The BRICS Against the West ?

Centre d'études et de Recherches Internationales (CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS), CERI Strategy Paper No. 11, November 2011

13 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2013

See all articles by Zaki Laïdi

Zaki Laïdi

Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) - Centre d'Études Européennes (EEC)

Date Written: November 1, 2011


Whether we like it or not, the BRICS are now part of the global geopolitical landscape. It remains to be seen whether this evolving geopolitical acronym –since, in 2011, South Africa was added to the initial group consisting of Brazil, India, Russia, and China – is able to structurally impact the global system. Structural impact refers to the ability to shape one’s identity or future configuration. Regarding identity this consists of proposing, for example, a competing global narrative to that of the West (“the world is multipolar and state sovereignty is one of its essential features”). With regard to balance of power, it involves changing the agenda, direction, standing requirements, and collective decision-making of the international community in sensitive areas (multilateral trade negotiations, International Monetary Fund reform, Security Council and United Nations reform, completion of climate negotiations, implementation of the resolution on the responsibility to protect). The BRICS’ impact can be evaluated based on the degree of political coherence among them, as well as their capacity to influence the international system. This article will from the outset assume that the BRICS form a heterogeneous coalition of often competing powers that share a common fundamental political objective: to erode Western hegemonic claims by protecting the principle which these claims are deemed to most threaten, namely the political sovereignty of states.The BRICS form a coalition of sovereign state defenders. While they do not seek to form an anti-Western political coalition based on a counter-proposal or radically different vision of the world, they are concerned with maintaining their independence of judgment and national action in a world that is increasingly economically and socially interdependent. They consider that state sovereignty trumps all, including, of course, the political nature of its underpinning regimes. Thus the BRICS – even the democratic ones – fundamentally diverge from the liberal vision of Western countries. There is no better evidence of this today than the BRICS’ opposition to any outside intervention in the countries affected by the Arab Spring.

Yet this defensively strong coalition remains weak on the offensive precisely because the sovereign states that form it pursue narrow national objectives. Since they are very distrustful of one another for a number of reasons, of which some are historical (Sino-Russian and Sino-Indian rivalry), the BRICS have trouble interpreting sovereignty as anything other than a zero-sum game, including among themselves. This narrow attachment to sovereignty is both their strength and their great weakness.

Suggested Citation

Laïdi, Zaki, The BRICS Against the West ? (November 1, 2011). Centre d'études et de Recherches Internationales (CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS), CERI Strategy Paper No. 11, November 2011, Available at SSRN:

Zaki Laïdi (Contact Author)

Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) - Centre d'Études Européennes (EEC) ( email )

27 rue Saint-Guillaume
Paris, 75337

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