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An alternative world order?

Don’t write off the United States, and the dollar, just yet


Leaders of the BRICS nations pose for a group photo on Aug. 23 during the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. Gianluigi Guercia/Pool via Associated Press

An alternative world order?
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The United States is absolutely the superpower of this generation, precisely because of its military might and economic strength. It’s undoubtedly the most influential country in the world. Particularly, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has been largely unchallenged as the world’s superpower. However, in recent years, diligent attempts have been made to change that. One example is formation and growth of BRICS.

BRICS refers to a coalition of five nations with emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. They started in 2001 as BRIC, before South Africa joined in 2010. Since its formation, one of its stated goals is to weaken Western control of the global economy. Not only are these nations growing economically, but they constitute about 40 percent of the world’s total population, which indicates an unprecedented human power and consumers’ market.

From August 22–24, BRICS held its 15th heads of state and government summit in Johannesburg, with presidents of South Africa, China, and Brazil, and the prime minister of India present, while Russia’s Vladimir Putin joined virtually, due to the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court.

What happened in this summit and what should we expect in the future? Importantly, will the United States soon lose its status as the world’s superpower?

One major item on the agenda of this summit was noteworthy: “Over 40 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia, have expressed interest in joining BRICS.” This desire to join BRICS reflects a clear aspiration of major nations—including at least five influential Muslim powers—to find alternative economic partners and political allies in a world that has been largely dominated by the United States.

After the summit, the five BRICS nations announced the official invitation of six new countries—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and UAE—to join the bloc. These are invited to join but are not yet members. Critically, this new addition—which has been largely discouraged by BRICS’ members for over 10 years—reflects that the bloc now includes half of the world population and is openly and vigorously seeking to establish itself as a relevant alternative—or challenger—to Western power, as led by the United States.

The U.S. dollar is the most reliable—thus, strongest—currency worldwide. This is, in part, a result of the stability of the U.S. democratic and political system.

This challenge to the West and especially to the United States was evident in Vladimir Putin’s virtual speech in the summit. He revealed his intentions, as he declared that, “The objective, irreversible process of de-dollarization of our economic ties is gaining momentum.” Putin’s statement highlights his desire—echoed by many other nations—to adopt new trading dynamics that rely on other currencies, thus dethroning the U.S. dollar from being the chief world currency.

However, we should emphasize that challenging the West isn’t a piece of cake, especially as the founding nations of BRICS don’t view or deal with the West similarly. They actually adopt competing approaches to the West: If China and Russia, for instance, have been a major challenger to the West for decades, India and Brazil are in a completely different sphere. They seem to prefer neutrality and cooperation, as evidenced in their significant economic ties and political partnerships with the United States and Western nations in general. This inner conflict within BRICS might prove consequential in the long run.

Moreover, the goal of dethroning the U.S. dollar is a mere hope and just talk, at least for now. It’s difficult to accomplish because of the strength and pervasiveness of the U.S. economy and the fact that the dollar is the chief reserve currency worldwide. After all, while there have been discussions for years about switching trade between the BRICS’ members away from the U.S. dollar, nothing has actually occurred in this regard. Until now, the U.S. dollar is the most reliable—thus, strongest—currency worldwide. This is, in part, a result of the stability of the U.S. democratic and political system. Still, many nations openly desire to get away from U.S. dominance in world affairs, because the United States had often deployed this significant influence as a weapon for economic sanctions against its foes, as evidenced, for example, in the cases of Russia and Iran in recent years.

So, will the United States soon collapse as the major superpower?

I don’t think so.

Indeed, many may get discouraged when they see cultural and social matters going wrong—matters such as moral decay, social tension, rising crime, sexual exploitation, immigration crisis, and others. While these are ugly realities in our day, the influence of the United States in world affairs will only deteriorate if it decides to forsake its military might and economic advancement.

We don’t need to exaggerate nor underestimate the challenge represented by BRICS, but dethroning the U.S. dollar and its status in the world isn’t happening anytime soon.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.


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