Monday, January 5, 2009

Just Another BRIC in the Wall?

This analysis on BRIC appeared first on the ORF website.

The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) grouping has been touted as yet another grouping opposing unipolarity. However, the key question is whether the unipolar movement is over and what alternatives are available at this juncture or even in the future. Does BRIC have the potential and prospects for emerging as a strategic bloc? Is the unipolar movement over? Analysts note that the US hegemony has reached its peak and is on a downward spiral. The rise of the BRICs needs to be analysed in this context. The fact that the BRIC countries have been identified as some of the fastest growing economies in the world does not mean that they can alter the current US-dominated global order.

Is the Unipolar Movement Over?
Several analysts have pointed to the declining US share in the world economy. In 1939, the US share of global wealth was about 30%. By 1945, after the Second World War it rose to 45%; it is currently at about 20%. The post-WWII US share does not make a correct estimate of the US share because after the war, must of the other major economies were destroyed and therefore the US share was high. Therefore, one must look at the 1939 figures to get a correct picture. When compared with the 1939 share, the US share today is not that small, especially considering the rise of several other major powers in the meantime. .
Second, why do we say it is the decline of US-led unipolarity? The US has been a superpower in a bipolar world for 5 decades and a sole superpower in the last decade and more. But on what basis are we concluding that the US-led unipolarity is over? The Roman Empire lasted for centuries (14 to 476 AD). Brazil has been a great power of tomorrow for decades now. India and China are touted as great powers. Prospects for both India and China emerging as great powers come with certain amount of scepticism. The internal problems, mostly socio-economic in nature, in both the countries might pull these countries down.
How do we make these assumptions with certainty? The US power might not decline as one expects. The lead - in politico-economic, military and strategic spheres - that the US maintains cannot be challenged soon by any power or any group of powers in the near future. While this is true, it must also borne in mind that although the US has continued to maintain a lead, it is being increasingly faced with challenges from peer competitors like China, Russia and at a lower level, from India too. More significantly, China and Russia are moving into the Western hemisphere, US’ backyard in a significant manner, trying to reduce the traditional US influence in there.1
Does rise of BRICs give way to a multipolar world?
At the end of the Cold War, there were expectations of a multipolar world order (Japan, Germany, Europe), although these expectations have not been borne out. It was a clear unipolar order, led by the US. This has been furthered by the neoconservatives a decade later, who advocated and pronounced the ability to lead as well as the duty to lead. Analysts now note that US-led unipolar movement is over, although this time around, the spoilers are not the western European countries, but principally countries from Asia. It is predicted that the twenty-first century will witness power dispersed among several countries – China, Russia, Japan, India and the European Union. In the context of this debate, BRICs also have been identified, as potential future competitor to the US and other advanced industrial countries. Nevertheless, it should be noted that despite the relative decline in US power, the unipolarity is still a feature of the international system. Although countries like China, in an effort to counter such unilateral tendencies on the part of the US, started aligning with major powers such as Russia as well as strengthening bilateral and multilateral ties within the region, it has not been able to shift the balance in its favour or even form a wider coalition of nations to counter Washington.2
While the US acknowledges the difficulty in maintaining a unipolar world order, given that the rise of new power centres is a reality, the US wants to maintain its primacy in the international system as an important grand strategic objective through a range of tools, including political, economic and military.3 Scholars have argued that “continued American hegemony is important because it is seen as the prerequisite for systemic stability,”4 while acknowledging that maintaining a preponderant position may not be an easy thing for the US especially after a decade or so, given the relative decline in US power along with the rise of new powers and the gradual erosion of the its extended deterrence strategy.5 Various analyses claim that US’ “unipolar movement is over” and the power will be increasingly spread around major power centres like China, Japan, India, Russia, the US and Europe.6 Haass in fact terms the emerging scenario as nonpolarity meaning to say that the power will be dispersed among not just two or three powers, but several countries will exercise various dimensions of power. Does BRIC have relevance in this context?
If China and the BRICs concretise their power in the next decade or so, then the neoconservative school of thinkers have something to be concerned about – the demise of America’s unipolar moment. As several analysts have noted, there is fear among such thinkers of the rise of an anti-liberal values coalition. There is scepticism among these thinkers as to whether these powers once they become superpowers, will continue to value the current liberal framework of global governance or will they be more revisionist in nature in altering the global governance structures?7
Even among the four BRIC countries, the world has been less concerned about the emergence of India and Brazil, whereas rise of Russia and China assuming a superpower status has been of concern. Both China and Russia can pose a great military threat, with both being acknowledged nuclear states and large standing armies.8 However, the fear is not just of their rising military profiles, but more importantly due to the character of the political regime in both of these countries. These two countries also pose themselves as revisionist powers, wanting to possibly establish an alternate institutional architecture, articulating new ways to mange international politics and economics.
Thus, what the neocons fear is the rise of a powerful anti-Western and anti-liberals value coalition, led by China and possibly even Russia. The rise of an economically successful authoritarian capitalist power bloc is the threat that they want to address and that appears to be the appeal that the BRICs currently have.
What are the likely consequences of rising multipolarity, including the potential of the BRIC. Can it be the catalyst to induce serious alterations to the existing international system and its institutions?
The end of US-led unipolar moment may be the right opportune time for a China-centred politically authoritarian-economically capitalist bloc. Russia will be forced to see which is a bigger threat, China or the US and align with the West or China accordingly. Although there appears to be a tactical partnership between Russia and China on an anti-US platform, the US has followed policies towards Russia that have been particularly adversarial in nature, further strengthening this tactical relationship between Moscow and Beijing. If Washington continues with such policies, it has the potential for creating a Moscow-Beijing strategic alliance which could be detrimental for the US and all the major powers in Asia.9
The realist school of thinkers also fear and in fact suggest the emergence of a dangerous trend in international politics – danger of inter-state wars as one (super)power is declining and new powers are emerging. Rise of Russia and China have again raised concerns in this regard.
While there has been so much apprehension on the emergence of BRICs, the BRIC concept has also gained popularity and has great appeal. As Goldman Sachs propounded, the imminent rise of BRICs had to do with the significant investment opportunities that might be there in these countries because of their fast growth in the last few years. They predicted that their already large domestic markets will further lead to growth of the middle class, new consumers, resulting in demand growth in sectors like automobiles, electricity and local capital markets.10 Hence, the central principle guiding BRICs, as the West sees it, is not only its growth rate or opportunities for investors but its sheer economic size and thereby the markets.
China a superpower?
The lead that the US maintains cannot be challenged soon by any power and any group of powers in the near future. China is trying to dominate Asia the way the US dominates the Western hemisphere. China will want to ensure that it is so powerful that no state in Asia has the wherewithal to threaten it. China’s military superiority along with its expansionist tendencies will be of concern to the region.11 Beijing will ideally seek a militarily weak Japan, India and Russia as its neighbours, just as the US prefers a militarily weak Canada and Mexico on its borders. But how do the neighbours look to it? Can India, Russia and other neighbours live under a hegemonistic China? Will these countries join a US-led balancing coalition? If that be the case, does BRICs have a future?
Does BRIC Offer A Viable Option?
The very fact that Goldman Sachs identified BRIC due to the huge investment potential, size appears to be an important criterion. Economic size is an important factor; in fact Realist thinkers consider economic size as an essential indicator of their relative capabilities or rather the power of countries.
For the BRIC to emerge as a strategic bloc, it is essential to analyse the bilateral framework in this grouping. In fact, if one goes by the theory of economic liberalism, there is a huge potential in this grouping. The economic partnership among the four countries should be sufficiently strong to create a momentum in the grouping. Additionally, these countries also have to engage in certain strategic areas that might give them the necessary fillip. These areas could be sectors of nuclear, space and such high-tech areas.
Is strategic cooperation possible in this grouping given the mutual history of mistrust and suspicion? It might be pertinent to analyse the issue through a realist framework. Under a realist framework, every major power will try to be as powerful as possible, in relation to their potential rivals. The more powerful a state is, particularly in military-economic terms, the less likelihood of another state attacking it. Therefore, the powerful states in a region will try to establish regional hegemony while also ascertaining that no other state assumes greater power that might seek to alter the power equation.12 In this scenario, can India, China and Russia grow together and is there convergence of interests among these three countries? This is where one sees conflicting sets of approaches. For instance, China tends to adopt an exclusive approach as against India’s and even Russian and Japanese approaches of inclusiveness.
In conclusion, analysis of BRIC suggests that it does not offer itself as a viable option in the near future. In addition, factors like history and unsettled boundary and territorial issues will continue to hinder any prospect of this group emerging as a formidable bloc other than merely an economic bloc. The group, at best, will cooperate and take unified stance on softer issues like poverty and climate change.
• Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Her areas of research include US foreign and security policy, military strategies of major Asian powers including China, US, Japan and Russia. She can be reached at 1 Although Chinese policies in Asia and elsewhere in Africa that appear to be both more defensive and economic in nature are also meant to create a deeper foothold in these areas. Such policies in the long term could counter-balance the US interests in the region as also affect the US’ relative power and influence in the region. 2 Richard Haass writes that despite the rise in anti-American sentiments, no alternate power bloc has been able to challenge the United States in a significant manner, due to the huge gap that the US has managed to create between Washington and centres of power in almost all spheres. See, Richard N. Haass, “The Age of Nonpolarity: What Will Follow US Dominance,” Foreign Affairs, May/ June 2008, available at 3 Ashley J Tellis, “Assessing America’s War on Terror: Confronting Insurgency, Cementing Primacy,” NBR Analysis, National Bureau of Asian Research, Vol. 15, No. 4, December 2004, p. 9, available at 4 Christopher Layne, “From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America’s Future Grand Strategy,” International Security, vol. 22, no. 1, Summer 1997, p. 94. Other scholars like Zalmay Khalilzad have also maintained that American hegemony will likely lead to a period of international stability rather than bipolarity or multipolarity that instills instability, the assumption being balancing may not be effective. See, Christopher Layne, “From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America’s Future Grand Strategy,” International Security, vol. 22, no. 1, Summer 1997, p. 96. Also, see, Christopher Layne, “The Unipolar Illusion Revisited: The Coming End of the United States’ Unipolar Movement,” International Security, vol. 31, no. 2, Fall 2006, pp. 7-8. 5 There have been problems with the strategy of extended deterrence, right from the beginning. For instance, if China attacks Tokyo, by the logic of extended deterrence, the US should attack Beijing. The question has been whether the US will attack Beijing or not; whether Tokyo is worth the cost. The key task is for the US to convince its partners/allies that it will come to their aid if there is a problem. The strategy also works under the assumption the US’ extended strategy will “actually dissuade an adversary from attacking the target state.” See, Christopher Layne, “From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America’s Future Grand Strategy,” International Security, vol. 22, no. 1, Summer 1997, p. 104. The concept has become even more problematic with the relative decline of the US power and its capability to protect the interests of the allies and the nature of new threats. 6 Richard N. Haass, “The Age of Nonpolarity: What Will Follow US Dominance,” Foreign Affairs, May/ June 2008, available at 7 Leslie Elliott Armijo, “The BRICs Countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) As Analytical Category: Mirage or Insight?,” Asian Perspective,” vol. 31, no. no. 4, 2007, p. 33. 8 Leslie Elliott Armijo, “The BRICs Countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) As Analytical Category: Mirage or Insight?,” Asian Perspective,” vol. 31, no. no. 4, 2007, p. 27. 9 Given the Sino-Russian competition and rivalry in Central Asia and Africa, it is unlikely that any strategic partnership will emerge between Russia and China. 10 Leslie Elliott Armijo, “The BRICs Countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) As Analytical Category: Mirage or Insight?,” Asian Perspective,” vol. 31, no. no. 4, 2007, p. 11. 11 The expansionist tendencies of China are visible in its dealings with the neighbours, especially as it relates to the border problems. One case in point is that of Russia, where despite the settlement of the border and territorial problems, Beijing continued to show parts of Russia as part of China in the maps produced in China. Concerns to India arise from the Chinese assertion over Arunachal Pradesh. Its claims vis-à-vis South China Sea are other such instances. It should also be borne in mind that war is part and parcel of the Chinese strategic culture, and China does not hesitate to use of force for protection of its national interests (as it visualizes). Here is the relevance to understand the strategic culture and the military strategy, because a nation would typically read and interpret the signals of an adversary through one’s own understanding of the military doctrine. 12 Wei Liang, “China: Globalization and the Emergence of A New Statusquo Power?,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31, no. 4, 2007, pp. 128-9.

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