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The BRICS Grouping  

Oliver Stuenkel

The emergence of the BRICS grouping has been one of the most noteworthy yet misunderstood elements of global politics over the past decades. Despite its role in the transition toward a less Western-centric world order and the group’s surprising process of institutionalization, symbolized by the creation of a joint development bank, the relevance of BRICS remains contested by many scholars. To some, it amounts to little more than a marketing ploy articulated by a bank to attract investors, with very limited theoretical or real-world relevance due to the many differences between member states. To others, the grouping is symbolic of a broader power shift that has taken place in the world since 2000, with profound consequences for international politics. At the same time, the relatively limited time and energy academics have dedicated to the subject in the discipline’s leading journals is at least partly due to a Western-centric perspective that still dominates the discipline, which limits the attention scholars pay to initiatives led by non-Western powers. During the 2010s, however, a growing number of academics both in the West and in the Global South began to analyze the origins and impact of the BRICS and to write about the grouping focusing on issues such as South–South cooperation; questions of hierarchy, status, global governance, and the provision of global public goods; as well as sovereignty, democracy, financial statecraft, and global order. Despite continued doubts about how to think about the BRICS group, there is now a rich and highly diverse body of scholarship involving many different theoretical and geographic perspectives.

Article

Revisionism in International Relations  

Jonathan M. DiCicco and Victor M. Sanchez

International relations analysts often differentiate between status-quo and revisionist states. Revisionist states favor modifications to the prevailing order: its rules and norms, its distribution of goods or benefits, its implicit structure or hierarchy, its social rankings that afford status or recognition, its division of territory among sovereign entities, and more. Analyses of revisionist states’ foreign policies and behaviors have explored sources and types of revisionism, choices of revisionist strategies, the interplay of revisionist and status-quo states, and the prospects for peaceful or violent change in the system. Intuitive but imprecise, the concepts of revisionism and revisionist states often are used without explicit definition, reflective discussion, or rigorous operationalization. For these reasons, efforts to conceptualize and measure revisionism merit special attention. Highlighted works promise to improve understanding of revisionism as a phenomenon, as well as its use in theoretical and empirical analyses of international conflict, war, and the peaceful accommodation of rising powers. Three questions guide the survey. First, who is seeking to revise what? This question opens a foray into the realm of the status quo and its distinct components, particularly in the context of rising and resurgent powers. Second, what is revisionism, and how is it detected or recognized? This question prompts an exploration of the concept and how it is brought to life in scholarly analyses. The third guiding question invites theoretical perspective: How does revisionism help one understand international relations? Provisional answers to that question open avenues for future inquiry.

Article

Great Power Leadership  

Wesley B. O'Dell

The notion that Great Powers fulfill a leadership role in international politics is old, influential, and contested. As the actors in the international system with the greatest capacity for taking action, Great Powers are assumed to think both further ahead and in broader, more systemic terms than other states; they then use their preeminent positions to organize others to promote public goods, reaping benefits along the way thanks to their direction of events. At the core of this understanding is the assumption that Great Power actions are, or ought to be, inspired by something more than simple self-interest and the pursuit of short-term gains. As an organic creation of international practice, Great Power leadership was traditionally the domain of historians and international legists; early students of the topic utilized inductive reasoning to derive general precepts of Great Power sociology from the landmark settlements of the 18th and 19th centuries. The framing of Great Powers as a leadership caste originated in the struggle against Louis XIV, was given tentative institutional form through settlements such as the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), and deepened considerably in both institutionalization and sophistication in the 19th century Concert of Europe. The return of France to full Great Power status, the Congress (1878) and Conference (1884) of Berlin, and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) all demonstrated the willingness and ability of the Powers to cooperate in the management of international change. In the early 20th century, the leadership of the Great Powers was both challenged as an unjust agent of catastrophe as well as increasingly formalized through recognition in new international institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Theorists of international relations began to formulate theories based on Great Power management at the time of the discipline’s beginnings in the early 20th century. Realists and liberals frequently utilize Great Power concepts to explain processes of equilibrium, hegemonic competition, and institution building, while approaches influenced by constructivism focus on the role of ideas, statuses, and roles in the formulation of Great Power identities and policies. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a 21st-century manifestation of the application of Great Power leadership to international problems; though hailed by some as the future of Great Power management, it provokes controversy among both theorists and practitioners. Similarly, extensive scholarly attention has been devoted to the management and accommodation of “rising powers.” These are states that appear likely to obtain the status of Great Power, and there is extensive debate over their orientation toward and potential management of international order. Finally, the position of Russia and China within this literature has provoked deep reflection on the nature of Great Power, the responsibilities of rising and established powers, and the place of Great Power management amidst the globalized challenges of the 21st century.

Article

Great-Power Competition  

Jonathan M. DiCicco and Tudor A. Onea

Great-power competition (GPC) is a touchstone for strategists and policymakers. Its popularity stems from perceptions of China’s rise, Russia’s resurgence, and the United States’ relative decline. The term’s notoriety in policy circles is related to its use in U.S. national defense and strategy guidance documents. Sometimes GPC is dismissed as a buzzword, but it is a distinctive phenomenon that deserves scholarly investigation. GPC is a classic feature of modern international relations grounded in a traditional power politics approach. Specifically, GPC is a permanent, compulsory, comprehensive, and exclusive contest for supremacy in a region or domain among those states considered to be the major players in the international system. The contest varies in intensity over time and space but remains a persistent aspect of the international system of sovereign states. Great powers field uncommonly large, sophisticated, and diversified capabilities and compete for high stakes; their competitive behavior is endemic to a stratified system in which select states are recognized as having special status. That status imparts to members of the great-power club privileges and responsibilities, including collective action to address system-wide problems. However, the competition over power, security, and status among the great powers is always present. GPC is often parsed into analytically separable dimensions (military, economic, scientific–technological, and so on), but in practice such dimensions are interrelated. Together with the great powers’ extraordinary capabilities and interests, the interdependence of these dimensions of competition tends to push GPC to be comprehensive. GPC is sometimes treated as something other than war, but when GPC intensifies, the possibility of major war looms. Patterns of GPC are identified through the lens of competing schools of thought on power politics: balance of power and hegemonic–power transition. Each provides a general framework in which GPC may be located. Scholars, however, should not confine their investigations to such frameworks; novel scholarship is warranted to further develop the concept of GPC, to characterize it and theorize about its dynamics, to further study it empirically, and to scrutinize it through critical lenses.