Pepe Escobar: BRICS Plus-SCO Super Bloc vs. US Empire

The world holds its breath as final preparations are made for the 15th BRICS summit in South Africa. This year, bloc expansion seems to be at the forefront of the agenda, with over 40 nations expressing interest in joining. How will the summit change the global geopolitical landscape? Veteran international affairs observer Pepe Escobar explains.

Johannesburg is gearing up for the 15th BRICS Summit, which will kick off on Tuesday and run through Thursday, with this year’s theme entitled „|BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.“

„Multilateralism“ is perhaps the most significant word to describe the gathering nations‘ intentions, with the BRICS‘ combined economic might already outweighing that of the G7, and, when accounting for the human, geographic, economic and resource potential of countries that have expressed interest in joining, pose a serious challenge to the US-led international order.

„The great potential for creating a fair and democratic architecture of international relations lies in structures like BRICS,“ Russian foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin said last week on the eve of the summit.

Pointing to the bloc name’s similarity to the English word „bricks“, Naryshkin indicated that BRICS is a subtle nod to the US and its allies that the so-called „rules based international order“ is on its way out.

„These are indeed the building blocks in the foundation of a truly free and equal world. In the near future, new bricks or poles will be added. The structure of multipolarity will continue to grow and strengthen, protecting the rights of nations to sovereignty and identity will promoting real economic development. No beast on Earth will succeed in dismantling this structure.“

‚This is It‘

„In terms of a game-changing geopolitical moment, this is it,“ Pepe Escobar told Sputnik, when asked about the special significance of this year’s BRICS summit.

„Much more than previous summits, much more than the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, much more than all previous BRICS summits. And the fact that it takes place in Africa, which, as we all know now, is at the center of everything once again, especially because of, let’s put it concisely, the ‚African revolt against French neocolonialism,’“ only adds to the gathering’s significance, Escobar said.

There’s also „the fact that the organizing committee invited 67 heads of state of powerful representatives from all over Africa and many other places in the Global South to be part of discussions involving the collaboration between BRICS and Africa and also ‘BRICS+,“ Escobar added, referring to the exciting prospect of new members joining the bloc for the first time since South Africa itself did so in 2010.

‚Rosetta Stone‘ Blueprint for Future Cooperation

„One thing we already know for sure coming from [leaders’ representatives] is that they already decided on a mechanism for the absorption of new members. Of course, this is a very complex endeavor because it involves, at the last count, over 30 nations, 23 that that have already expressed their formal desire to be part of BRICS+,“ the observer noted.

„Of course, these are baby steps, Escobar clarified. „We should not expect BRICS in two days in South Africa [to turn] the ‚rules-based international order‘ upside down. No, this is going to be a gradual, slow moving, very challenging process. But what’s happening in South Africa and immediately after South Africa is, let’s say, a sort of Rosetta Stone for what’s going to happen ahead.“

Along with bloc expansion, Escobar expects the summit to include a focus on inter-bloc trade using local currencies – the so-called R5 of the renminbi (yuan), ruble, real, rupee and rand, plus the currency of any new members that may join.

A Common BRICS Currency?

In the lead-up to the summit, both BRICS-friendly and BRICS-hostile observers commented on the prospects of the South Africa summit leading to the emergence of a possible common BRICS currency to ease international trade or even challenge the hegemony of the US dollar. Speculation on the matter has since been quashed, with the idea put off, at least for now.

„That path toward the new BRICS currency is extremely complex,“ Escobar explained, saying that the „unwritten consensus“ among independent analysts seems to be that the bloc may not actually need a common currency, at least for the moment. „They could have, for instance, in the medium term, a sort of token, a gold-backed token that would be, for instance, backed by gold in Russia. They don’t need a new currency like the euro. And there’s not going to be a BRICS currency like a new euro to be announced any time soon.“

BRICS Plus-SCO Super Bloc?

Another aspect Escobar expects on the menu at the Johannesburg meetings is an effort to create of some kind of architecture for the „progressive integration“ of BRICS with other multilateral organizations, such as the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

„And now we touch upon something very, very, very interesting,“ the observer stressed. „Because some diplomats are now voicing it on the record, like former South African diplomats, for instance…[asking] why should we not merge the BRICS+ with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the long run? Because maybe we’re going to have most of the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as members of BRICS or BRICS+. So it makes sense that they are working in parallel. They should work together. [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko said that a month and a half ago. Very, very important. So we could expect, I would say not an announced movement in this direction, but certainly steps to get them closer and working together, especially on the de-dollarization front. BRICS+, Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union.“

A BRICS+/SCO super bloc would not only complement China’s ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure plans, but also the Russian vision of the Greater Eurasia Partnership, Escobar noted.

For existing members of the two blocs, and new members or applicants, Escobar envisions a BRICS+/SCO merger facilitating integration in many levels, including „customs, currencies, bilateral trade bypassing the US dollar, 5G networks, you name it, because this is also supported by multilateral organizations who have a lot of power. So we are not saying that BRICS and SCO starting tomorrow are going to work hand-in-hand. No. We are basically saying that the potential for them to work in partnership…in specific projects in specific countries is huge, and that’s why the Chinese are thinking about it, Russians are thinking about it, Lukashenko in Belarus is thinking about it, the Iranians are thinking about it.“

In addition, Escobar said, if BRICS+ expands to important countries in Africa like Algeria and Egypt, this would create „a triangle in Africa – Northwest Africa, Northeast Africa and South Africa supported by BRICS and with BRICS+ projects in all of them,“ serving as a crucial impulse for development, including via the New Development Bank.

The BRICS‘ bank could play an „absolutely essential“ role going forward, the observer believes, „especially in terms of financing projects“ in Africa, Iran, or even Syria to assist in that country’s reconstruction in the wake of the CIA-led dirty war. „So the possibilities are endless, you know, in terms of mechanisms of finance that escape the IMF and the World Bank,“ Escobar emphasized.

US Empire’s Efforts to Break BRICS+ and Africa’s ‚Chance of a Century‘

BRICS+ integration going forward will not be without its challenges, Escobar said, pointing to an array of problems, from inter-bloc differences between Beijing and Delhi, to prospective difficulties of consensus-based governance, especially as the bloc expands, to efforts led by the US „Empire“ to put pressure on members Brazil, India and South Africa, as well as key prospective members Turkiye, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

As far as the African continent is concerned, Escobar believes that BRICS+ is the „chance of a century“ to break the chains of neocolonial bondage.

„A substantial swathe of the African continent is finally waking up to the possibilities ahead and the fact that if they don’t finally refuse all forms of neocolonialism by the Collective West, there’s not going to be another chance. This is the chance of a century for Africa to finally start developing in a way that is more equitable for African populations,“ he stressed.

„It’s no coincidence and it’s not by accident that the two top BRICS, Russia and China, approved this South African program ‚Ipsis Litteris‘, the way the South Africans designed it. This was great. This shows how much importance they attach to the fact that Africa has to be integrated,“ Escobar added.

Lessons to Learn From Empire?

There is one thing the BRICS+ must learn from and adapt from the US-led unipolar order, the geopolitical analyst says: the combination of American cultural, intellectual and soft power which has helped facilitate Washington’s global power for so long.

The BRICS+ „need a network of think tanks, publications, journals, soft power mechanisms, cultural exhibitions, intercultural and pan-cultural exhibitions, movies, theatre, music, cultural soft power interacting among them,“ including art that can serve to „explain their own local realities to their partners and to the rest of the globe as well,‘ Escobar emphasized.

„We would need at least one important BRICS think tank publishing regularly at the highest level with everybody interacting,“ because „if you don’t have a very solid counter-narrative, easily explainable to all these audiences in several languages, you lose the battle before the battle even begins,“ he stressed.

Characterizing the drive to unify BRICS+ into a global super bloc „the challenge of the times,“ Escobar said that it’s not only about BRICS, or the SCO, the EEC, the Greater Eurasian Partnership, the African Union or the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The central issue is finding the mechanisms for making consensus-based governance work, something the current, US-dictated order has no need for.

„If you have them all interacting closer and closer, then they will be able to address the threat, the challenges, but in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect and respect for each other’s sovereignty, which is the absolute opposite of the ‚rules-based international order‘,“ Escobar summed up.