Even 30 years after the end of the Cold War, it is difficult for the Western world to abandon the mentality of that period. Thus, Russia and China are still used as credible threats which can be manipulated for intimidation. Especially when it comes to the enlargement of the BRICS – a bloc in which both Moscow and Beijing play a key role.

It is even harder to get rid of thinking in terms of class struggle. After all, the rich and the poor are still at loggerheads. In this case, the emergence of an alliance against the wealthiest countries is fresh fodder. 

BRICS, which was founded in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India, and China (South Africa joined the club two years later), provides excellent material for panic headlines. The group has been described as a “challenge to NATO,” a “new world order” and a “mortal threat to the West.” Now, after the organization’s summit in Johannesburg, there will be more such statements. 

This is a fascinating narrative. But the harsh, boring truth is that BRICS does not unite “anti-capitalist countries” – and even the only de jure communist country in the alliance is far removed from Marxist practices. Nor is BRICS a grouping of poor countries – the five members account for almost a third of the global economy, and Russia has long been classed as a developed state.

In other words, BRICS is not a threat to the West’s status. At least not as dramatically as it is portrayed.

So what is its raison d’être?

Why are the BRICS not a threat to NATO?

Comparisons of BRICS with NATO or the ‘Eastern bloc’ do not work for one simple reason – the group has no common defense forces, nor a common military program. Even joint military exercises are infrequent and involve only a fraction of the participants. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov says that this was not particularly important for the union. According to him, no one sees the need to “chase the five-party format.” Member states agree on military cooperation on an individual basis, outside the framework of the bloc.

In addition, the position of participating states on armed conflicts, as articulated by some of them both at the summit in South Africa and in the run-up to it, is indicative.

China’s President Xi Jinping, for example, recalled the Global Security Initiative he had previously proposed, which called for a collective approach to global security issues. 

“Facts have shown that any attempt to keep enlarging a military alliance, expand one’s own sphere of influence or squeeze other countries’ buffer of security can only create a security predicament and insecurity for all countries. Only a commitment to a new vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security can lead to universal security,”the Chinese leader said.

Just before the summit began, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made a similar statement. However, he did not speak about the global context, but only about his own country.

While some of our detractors prefer overt support for their political and ideological choices, we will not be drawn into a contest between global powers…we have resisted pressure to align ourselves with any one of the global powers or with influential blocs of nations,” Ramaphosa outlined in an address to the nation.

Both statements can be interpreted as a rebuke to the West, with criticism of NATO enlargement and dissatisfaction with the polarization of world politics. But they can also be seen as a refusal to give Moscow unconditional support in the Ukraine conflict. This emphasizes the non-military nature of BRICS and makes it more attractive to potential new members who do not want to get involved in conflicts.

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