Between North & South

Argentina applies to the BRICS.

Argentina has applied to join the BRICS – a politically influential bloc of developing nations Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa with Beijing’s endorsement. Membership of the group points to an interesting geopolitical reorientation for Argentina, dependent on US-led multilateral credit institutions (including the IMF and World Bank) but positioning itself as a leader in the Global South.  

An Argentine diplomat and high-ranking official in organisations across Europe explained, “President Fernández recently toured Europe and in addition to condemning Putin’s attack, he sought to emphasise the bond between Argentines and Europeans. Of course, behind the scenes has nurtured close ties with Moscow. Despite the deal with the IMF, it is important to remember that Argentina does more business with China than with the US, Argentine foreign policy is nothing if not pragmatic.” 

“Despite the deal with the IMF, it is important to remember that Argentina does more business with China than with the US, Argentine foreign policy is nothing if not pragmatic.”

Argentine diplomat

Why now? First is Argentina’s need for financial assistance. There was always ideological closeness between the Kirchner government and Russia. Ideology does little to balance the books, however.  

For decades, Argentina has been unable to lift itself outside of monetary crisis out and is on the verge of default. Although the Kirschnerists declare themselves ‘anti-imperialist,’ their dependence on the IMF infers a rather more dependent relationship with Washington. In this context, although they must maintain good relations with the US and the IMF, Argentina is the most interested in a new financial order of the BRICS members.  

The US and China are the visible heads in this reconfiguration but the attack on Ukraine has led to a more complex web of multilateral alignment. Membership of BRICS emphasises cooperation with Moscow but also increases Argentina’s diplomatic weight in Asia and Africa, something it has long desired. 

A Bolivian diplomat and expert in regional integration explained, “Russia and China have always been in favour of Argentina joining the bloc because they want to strengthen and challenge the liberal order led by the US. On the other hand, China and India are interested in Argentina’s large grain production especially given the slowdown in output from Russia and Ukraine. For China, Argentina is a key partner. In addition to voluminous trade, the countries are party to several important military treaties, with a Chinese base operating in Patagonia.” 

“Russia and China have always been in favour of Argentina joining the bloc because they want to strengthen and challenge the liberal order led by the US.”

A Bolivian diplomat and expert in regional integration

The presence of Brazil creates an unusual dynamic. Fernández and Bolsonaro are from different ends of the political spectrum. The respective administrations have competing rather than complementary foreign policy objectives especially when it comes to agricultural exports, soybean for example.  

In addition, there is the multilateral agenda of Brazil, the diplomatic heavyweight of the region. It is part of the power bloc that seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, for example. Argentina has always been tepid in its support, envisaging itself as the leader of Latin American affairs.  

Will Bolsonaro allow an Argentina with a Peronist government to enter BRICS? Pundits say no. With a Lula presidency in Brazil, things could be markedly different. 

Last but not least, keep the Falkland Islands in mind.  

BRICS membership will allow Buenos Aires to strengthen its diplomatic case against London with support from heavy hitters who themselves have frequently questioned the legitimacy of the UK’s claim over the archipelago.  

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