BY ERIC MANDEL, THE HLL – 09/14/23
During the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, there was an economic competition, in which each side tried to lure unaffiliated and discontented poor nations to choose sides.
Today, the primary competition for nations is a contest between Western capitalism and the market-oriented communism of China, which aims to end the West’s dominant economic status.
Authoritarians of all stripes seek economic alternatives in order to avoid sanctions and not be scrutinized by the Western nations who so loudly criticize their monopolies on power and their human rights abuses. Hence the attraction to Chinese economic organizations such as BRICS and the Belt and Road Initiative, offering poor nations loans that are too good to be true.<
One area of competition is the Middle East, which has a long history of American influence. As Sarit Zehavi, CEO of the Alma Research Center said, “China is implementing a systematic strategic plan in the Middle East to convert its economic power in the Middle East into political power, on the way to a military foothold.”
Over the last twenty years, an alternative coalition of nations under the Chinese-led BRICS umbrella has emerged to challenge the dominance of the G7 group of democratic economies. This summer, the original BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) welcomed six new members, with another twenty anxiously hoping for an invitation soon. BRICS members represent nearly half of the world’s energy producers as well as consumers.
According to Sadanand Dhume of the Wall Street Journal, the BRICS expansion represents “an attempt to reshape the global world order and provide a counterweight to the U.S. and its allies.”
BRICS is a byproduct of American rivalries with China and Russia, analogous in some ways to the Cold War competition between America and the Soviet Union. President Xi Jinping of China, a quintessential authoritarian, is assembling a growing bloc of nations that want to extricate themselves from American and Western dominance. Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the expansion of BRICS as “a new multipolar world order.”
However, many of these BRICS countries want economic benefits but no part of the fierce U.S.-Sino rivalry, thinking they can still rely on American security. They cannot be allowed to have it both ways.
There are other challenges for BRICS, as several of its members are geopolitical adversaries, such as China and India. It is still an open question whether this informal group can form an economic force to challenge the West or, more ambitiously, develop a security alliance displacing America.
For nations like Iran, BRICS is a get-out-of-jail card for their economies, burdened with American sanctions. Being a member of BRICS-plus allows Iran to take advantage of two significant initiatives of BRICS: a development bank that competes with the World Bank and a Contingent Reserve Arrangement designed to compete with the IMF.
A Council on Foreign Relations Task Force has described China’s goal as to “lock countries into the Chinese ecosystems and leave countries more susceptible to Chinese political pressure.”
In response, the G7 created a Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investments, hoping to raise $600 billion for infrastructure development in poorer nations. The initiative focuses on “clean energy, digital connectivity, health, and gender equality.” BRICS makes no political demands on its member nations.
Eric Mandel is director of the Middle East Political Information Network and Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm in the Middle East. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report.