The Need for Emerging Great Powers to Step Up in the International System—Alice Huntoon

The US News and World Report March 2014 article, “Where Have All the Great Powers Gone?” by Michael Schroeder and David Banks, comments on China’s, Brazil’s, and India’s response to the recent Russian intervention in Ukraine. Brazil’s and India’s “silence is deafening” while China’s can be expected, as Russia starts threatening to tromp into Europe. 

 What are considered the new four great powers in the International System; Brazil, Russia, India, and China, are known by the acronym, BRIC, but would maybe better named BIRC, as Brazil and India are democracies, and Russia and China, communist states. However as Schroeder and Banks point out, the four seem to still be hanging together, as the three have not condemned the fourth’s (Russia’s) aggression on Ukraine’s sovereignty, even though Russia has violated the basic standards of the current order regarding forceful changes of borders and the principle of territorial integrity. Each of these four influential states want to be considered a great power in the world community, or recognition of what is to them fact. But as Schroeder and Banks mention, great power status means obligations and responsibilities alongside the ‘social’ rights or benefits of influence of that status. After WWII, and the creation of the UN Security Council and other international institutions, the code of conduct was that if you were a great power, you acted like a great power and obeyed international norms. China has largely been problematic in this way, with its inconsistent participation and non-acknowledgement, for the most part, of international rules. But if India and Brazil want the status of great powers, they need to act as such by condemning actions that go against the basic standards and norms of the international order of sovereign states. The problem, as Schroeder and Banks point out, is that the world is in a greater state of change than at the end of the 20th century, and it is not clear who the great powers are. This leads to increased difficulty of major powers to cooperate and much less consensus in international crises.

The clarification of international institutional theories provided by John Mearsheimer in his article, “The False Promise of International Institutions”, points out difficulties of states to cooperate, including the problems of relative-gains and concern over members cheating. The realist view demonstrates that states act for their own self-interest for their own survival, their basic motive in a world of competing power. The anarchic world in realist theory is more apparent now, as the world order of competing states is in flux and international organizations defining order are appearing weaker. As Mearsheimer points out, “Realists maintain that institutions are basically a reflection of the distribution of power in the world. They are based on self-interested calculations of the great powers, and they have no independent effect on state behavior…and are not an important cause of peace.” If, as Mearsheimer points out, institutions don’t have a primary effect on influencing state behavior, and the world order of who the great powers are is shaky, there is “little promise (for international institutions) promoting stability in the post-Cold War world.”

There is also something ‘new’ in today’s international relations, aside from the concept of nation states and their participation in creating rules of the world order, and their cooperation with each other. Mearsheimer’s article was written before 9/11, and while the concept of terrorism was around, its presence as a factor in international actions and considerations became more prevalent after Mearsheimer’s 1995 article. The increased prevalence of non-state actors, organized crime, and global terrorism threatening countries’ security has changed sovereign states behavior, as it is not just states dealing with states anymore. There are non-sovereign state entities, out of the bounds of international norms that are causal factors now. In this growing atmosphere of chaos, and with Russia acting for in its own self interest in an expansionist, threatening manner, Brazil’s and India’s silence shows that they are not yet ready to be responsible partners in the great power club, despite the fact they have participated with troops in some peacekeeping and anti-terror actions. Realism holds, as sovereign states will seek to improve their power while the international terrorist threat continues to create an unstable world order.


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