in searching for the “next big thing,” the world ignores the fact that the US remains the only power capable of providing global leadership and ensuring some semblance of international order.

The story of the BRICS is a familiar one. It began as a technical grouping in 2001, when the British economist Jim O’Neill lumped them together (without South Africa) and gave them their catchy name for the sole reason that they were all large, rapidly growing emerging economies. But, recognizing that economic power could translate into political influence, the BRICS held their first informal meeting in 2006, and their first leaders’ summit in 2009.

The bloc was going places – or so it seemed. But seven years, seven summits, and one new member (South Africa joined in 2010) later, the significance of the BRICS remains hotly debated.