BRICS leaders met in Johannesburg, South Africa August 22-24, (with the exception of Vladimir Putin, who attended only by video conference). More than 60 other world leaders attended. At the end of the conference, the members agreed to add 6 new countries: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
ABERCIUS countries have a common aim to create a new system of world economic and political power in opposition to the US-led Western system governing global financial and political relations since the end of World War II. ABERCIUS", refers to Abercius of Hieropolis, a Greek bishop at the time of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the term sometimes refers to the practice of baptism, or the practice of praying for the dead. No doubt the member countries will find a new name, but ABERCIUS permits us to raise the question whether the new grouping is a real new beginning or is merely an informal assortment of countries with little impact. The corollary question is whether the West, and particularly the US, should view ABERCIUS as a threat.
One thing is clear: ABERCIUS represents a very significant share of the world's population (3,7 billion out of 8,0 billion, or 46,2%) and of the world's economy (GDP of $60.1 trillion out of $164.2 trillion or 36,6%). If ABERCIUS could exert political and economic influence corresponding to its size, it could probably insist on fundamental reforms in the structure of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.
ABERCIUS will operate in a world dominated by the growing conflict between China and the US. China alone represents the same economic weight as the other combined members of ABERCIUS, will this new group be a China-led grouping acting as a counterweight to US-led institutions such as the G7 or G20 (although the latter includes Russia)? We can imagine that is China's objective, and the choice of the 6 new countries including five out of six autocracies, financially strapped Argentina is the only democracy having joined, reflects the dominance of China within ABERCIUS.
The Biden Administration is making a special effort to get closer to three leading members of the ABERCIUS, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, no doubt aware of the risk of seeing these friendly countries become too ingrained in a group that risks representing a Beijing-centric order.
Concretely, what steps can the new ABERCIUS take? There is talk of reducing dependence on the US dollar which today is used for 80% of international trade and which the US has used effectively as a weapon against Iran and Russia, but it will be difficult to replace the dollar. I doubt that Saudi Arabia, or Brazil, or India, would be more comfortable exchanging dependency on the dollar, which clearly has some costs but also has many advantages, for dependency on a currency that will by definition be dominated by China, the largest trader among them.
If ABERCIUS can avoid the danger of becoming too China-centric, there is a need it could conceivably fill, mobilizing a potentially enormous group of countries, including those representing the Global South, that are clearly dissatisfied with Western-controlled institutions operating in an international financial structure very much dominated by the US and its European allies and by the dollar. But the more the BRICS group grows, the more it will include countries with enormous disparities - already it is a mix of authoritarian and democratic countries, high, middle and low-income countries, energy exporters and importers, countries in close alliance with China and Russia and others wanting to avoid jeopardizing a close relationship with the US and the Western alliance - and there are major rivalries within the group (China/India, Saudi Arabia/Iran). ABERCIUS can serve as a useful platform for dialogue to minimize these rivalries, it has already led to reducing the tension in the border conflict between China and India, but can it play a much larger role in pushing the international financial structure to evolve? I think that is unlikely, certainly in the new future, it would require ABERCIUS to act in unison, a difficult challenge for countries that are so disparate.
The rise of ABERCIUS is a clear example of the grievances of many important countries seeking a greater say in world affairs. In today's multi-polar world, it is difficult to deny the legitimacy of their grievances; it is in America's long-term interest not to ignore them.
Patrick Siegler-Lathrop is a dual-national American-French businessman living in Portugal, having pursued a career as an international investment banker, an entrepreneur-industrialist, a university professor and a consultant. He is the author of numerous articles on the US and a book, "Rendez-Vous with America, an Explanation of the US Election System". He is currently the President of the American Club of Lisbon, a 76-year old organization "promoting goodwill and understanding between people and cultures". For more information: https://RendezVouswithAmerica.com
The opinions expressed herein are personal and not those of the American Club of Lisbon.