The U.S. is still the world’s richest economy, and its superiority may be under threat by not any one country but rather a bunch. The annual BRICS summit, hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa last week, brought together leaders also from Brazil, Russia, India and China, which prompted discussion about the role of the U.S.
“They’re not only re-balancing the current global order, but contesting that order,” senior director of the Johannesburg Business School at the University of Johannesburg Lyal White told Bloomberg, referring to the five member states.
“Each of these countries can’t do that on their own, but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. This is a decisive but progressive shift.”
Initially, BRICS was called BRIC, until South Africa joined in 2010. BRIC was started in 2006, when the first BRIC meeting was held under the aegis of a mutual agreement to boost each member country’s development. After U.S. President Donald J. Trump imposed trade tariffs on Chinese goods this year, ramping up a trade war, BRICS nations expressed their readiness to coordinate efforts in opposition to Trump’s trade policy.
“The huge problem of the world community is the fight against a unilateral world order,” said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the eve of the event, according to RIA Novosti. “The BRICS countries are responsible for forming a common position and striking a joint blow to the unilateral world order.”
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said at the summit that although BRICS does not oppose “any particular state,” it “condemn[s] any protectionism” that comes from any once country.
Together BRICS accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s population – about 3.1 billion people – and, according to the International Monetary Fund, about 23 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). In comparison to the U.S. GDP, which is considered the biggest in the world at $19.4 trillion, BRICS has a combined GDP of $18.6 trillion.
Russia and China, which have been hit the hardest by Trump’s tariffs, urged BRICS countries to strengthen economic cooperation within the bloc. In turn, China – as the biggest BRICS member – pledged $14.7 billion in investment in South Africa.
China’s GDP alone may surpass that of the U.S. before 2030, according to some estimates. Growth is expected to lead to BRICS building stronger militaries, especially those of China and India.
Currently the U.S. spends more on its military rather than any other country, with a defense budget just under $700 billion for 2018. This figure outpaces the defense budgets of all BRICS countries combined.
According to the Global Firepower index, Brazil’s military budget is currently $24.5 billion, Russia’s is $44.6 billion, India’s is $51 billion, China’s is $161.7 billion and South Africa’s is $4.6 billion.