Saudi Arabia’s Accession to BRICS: Objectives and Challenges

ByMohammed Bani Hamim

The comments of the President of the Republic of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa in which he invited Saudi Arabia, among other countries, to join BRICS, a grouping of the world economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, marks a new success added to the successes achieved by Saudi Arabia on the path toward achieving its vision for development. Those who reflect on the shifts in Saudi foreign policy in recent times would realize that the country is now focusing its energies, potential and objectives on achieving Saudi Vision 2030, which consists of three main themes: creating a vibrant society, prosperous economy and an ambitious nation. Therefore, when analyzing and explaining Saudi foreign policy, one notices that Riyadh has a serious desire to expand its alliances and diplomatic relations with its neighbors as well as distant nations. In addition, Riyadh also seeks to end all past disputes and differences with rivals, whether regional foes such as Turkey and Iran or international ones like Canada. Riyadh is stepping up its diplomatic efforts through joining a number of blocs and international organizations which would enable it to achieve its objectives and interests overseas, both of which are consistent with its vision.

Accordingly, the economy is an important locomotive for Saudi foreign policy. And here arises some questions: why is Saudi Arabia seeking to be a BRICS member? And what are the opportunities and challenges awaiting Riyadh when it joins the bloc?

The recent increasing clout of Saudi Arabia as a result of its vision and future plans for restructuring and diversifying the economy, in addition to being a leading member of the global energy market, have encouraged it to join BRICS, a massive economic grouping controlling nearly a quarter of the global economy. It also includes the world’s fastest-growing economies. This comes particularly as Riyadh is adopting an ambitious economic plan that prompts it to engage in economic alliances with rising powers, which could help the country to further bolster its economy. In welcoming Saudi Arabia, the BRICS members have taken into account the country’s strategic location and national program to turn it into a competitive economy and, above all, its genuine political will to engage with the grouping.

BRICS provides an essential platform for Saudi Arabia to expand its ambitions to enhance its independence and diversify alliances away from the West with which it has strong political and economic relations. However, based on its outlook and vision to accomplish its goals, the necessity to work with numerous global axes has become a Saudi priority. The country pursues an all-encompassing and inclusive foreign policy that is in line with its regional and international stature. Riyadh aims to accomplish its goals by pursuing economic diplomacy so that it does not clash with any party or side with one party against another. The BRICS comprises global powers such as China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, all having critical interests in Saudi Arabia. As a result, enhancing Saudi Arabia’s relations with major global powers is critical; it helps in its efforts to recalibrate its foreign relations, achieve independent policymaking and form new alliances, while also strengthening mutual confidence with these parties and expanding coordination with them.

Riyadh is presenting itself on the global arena as an international neutral mediator, particularly against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war and the mounting political tensions and attempts to establish polarizing alliances by global powers. Therefore, Saudi Arabia’s accession to BRICS further asserts the country’s will to maintain a neutral position on all these polarizations and tensions on the global stage.

The Saudi equation, built on laying out initiatives and mediation efforts for peace, concluding successful prisoner swap deals between Russia and Ukraine, providing $400 million in assistance to Ukraine, hosting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Arab League Summit held in Jeddah, holding an international summit to discuss ways of restoring peace between Russia and Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia’s accession to BRICS, a grouping that includes Russia and China — deemed by the West as competitors and rivals — are the best examples showing that Saudi Arabia is gaining the confidence of warring parties and the international community. This also paves the way for the rise of Riyadh as a potential intermediary in the future, which could allow it to play mediating roles between regional and global powers and pursue a form of protective diplomacy to safeguard international peace and security.

As for the Middle East, Saudi Arabia attaches huge importance and accords high priority to this region, particularly after the China-brokered rapprochement deal to end the standoff and ease past regional tensions, thus turning this regional rivalry into a cooperative diplomatic approach which could encourage Iran to play a positive role. Assuming that Iran will respect all of its promises outlined in the recent accords, Saudi Arabia’s simultaneous application for BRICS with Iran might have a positive impact on the region’s security, stability and prosperity —a fundamental pillar of Saudi foreign policy.

However, despite the benefits and opportunities that Saudi Arabia is likely to receive by joining BRICS, several challenges exist that Riyadh will need to overcome. Some erroneous interpretations of Saudi Arabia’s accession to BRICS will emerge, implying that Riyadh is aligning itself with countries hostile to the West, undermining international organizations dominated by Western countries, establishing a new global order in which the United States is not the only dominant global pole, and working to accelerate the launch of a new common currency that defies the US dollar, the world’s dominant currency. This is especially significant given that Saudi-US ties at the moment are not at their peak. But the continuation of effective and intensive Saudi diplomacy will help convince the other parties of the neutral Saudi position, which ensures its independence while at the same time avoiding polarizing alignments.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia’s accession to BRICS demonstrates that it is committed to its position of achieving independence and establishing balanced relations with rival global powers. Saudi diplomacy aims to ensure that the country remains untouched by global polarization and achieves its objectives based on its core vision and own national interests.

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

Mohammed Bani Hamim
Mohammed Bani Hamim
Researcher in political affairs