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Arthur Stein
Professor of Political Science


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This past week, we once again had illustrations of a major aspect of social life: process matters.

There is a worldview that suggests that outcomes are all that matter. People make choices and the process by which they arrive at them does not matter. Outcome are then said to be process-independent. A high school senior’s choice of which college to attend should not depend on the sequence by which she opens the envelopes from the colleges to which she applied.

An alternative view of the world argues that process determines outcomes. Here, the critical feature is that people cannot evaluate all the options in the world and the one on which they settle will be driven by the sequence in which they were evaluated. A good example is buying a house. No one evaluates every house on the market but hones in on a set, begins a process and stops at some point. The outcome is process dependent.

These two perspectives are important and have many implications which I will not address here.

This week there were two examples in which process was crucial even though it did not affect the outcome.

The first example if that of DeAndre Jordan. He is a talented center on the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team and he was a free agent. Jordan pursued his options in free agency and decided to leave the Clippers and join the Dallas Mavericks. But the NBA provides a 9 day period, a moratorium, in which agreements can be negotiated but cannot be final. Having verbally agreed to a deal with Dallas, Jordan had a change of heart and decided at the last minute to re-sign with his old team. Jordan could, of course, have done that right away. But rather than decide on staying with the Clippers, he negotiated a tentative deal with another team and then at the last minute changed his mind. The outcome for him of re-signing with his old team would have been the same whether he did that initially or after a negotiated dalliance with another team. The story of his reversal is the stuff of comic opera which provided much fodder for sports journalists and fans.

But his reversal affects how he is viewed. The two worlds, the one in which he simply re-signs with the Clippers and the one in which he only does so after a change of heart, are not the same. The outcome of remaining a Clipper is the same for him, but little else. 

A second example is that of Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece and his decisions about accepting the terms of other Eurozone nations for a Greek bailout. Having run for office opposing the austerity conditions which creditors insisted upon, he spent months railing against other European leaders and refusing to agree to the terms upon which they insisted for agreement. At the last minute, and past the deadline set for reaching agreement, he announced that a referendum would be held and that he would recommend that the Greek people vote down the austerity conditions demanded by the creditors. Those with whom he had been negotiating were angered and appalled at the unwillingness of an elected leader to take responsibility. Moreover, the Prime Minister argued that a no vote by Greeks would strengthen his hand in achieving an agreement. The people overwhelmingly voted down the austerity conditions upon which others were insisting.

But then, the Prime Minister put forward a new proposal in which he effectively accepted the austerity conditions that he had rejected a week before and which he had encouraged Greeks to reject in a referendum. The end result would have been completely comparable to that which would have occurred had he simply accepted the austerity conditions in the first place.

Here then are two worlds. One in which the Prime Minister accepts the austerity conditions demanded by creditors and one in which he rejects them, calls for a referendum, recommends that people reject the austerity conditions in the referendum, obtains the no vote he requested, and then accepts the austerity conditions anyway. Both worlds are the same: a Greek Prime Minister accepts the austerity conditions. But the process is completely different and enormously consequential. Among both Greeks and other Europeans, the Prime Minister has lost credibility and trust. Indeed, as I write this, it remains to be seen if the Europeans will accept the Prime Minister’s conversion. Their initial response to his acceptance of terms he had rejected a couple of days earlier was disbelief. They no longer trusted him nor found him credible, and many were insisting on early adoption of austerity and additional r steps simply to demonstrate credibility and commitment.

In both examples, only a couple of days passed before the change of heart, and it is hard to argue that there was some change in conditions that drove the shift in choice.

But the processes, the change of heart in each case, signaled something important about the actors, quite apart from the choice upon which they finally alighted.

People reveal something critical about themselves not just in the choices they make, but in the processes by which they arrive at them. The judgments being drawn about them are as consequential as their choices. The implications for their credibility and trustworthiness are immense. Sometimes, others preclude such reversals because of their assessments of the character demonstrated in the process.

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM. Note that the blog title was provided by the Rising BRICSAM host. As the editor notes at Rising Bricsam, I took part in the Harvard-Beida Conference earlier in the month that is referenced in other blog entries at Rising Bricsam. This missive is a reaction to the blog post, Looking at the ‘World’ With Two Lens, and the characterization of a new feature of international politics, the emergence of a two pole pan-Asian architecture.]

The disjuncture between economic and military structure is not a new phenomenon. The Cold War, certainly from the early 1960s on, consisted of military bipolarity and economic multipolarity (at a minimum, the end of the Bretton Woods order in the early 1970s signaled the end of US economic hegemony).

The post Cold War has seen military unipolarity and economic multipolarity. In each case, economic multipolarity has meant that there have been powers capable of exerting substantial economic power but not militarily capable of global power projection. In a sense, the current case of China is similar. China is a global economic power, with an economic impact that extends to every continent, but militarily only a regional one.

The critical difference today is the alignment pattern. In the past, the other centers of global economic influence were security allies of the US and dependent on the US for their military security. Now, China is not part of a US security sphere, and the concern is that it will have in its economic orbit states that have security links to the US. This raises a concern that did not exist in earlier periods, that of an economic power (China) that would use its economic leverage to achieve geo-strategic objectives antithetical to the US and its allies. The result could then be economic appeasement on the part of US allies.

One place to look for this consequence is the current financial troubles of the government of Vietnam. Will acceding to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea be the price of a Chinese bailout of Vietnam?

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM. Note that the blog title was provided by the Rising BRICSAM host.]

The Colin Bradford piece in FP, “Seven New Laws of the G-20 Era”, Dan Drezner’s blog comment, “Learning to Embrace the Policy Deadlocks” and then Bradford’s rebuttal – again in FP – “Don’t Judge the G-20 by Its Summits,” and finally the Alexandroff retort in Rising BRICSAM “Punching Below Its Weight” strike me as eliding the crucial issue: is disagreement in a broader venue such as the G20 a problem for global governance, and especially economic governance?

The original Bradford piece argued that disagreement is not so bad. The G20 should not be judged by outcomes but as constituting a process and one that was broader and more diverse. The argument contains a core implicit argument – one never articulated, much less examined and substantiated. More on this below.

Drezner’s critique was largely focused on mass public reactions to G20 disagreements. Interesting, but tangential at best. Mass reaction would presumably be secondary to the concrete consequences of such disagreements.

The Alexandroff reaction to the Bradford-Drezner exchange is to focus on “effectiveness”, and this gets closest to the heart of the matter. He notes that disagreement is a feature of the G7/8 as well. Even the small number G set exhibits all kinds of “varieties of capitalism”: more or less corporatism; larger and smaller welfare states; more or less industrial policy. A substantial variety of types existed/exist even in that small club.

The core issue, then, is whether for the G8 or the G20 disagreement and divergence over policy options are preferable to agreement, coordination, and a concerted response. There is a small literature among economists about whether macroeconomic policy coordination makes things better or worse. Implicit in Bradford’s argument is that disagreement and its policy consequences are not so bad and, implicitly, to be preferred to agreement between a less diverse set of actors. Perhaps. But what is the evidence? Is that true for every policy? From the perspective of one of the world’s largest economies – California – dysfunctional politics does not seem so great. 

All this reminds me of the argument about whether market failure or government failure is worse. Government action is often encouraged to deal with market failure. But government failure is also a problem. Is government failure a problem in global economic governance? Is the failure to coordinate and sustained disagreement preferable? That was certainly the argument of states that wanted to impose capital controls and thought the Washington consensus was wrong and that they should be free to experiment with a different policy. The acceptance of policy divergence and experimentation did mean that the experience of the global financial crisis of 2008 was not same everywhere.

So, whether the G20 works or not depends on: the issue, and what is required to deal with the particular problem.

1) It will depend on the nature of the disagreements, whether they are fundamental (about the desirability of markets), substantive (about how to deal with a specific problem), or distributional (about how to allocate the costs).

2) It will depend on how the parties respond to disagreement. Will the response be 20 separate uncoordinated responses to problems? Will the response to disagreement among the 20 be to form smaller clubs of agreement, say a G7 and a G13 set of separate responses but coordinated within each subset?

3) It will depend on time and the consequences of delay. One proposition: the larger the group the greater must be the crisis to generate a consensus response, and the greater the delay in responding to crises. The consequences of delay are also likely to vary. Note the national responses undertaken before the first G20 meeting was even held.

In short, the commentaries and blog posts are correctives. Yes, a stampede of lemmings is undesirable. Yes, disagreements can lead to better policy. There is an argument known in business schools as the “Abilene paradox” about the consequences of “mismanaged agreement” (the international relations literature refers to this as “groupthink”). So we should not respond in despair to disagreement. After all, bargaining occurs in situations of disagreement and it takes time to arrive at bargaining solutions, and initial disagreement and even stalemate do not preclude eventual agreement. But sometimes, available bargains are not struck and the even when they are, the costs of delay are enormous. Few international conferences result in an agreement at the first meeting and in immediate resolutions to problems. Yet many international conferences have resulted in breakdown, a failure to deal with underlying issues, and, in the national security sphere, as precursors to war.

One’s view of the consequences of disagreement will thus depend on one’s answer to some of the questions posed above and to the specific issues and experiences (not surprisingly, Pacific island nations fearing their disappearance have been the ones most urgently pressing for responses to global warming).

And a comparison with historical assessments of other institutions should make us wary both of snap judgments or even generic views. Think of NATO, and all the times people decried its disagreements, the problems in obtaining consensus, and the divergent assessments depending on the issue. I would guess the G- 20 will look no different, assuming it has some successes.

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

The conversation about Rising BRICSAM is about changes in the hierarchy of international power and influence. It is interesting to think about the general factors that create changes in the size distributions of actors in competition.

Stability and instability.

It might be instructive to compare the rise and decline of nations with that of firms. The hierarchy of firms changes dramatically in relatively short periods of time. Of the top 100 firms in 1912, only 52 survived to 1995, only 28 were larger then, and only 19 remained in the 100. In contrast, 48 of the top 100 disappeared, and 29 had gone bankrupt (from Paul Ormerod, Why Most Things Fail, drawing on the work of Leslie Hannah).

Births and deaths.

Death. Firms disappear. They fail and die. They go bankrupt. State can go bankrupt but this does not automatically lead to their disappearance. Rather, states disappear, through voluntaristic agglomeration (think mergers and acquisitions) or conquest (hostile takeover). Although states disappear, the rate of state failure has changed — states do not disappear at the rates they used to (see Tanisha Fazal, State Death), and nowhere near the rate of firm disappearance.

Birth. New firms sprout up all the time. New technologies create new firms, often of great wealth (think Microsoft). New technologies do not give birth to new states, although they affect relative state growth and their prospects for conquering and being conquered. Given the fixity of territory, new states arise either through agglomeration or dissolution. Both processes affect the distribution of power and influence. The unification of 13 North American states which created the US, and Italian and German unification affected the relative power and the hierarchy of states. The EU in some ways portends, and in some ways already manifests, a similar development. Similarly, state dissolution can significantly affect the hierarchy as well (think the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Relative growth. The most consistent basis for changes in the hierarchy of states is relative growth. This is the basis for the argument of a rising BRICSAM. But what are the determinants of relative growth?

The standard components of power and growth have been land, labor and capital. Land is fixed (though its quality and usability can be affected by technology), population changes through natural growth and migration, but it is capital that makes significant changes in relative growth, especially in shorter time periods. Rising BRICSAM is in part an argument about the prospects of large countries with large populations, whose growth is fueled by external infusions of capital or oil exports.

Rising BRICSAM is also about the changes wrought by the spread of industrialization and states catching up as late industrializers. Aspects of this process can be readily assessed and forecast through extrapolation.

Endogenous growth. At some point, growth is endogenous and driven by institutions and ideas. The “new growth theory” built on a logic of “endogenous technological change” (the title of a seminal piece by Paul Romer) argues that knowledge, and the institutional setting in which it is sought and applied, is the key to sustained sustained economic growth and relative growth (for a popularistic accessible introduction, see David Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations). This raises the question of whether the BRICSAM countries have the institutions and rules for more than catch-up through attracting foreign capital and can make the transition to endogenous growth.


Fazal, Tanisha M. 2007. State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ormerod, Paul. 2005. Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics. New York: Pantheon Books.

Romer, Paul M. 1990. Endogenous technological change. Journal of Political Economy 98, 5, Part 2: The Problem of Development: A Conference of the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise Systems (October): S71-S102.

Warsh, David. 2006. Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery. New York: Norton.

© 2008 Arthur A. Stein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

Alan’s post on Monday focused on the views of G8 members about the possibility of expanding their membership. This post was drafted before Alan’s and focuses instead on the G-8’s outreach efforts.

I’ve described in previous posts the different bases for constructing international groupings and how the BRIC and IBSA originated but have not expanded so far.

There is still another way to construct an international grouping, and that is through the workings of external actors. Institutions can be constructed in an artificial hothouse environment, at the instigation of others. The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) came into being in April 1948 and emerged from Secretary of State Marshall’s desire to have a coordinated vision for postwar reconstruction and an integrated request for aid. Similarly, NATO constructed an international grouping by inviting a set of countries to join the Partnership for Peace (an extension but short of full membership in NATO).

Something similar has been occurring in the G-8. Some of the members of the G-8 have undertaken what have come to be called outreach efforts at their annual summits. The host nation for the G-8 summit rotates annually and the host is in charge of the agenda. In recent years, host countries have invited others to attend events at the periphery of the G-8 or to take part only in specific meetings devoted to a particular subject.

This began at the head of state level in 2000 when Japan invited Nigeria as the Chair of the G77, South Africa as the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Algeria as the mandated representative of the Organization of African Unity(OAU), and Thailand as the chair of the Tenth Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD X) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Africa was a particular focus of the 2002 summit in Canada, and so the presidents of Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa were invited to meet with the G-8. 

The French extended the practice in 2003, inviting a number of leading developing countries including Algeria, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and South Africa. Ironically, the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) forum grew out of discussions between the three at the time of their attendance at the G-8 meeting in Evian in 2003.

When the US hosted in 2004 its focus was the Middle East and North Africa, so its invited leaders were from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, and Turkey.

In 2005, the UK returned to the focus on Africa, inviting the leaders of Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. It also invited Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa for discussions of climate change and the global economy.

In 2006, Russia invited Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

In 2007, Germany not only invited what has come to be called the Outreach 5 (O5: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa) to meet on the periphery of the annual G-8 meeting, but proposed institutionalizing this as “the Heiligendamm Process.” It also invited Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa as well as Ghana and Ethiopia (the latter two because they chaired particular IGOs).

Japan, the 2008 host, has its own invitation list. It is inviting the Outreach 5 but has also invited Australia, Indonesia and South Korea. And for its discussions of African development, the Japanese government is expected to invite eight African nations, including South Africa.

I would conclude the following from this quick examination:

1) The G-8 has implicitly institutionalized a process of inviting others to their summits. But their different interests have generated different invitees. [See Alan’s discussion for their different views on expansion.]

2) The G-8 has been quite concerned with Africa and repeatedly invite African heads of state. [None of the proposals for G8 expansion will deal with this as long as African development remains a key concern for many of the members.]

3) The BICSAM set (minus ASEAN) has been a relatively regular feature (after this year’s summit they will have appeared at 5 of the last 6).

4) When describing what was discussed in the meeting that included the heads of state of Brazil, India, China, South Africa, and Mexico, the host nation usually says climate change, and sometimes climate change and the global economy. The inference I draw from a quick scan of statements and documents is that the G-8 recognizes that tackling certain issues, such as climate change, requires more than their own involvement but also the BICSAM set. They do not, as a group, feel that such extended involvement is as yet required for global economic issues in general and that would require extending their membership (Alan’s post presents a breakdown of what is known about various members’ views).

5) Despite their recurring appearance at the summit, the leaders of these countries (BICSAM) have made no attempt to constitute themselves as a grouping. This may as yet happen, but has not so far. Note the irony that an objectively-derived economically-rooted designation created by Goldmann Sachs has had more real-world traction that the politically-rooted construction of the G-8.

It is striking the given their recurring invitations to attend G8 meetings, and the proposals by some G8 members for their inclusion in an expanded G13, the BICSAM countries have not moved to construct themselves as a grouping. The politics underlying this diffidence is itself an interesting question to address.

© 2008 Arthur A. Stein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

In a previous post, I distinguished three bases for grouping countries. In this blog, I discuss the BRIC and its possible expansion to BRICSAM in that context.

The Creation of Clubs

States form international institutions self-consciously to achieve some objective(s). The institutions can be organized along areal or functional lines. They can be universal and include all members of some specified set or they can be clubs of subsets. Creating any institution then requires some agreement on purpose, membership, and procedure.

Most groupings emerge from the vision of political leaders and their political needs. The BRIC case was somewhat different.

Origins of the term in objective analysis

The term BRIC was coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs. It was a example of an objective grouping. O’Neill’s analysis pointed to these four high-growth countries as the top four economic powers by mid-century. By his estimates, these four would surpass the G-7 in GDP by 2050. Their high growth subsequently led to a revision in the year by which they would overtake the G-7, 2032. He was, in short, predicting a fundamental shift in the balance of global economic power.

These countries did not initially see themselves as a self-conscious grouping nor did they act as one. The main impact of the analysis soon took shape in the form of BRIC exchange-traded funds (of which there are now more than four dozen).

First came the RIC

The first instantiation of a grouping among some of the BRICSAM countries came with triangular meetings of China, India, and Russia. The three foreign ministers met annually on the sidelines of other meetings in the years 2002 to 2006. They then held standalone trilateral meetings in Vladivostok (Russia) in 2005, in New Delhi (India) in February 2007, in Harbin (China) in October 2007, and in Yekaterinburg (Russia) in May 2008. By and large these initial discussions focused on common regional and security concerns.

From RIC to BRIC

The first meeting of the BRIC, came in 2006, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. This was followed by a similar meeting the following year. Last month’s meeting, the third, in Yekaterinburg is the first stand-alone meeting of the group and followed a meeting of the RIC the day before.

Nevertheless, the BRIC is to be kept separate from the RIC. In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, “the ‘troika’ [RIC] and the ‘four’ [BRIC] were formed in a natural manner. Russia, India, and China live in one region of the world and take part in the activities of a number of organizations created in the Asian-Pacific region. That is why it is quite natural that the format of the three largest countries of the region was established as a dialogue mechanism.”

The BRIC is then a different grouping with a different logic and a different purpose. The foreign ministers are quite open about the origins of the idea for the BRIC.

In the words of a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, “The establishment of such a format has been prompted by the objective reality: as of now BRIC unites the major economic growth centers with more than a half of the world’s population, the role of which in international affairs will grow.”

Or as put even more pointedly by Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, “It is really a group that first existed as a concept in the minds of analysts and subsequently came to exist as a practice between the countries.” He went on to say, “The meeting is recognition of the fact that we are four big economies with a large influence in the world.”

In short, an objective analytic assessment has been internalized by the countries and become the basis for the construction of a self-conscious grouping hoping to act in concert on common concerns.


But now that the BRIC has emerged as a functional grouping, its expansion is in the hands of original founders (see my previous posts on the different bases for international groupings). And they recognize the basis of its emergence and control its subsequent development. Asked about possible expansion of the BRIC, Lavrov characterized it as “an artificial issue.” Just as he characterized the emergence of the troika (RIC) as a natural phenomenon, he noted that “the BRIC group was established in the same natural manner: countries with the most rapidly growing economies created it,” and that it would evolve naturally in the future.


If the inference from the above is that the BRIC seems unlikely to develop into BRICSAM, perhaps a different institutional route is possible. In 2003, India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) initiated the IBSA Dialogue Forum. They formed as a self-conscious exercise in South-South cooperation and called for UN, especially Security Council, reform, and for continuing efforts at economic and social development. They have continued to meet regularly as a Trilateral Joint Commission.

Ironically, the south-south framework is an ill-fitting suit for including Russia (one of the G-8) and over time may separate the interests of Brazil and India from that of South Africa. In any case, there is no sense of a transformation of IBSA into something resembling BRICSAM.

Post-script on Goldman Sachs

And what of the originators of the BRIC idea? They are busy finding new investment vehicles for their clients. They have turned their spotlight on the Next 11 (dubbed “N-11!), populous countries whose economies could take off: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.

© 2008 Arthur A. Stein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

BRICSAM is being proffered as a new grouping of states. Alan has written a set of excellent blogs asking whether the BRICSAM states have comparable wealth and power positions and whether all the countries fit in the same category or class. What began as a Goldman Sachs grouping of BRICs was expanded by CIGI with the addition of SAM (South Africa, Mexico and somewhat more problematically ASEAN (in some form)).

The exercise raises the question of how groupings of states emerge and how categories of states develop in international politics.

Objective Grouping

Some groupings emerge from some objective criterion. States can be assigned as elements to a set by some observable attribute: the set of nuclear powers, the set of oil producers, the set of democracies, the set of Latin America states, the of rapidly growing East Asian nations, newly industrializing countries, and so on.

Some groupings reflect an objective hierarchy, in which states are classified by their ranking on some objective criterion. In industrial organization, markets are categorized by the number of firms that control some substantial portion of the market. In international relations, systems are classified by the number of states that control some proportion of world power. A current characterization of US hegemony would typically point to US defense spending being larger than the next 15 states combined and constituting some proportion of global military spending. Alternatively, a current characterization of international economic multipolarity might point to the proportion of world exports and imports of the world’s largest groupings (typically treating the EU as a single actor).

The cut points that distinguish great from middle powers in such a hierarchy may be arbitrary and subject to debate, but the categorization is derived from some objective reality that is deemed meaningful to understanding some functional processes. Knowing whether the world is hegemonic, bipolar, or multipolar is meaningful for understanding various features of world affairs.

Subjective and Behavioral Groupings

Some groupings emerge from the behavior of states and their subjective and selected roles. The categorization of rogue states is based on a behavioral assessment of states.

States choose the roles they play in the international system and their choices need not derive from their objective standing. The US was an economic great power (perhaps, even a hegemon) in the 1930s but refused to play the role of one. Playing the role of lender of last resort, for example, distinguishes the hegemon. Here what is required is a self-conscious subjective view by any country that it is playing some role.

The flip side is provided by Canada, which has taken on international responsibilities that vastly outstrip its population, military power, and wealth.

Self-Conscious Groupings

Finally, there is what we can call a “communal designation.” In this case, states initially come together on the basis of a desire to act in common and subsequently designate and invite other states to be members of the club. Franklin Roosevelt talked of the “four policemen” of the postwar world, and in doing so treated China as if it were on a par with the US, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain. Roosevelt may have been prescient but he was not accurately describing the world of the mid-twentieth century. Indeed, Winston Churchill derisively characterized China as Roosevelt’s “faggot vote.”

Such self-conscious clubs can reflect region (e.g., the Shanghai Cooperation), attribute (e.g., the Community of Democracies), relative ranking (e.g., G-5), or interest (e.g., NATO).

Once formed, group members decide whether to expand their membership, which states to invite, and with what conditions. This pattern is reflected in every self-conscious grouping, as when the G-5 became the G-7 and then the G-8.

Global Governance and Clubs

The collectivities that play a role in global governance are socially constructed groupings. They are products of self-conscious choice.

Some collective designations, such as the NICs and the East Asian Tigers play no governance role. The designation simply characterizes a group of states with certain traits. The BRICs categorization began in 2001 as a Goldman Sachs designation of rapidly growing economies and became the basis of many investments funds.

But there was nothing behavioral or socially constructed to consider this a relevant grouping in international politics. Until that is, they decided to meet as a self-conscious group on an ongoing basis (see Alan’s post of May 30 and my comment).


BRICSAM is largely a CIGI construction, although President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has suggested adding BICSAM to the G-8. The question is whether it meets any of the above criteria for an international grouping.

Alan noted in one blog that South Africa ranks 25th in GDP. The BRIC identified by Goldman Sachs rank 9th, 7th, 4th, and 2nd in GDP, respectively, and Mexico ranks 12th. Besides the BRIC, the G-7, and Mexico, the following also rank ahead of South Africa in GDP: Spain (11), South Korea (14), Iran (15), Indonesia (16), Australia (17), Taiwan (18), Turkey (19), Netherlands (20), Poland (21), Saudi Arabia (22), Argentina (23), and Thailand (24). As Alan points out, South Africa was added to the list to have an African country in the group. In short, BRICSAM is not a logical grouping on objective grounds of power, population, or wealth.

If the BRICSAM set is derived from the subjective roles countries want to occupy, then it is essential to know whether the political elites in these societies entertain such thoughts and have an interest in playing a particular role in world affairs. The CIGI designation and various proposals that result from this enterprise are attempts to create a community to undertake various responsibilities.

Some countries see themselves as having a regional and even a global role, and others have no such aspirations. Some countries are interested in taking the lead in various international ventures, and others are perfectly happy to draft behind on the efforts of others. Since we have seen “buck-passing” in security affairs we should hardly be surprised to see it in less compelling circumstances. And so, some of Alan’s posts have focused on who is prepared to join the club and exercise leadership.

Finally, the development of the BRIC as an ongoing self-conscious grouping raises the question whether these countries envision extending their membership to include SAM. As other states have discovered, not all who seek to join interstate clubs are invited, and late entrants don’t have the leverage or impact of founding members. But more on this later.

© 2008 Arthur A. Stein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

The conversation about BRICSAM takes place against the backdrop of assessments about the international system. And the problem is that there is an ever-present cottage industry extrapolating from short term dynamics to make sweeping generalizations about the course of history, and it is typically wrong. Put differently, we are experiencing yet another wave of declinism.

In the late 1950s, the fear was that US was being overtaken by the Soviet Union. Sputnik signaled the inadequacy of American science and high Soviet growth rates (contrasted with anemic US growth and three Eisenhower recessions) would eventually mean that Soviet GNP would exceed that of the US.

Beginning in 1970 with Herman Kahn’s The emerging Japanese superstate, Americans were subjected to two decades harangues about the rise of Japan and the danger this constituted, with the high water mark coming with the publication in 1991 of The coming war with Japan.

By the late 1980s, the decline of the United States seemed assured. Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500 to 2000, published in 1987, became a surprise bestseller in the election year of 1988 and even entered the election conversation. Sam Huntington characterized 1988 as “the zenith of [the US’s] fifth wave of declinism since the 1950s.” Within a couple of years, the assessment of decline was already dated.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War led to a new short-lived assessment, that many of the problems of international politics were at an end. As Sam Huntington put it, 1989 was the year in which “declinism” was replaced by “endism.”

As Japan settled into prolonged stagnation and disappeared as a source of “next-superpower angst,” books had to be written to explain the failure of the challenge to materialize: Japan, the system that soured: the rise and fall of the Japanese economic miracle (1998); The Japan that never was: explaining the rise and decline of a misunderstood country (2004). 

Those who did not imbibe the triumphalism of the early 1990s, that of the US as the last remaining superpower, predicted that a short-lived unipolarity which would soon be replaced by a coming age of multipolarity. When this did not materialize, international relations scholars swallowed all of their past theoretical insights and argued that US hegemony might be different than past hegemonies and might be stable and long-lasting after all.

By the end of the 1990s, this was even pitched as The Benevolent Empire (1998). When US hegemony was conjoined with a renewed assertiveness in the Bush administration, the talk of empire and its beneficial and important roles grew. An American imperium was to be encouraged. Niall Ferguson published Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World in 2003 arguing argument that on balance the British empire was a good thing. When the paperback version was published in 2004 it had a new subtitle and was called Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. If the lessons for the US were not obvious, Ferguson published Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire (hard cover, 2004.). He argued that the US should embrace its imperial role: “This book argues not merely that the United States is an empire but that it always has been an empire. Unlike most of the previous authors who have remarked on this, I have no objection in principle to an American empire. Indeed, a part of my argument is that many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule.” But when the book was published in paperback a year later, it too had a new subtitle: Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. These changing subtitles nicely illustrate the half life of the idea of empire in the US imagination.

The sense of US failure in Iraq and of a US overextension have led to a new round of arguments about decline. The US is now pictured as a less relevant power but the pundocracy disagrees about its challengers and challenges. You can now take your choice.

You can fear China, whose rise has been a subject of concerns since the late 1990s:
Greater China: the next superpower (1995)
China: the next superpower: dilemmas in change and continuity (1998)
China, Inc.: how the rise of the next superpower challenges America and the world (2005)
China’s rise in Asia: promises and perils (2005)
China shakes the world: a titan’s rise and troubled future and the challenge for America (2006)
China fever: fascination, fear, and the world’s next superpower (2007)

And it isn’t just its economic and military might which is to be feared, but even its soft power:
Charm offensive: how China’s soft power is transforming the world (2007)

But there are others, Donald Rumsfeld’s dismissal of old Europe notwithstanding, who see Europe as the next superpower and challenger:
The United States of Europe: the new superpower and the end of American supremacy (2004)
The European dream: how Europe’s vision of the future is quietly eclipsing the American dream (2004 )
The next superpower?: the rise of Europe and its challenge to the United States (2005)
Why Europe will run the 21st century (2005)

Of course, there are other contestants on the scene –
Think India: the rise of the world’s next superpower and what it means for every American (2007)

Of course, these emergent superpowers may become rivals: Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade (2008). And, of course, it may be that the competition between the US, China, and Europe will hinge on The Second World (2008). However it works out, we are told to recognize that we have arrived at The Post-American World (2008).

In all fairness, I should note that, the cycles of declinism being what they are and given the debate about America’s role, one can always find works that seem off cycle or somewhat discordant. Thus, even as the chorus of empire was getting louder, 2002 was also the year which saw the publication of The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century. And there have always been those who had their doubts about empire [e.g., A Republic, Not an Empire (1999), Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000)] or who reminded us that there was a choice: The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (2004).

This brief synopsis of the intellectual waves of the last two decades should leave one with a sense of humility. Prognostications about international politics seem to resemble the assessments we are given “explaining” the daily movements in the stock market. They are “intellectual bubbles,” overblowing and overextrapolating short term trends.

Which brings me to BRICSAM, a diversified portfolio of potential superpower growth stocks. Diversification is a good hedging strategy because there is bound to be a clunker or two in the set. Recall that at the turn of the last century, Argentina had the 5th or 6th largest GNP in the world and seemed to many a sure bet for future superpower status.

So with the humility generated by watching the prognisticariate over past decades and having observed long range patterns and a sense of what determines relative growth, I wonder which of BRICSAM are or soon will be plateauing, stagnating, or even declining, rather than rising.

© 2008 Arthur A. Stein ALL RIGHTS RESERVED