The most talked-about global economic trend in recent years has been “the rise of the rest,” with Brazil, Russia, India, and China leading the charge. But international economic convergence is a myth. Few countries can sustain unusually fast growth for a decade, and even fewer, for more than that. Now that the boom years are over, the BRICs are crumbling; the international order will change less than expected.
At first they were known as the BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- the large, rapidly growing developing states ready to remake the world economy. Now, Indonesia and others have been added to the list. But few can say if these new powers will overcome their own challenges, and more, if they will accept the current world order, or change it.
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If its economic growth continues, the rise of China will be the most important change in the global economic, political and military balance of the next century. This growth will be accompanied by environmental degradation, an activist foreign policy, and even military adventures. Yet the pervasive tendency to blame China, and the current regime in particular, is misplaced. Most of China's actions are perfectly understandable attempts by a rising power to expand its influence abroad.
Despite widespread fears about China's growing economic clout and political stature, Beijing remains committed to a "peaceful rise": bringing its people out of poverty by embracing economic globalization and improving relations with the rest of the world. As it emerges as a great power, China knows that its continued development depends on world peace -- a peace that its development will in turn reinforce.
Is China poised to take over from the United States as the world’s leading economy? Yes, judging by its GDP, trade flows, and ability to act as a creditor to the rest of the world. In fact, China’s economic dominance will be far greater and come about far sooner than most observers realize.
Sure, China’s economic growth has been unprecedented, even miraculous. But the country is unlikely to keep up its breakneck pace. Instead, China’s growth should level out soon, returning to rates more like those of comparable middle-income countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, and Russia.
Conventional wisdom in the West says that post-Cold War Russia has been a disastrous failure. The facts say otherwise. Aspects of Russia's performance over the last decade may have been disappointing, but the notion that the country has gone through an economic cataclysm and political relapse is wrong--more a comment on overblown expectations than on Russia's actual experience. Compared to other countries at a similar level of economic and political development, Russia looks more the norm than the exception.
Today, Russia has more to gain by cooperating with the world's major powers than by opposing them. It should craft a foreign policy that turns relations with the European Union, the United States, and others, into domestic economic and political transformation.
After being shackled by the government for decades, India's economy has become one of the world's strongest. The country's unique development model -- relying on domestic consumption and high-tech services -- has brought a quarter century of record growth despite an incompetent and heavy-handed state. But for that growth to continue, the state must start modernizing along with Indian society.
As Indonesia hosts a number of high-level summits this year, it looks set to take its place among the world’s economic superstars. But celebrations are premature: although the country has made great strides, its gains are reversible. For the country to continue to prosper, Jakarta must address rampant corruption and poor governance.
A major strategic challenge for the United States in the coming decades will be integrating emerging powers into international institutions. To hold the postwar order together, the United States will have to become a more consistent exemplar of multilateral cooperation.