Argentina not joining BRICS is likely to prove a costly mistake
Argentina's newly elected and populist president, self-defined as an "anarcho-capitalist", announced his country would not be joining the BRICS grouping. While the decision was not entirely unexpected within the region, given his clear stance on this during his election campaign, the significant shift in foreign policy between the previous and current administrations remains puzzling to many.
But contrary to apocalyptic predictions about BRICS and its enlargement, Argentina's non-participation does not foreshadow difficulties for the expansion of the group.
The BRICS Plus initiative remains strong, with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joining as new members, various nations from the Global South expressing interest in joining, and others showing significant interest.
However, it is undeniably a setback for Argentina. Facing significant political, economic and social challenges, including an inflation rate nearing 150 percent and 40 percent of its population living below the poverty line, Argentina has missed a golden opportunity to strengthen relations with established partners and to expand its connections with other markets. The BRICS Plus collectively represents approximately 27 percent of the world's GDP and 47 percent of the world's population. It controls more than 60 percent of global oil and gas reserves and includes the world's largest exporters and importers of petroleum.
The BRICS Plus framework would still welcome Argentina, should it reconsider its position in the future. However, dramatic changes in domestic and foreign policies can have detrimental effects on a country, affecting its society and straining its bilateral and multilateral ties with other nations.
Frequently, countries grapple with finding a balance between overarching state policies that encompass principles, norms and long-term objectives, and more immediate government policies tied to specific areas such as health, education, defense and social justice. While the former has a long-term perspective, the latter is often shaped by short- or medium-term considerations influenced by domestic political factors.
Political representatives across the spectrum — be they leftist, centrist or rightist — should collaborate on a shared vision for the nation. At the very least, they should find common ground on strategic principles, objectives, and policies to guide the country forward. Lacking such consensus allows the nation to be influenced by the agendas of interest groups, which might not always resonate with the broader national interests in the medium or long run. This situation can perpetuate a detrimental cycle within the political landscape and its mechanisms for power distribution.
Argentina has been one of the United States' closest partners in South America since the end of the Cold War. As President Milei's rhetoric and economic plan indicate, his intention is to further strengthen ties with the US. But joining the BRICS Plus grouping would not present any obstacle to this pro-US stance; rather, it might encourage increased attention from the US and Europe toward the region. Brazil, for instance, has had a strong and historical relationship with the US, encompassing political, economic, social, cultural, and even military dimensions. It was a founding member of BRICS and the very first developing country in the world to establish a strategic partnership with China.
Given their geographical proximity to the US, it is inevitable that South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina will seek to cultivate positive ties with the US.Similarly, fostering a positive relationship with Europe is also economically and politically beneficial. However, while maintaining relations with the North is important, it should not come at the expense of the need to forge robust connections with nations from the Global South. Given that the US and the EU have shown limited engagement or even indifference toward South America for several decades, and considering the distant prospects for cohesive South American economic integration, it is a strategic mistake to overlook ties with China in terms of trade, investments, and experience sharing in a number of areas, such as industrial policies.
As Beijing's Belt and Road and Global Development initiatives continue to generate global impact, South America should adapt to the new geopolitical context. By fostering political and economic ties that extend beyond the OECD and by engaging with new entities such as BRICS, the region can uphold its non-aligned or balanced position and effectively navigate the complexities of the 21st century.
The political calamity that is taking place in Argentina is tantamount to its economic crisis. Milei's victory in the presidential election, his stance against joining BRICS, and the sweeping changes he intends to introduce highlight a broader issue in South America. Amid serious economic challenges and social-political polarization, party politics, often characterized by personalistic agendas and fueled by narrow ideologies and values, leave real national interests behind.
The current political divide in Argentina and other nations around the globe is not a healthy phenomenon. The "Donald Trump effect" in the US has hit South America hard, particularly Argentina and Brazil, the two predominant economies in the region. While Brazil has moved back toward political stability with the leadership of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the lingering impacts of "bolsonarism" continue to pose challenges and to drive polarizing forces in the country.
Argentina and Brazil should move away from populist and extremist approaches and, instead, focus on creating a new social-political contract. This contract should prioritize pragmatic policies rooted not just in short-term government initiatives, but also in long-term, state-led strategies centered on a sustainable and human development. Furthermore, fostering greater collaboration among themselves, their peoples and other Global South partners, such as China and other BRICS countries, will allow for shared experiences and better strategies to address mutual challenges. Expanding civic unity and involvement, international engagement and the forging or strengthening of partnerships, as opposed to isolationism, can contribute to achieving those goals.