Iran’s Application to Join BRICS: A Strategy to Enhance Alliances

ByMahmoud Hamdy Abo El-Kasem

Iran’s Foreign Ministry applied to join BRICS, an organization of emerging economies, during its 14th summit held in Beijing on June 24, 2022. It is clear that this Iranian move would not have happened if Tehran had not received the green light from China and Russia. Both countries have given life to BRICS+, thus aiming to expand its size and to form an anti-Western alliance that particularly opposes the United States. China wants to strengthen its ties with Iran, which it sees as a reliable partner in the Middle East and an important geographical destination for carrying out its ambitious projects. Russia on the other hand seeks to strengthen ties with China, India and Iran to counter what it perceives as an American and Western plan to weaken it. 

These Chinese and Russian efforts came in light of the transformations that the international arena has witnessed since US President Joe Biden took office and his strategy which aims to kick off strategic competition with China and Russia in order to contain their rising power and the threats posed to Washington’s standing on the international stage.

BRICS is not an official political organization but an international financial organization founded in June 2009. The term “BRIC” is widely believed to have been coined in 2001 by then-chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Jim O’Neill to describe the tremendous potential of the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Later in 2010, South Africa was added to become “BRICS”. The member states of BRICS held their first summit in 2009.

The organization aims to increase the strength of emerging economies in larger international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. This is in addition to forming a bloc rivaling other groups such as the Group of Seven (G7) and fostering South-South cooperation while opposing the United States’ protectionist economic policies.

BRICS is regarded as more advanced in the global economic field. Its members’ economies account for 26 percent of the global economy. China, given its enormous standing and potential, is the organization’s backbone. It accounts for more than 70 percent of the organization’s overall economic strength, which totals $27.5 trillion.

BRICS member countries agreed to expand the organization through agreeing to specific mechanisms at the 2017 summit. At the BRICS summit in June 2022, the idea of expanding the organization was revisited once again but this time with greater willingness. It seems that Beijing aims to broaden the base of this economic organization by inviting Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE to join. Some of these countries, including Saudi Arabia, are looking to join BRICS as their foreign policies are much more independent now. On the other hand, Iran wants to join as it is searching for partners to help it mitigate the impact of sanctions and alleviate the economic pressures it is facing. Iran has applied to join BRICS, while Saudi Arabia is considering China’s offer. In fact, it is not possible to consider the BRICS plan to expand without analyzing current international developments. Foremost among these developments is the strategic competition sparked by the Biden administration to counter the transformations led by China and Russia to change the global power structure. These transformations are taking place against the backdrop of the United States’ escalatory policies in the South China Sea and the Ukrainian crisis. This is in addition to some countries opposing Washington’s policies, such as the Gulf states rejecting the United States’ efforts to influence energy markets. China and Russia are attempting to exploit the growing opposition to the United States in order to weaken its hegemony.

Iranian leaders have always dreamt of joining BRICS to help Iran move away from the West. Iran’s interest in joining BRICS grew after the nuclear deal fell apart in 2018 and the United States adopted the maximum pressure campaign against Iran. This corresponded with BRICS’ desire to broaden its membership. Since then, Iran has adopted a resistance policy, refusing to yield to Washington’s pressure. Iran adopted a policy of moving away from the West by leaning further eastwards towards Russia and China.Iran also believes that joining BRICS will help it in becoming a regional and international heavyweight within the existing economic equations. During his speech at the BRICS summit, the Iranian president positioned his country as a conduit for the BRICS countries, as well as a link between existing energy corridors and international markets. It is worth noting that Iran plays an important role in the One Belt One Road initiative, as it is the only major country that connects the “belt” with the “road.”

The significance of Iran’s application to join BRICS can be understood in the context of current regional competition and shifts, including the process of forming alliances between major actors such as the Turkish-Saudi rapprochement or the alliance that President Biden intends to launch in the coming period for enhancing regional security.

Iran’s admission into BRICS could lead to the organization becoming a club of anti-US powers. There is no doubt that Iran’s membership in BRICS will benefit both parties. However, Iran will be the biggest winner, both politically and economically. The move will be a significant accomplishment for the Raisi government and its plan to strengthen Tehran’s alliances in the international arena. BRICS also providesIran with greater opportunities to address its problems with regard to the nuclear talks.

On the other hand, Iran provides tremendous opportunities to BRICS member countries due to its strategic location and endeavors to become an effective international transport corridor on the transit route that facilitates trade between China and Russia. It is noteworthy that Tehran has signed long-term strategic agreements with both Beijing and Moscow.

China will benefit from bringing these new countries into BRICS. This is because their admission will aid its global projects and hegemonic ambitions. Some of the invited countries are the world’s largest exporters of oil and energy, as well as significant emerging markets. However, this does not negate the fact that these countries have contradictions and competing geopolitical and economic interests. Their inclusion in BRICS also runs counter to the American-Israeli project to form a regional bloc to oppose Iran. Perhaps this explains Iran’s positive response to China’s invitation, while the Gulf states and Egypt are still considering the current transformations that will determine their entry into BRCS.

In could be said in the end that the current international changes taking place are favorable to Iran. These shifts have presented Iran with a number of opportunities, such as forming alliances and easing the sanctions.

By leveraging BRICS as a geopolitical strategy for an emerging financial market, its future will be conditioned on its obtained profits in the coming years as a result of political, economic and social relations. This, therefore, can be attractive for Iran. As such, will the United States exert pressure on its BRICS allies, such as India, to deny Iran membership in the organization? Or will it focus on containing Iran and returning to the nuclear deal to prevent Russia and China from forming a strong anti-US alliance?

The most important question is not related to Iran’s ability to join BRICS, but rather to the benefits of Iran’s possible inclusion in it. If the balancing forces such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt do not join BRICS while Iran does, efforts should be made to counter its growth and its benefits from this bloc which could include increasing its regional leverage.

 Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Mahmoud Hamdy Abo El-Kasem
Mahmoud Hamdy Abo El-Kasem
Managing Editor of JIS