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date: 29 March 2017

Emerging Powers in Foreign Policy

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

Emerging powers are usually referred to as states whose material capacities and status-seeking strategies may potentially have an impact on the international system and may also affect the dominant position of the hegemonic powers therein. The rising of new powers is a recurrent phenomenon in international relations. When talking about new emerging powers, scholars associate the words with the so called BRICS states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The emergence of BRICS states, especially China, poses the question of whether their rising process is a peaceful one. Realism, institutionalism, and constructivism have all dealt with the possible systemic impacts of the BRICS states. BRICS seem to be reformist rather than disruptive, meaning that they are pushing for the better representation of their self-perceived new status in multilateral institutions rather than challenging the current system per se. In terms of foreign policy, BRICS states interact with well-established powers such as the United States and European states—herein they display hard-balancing, soft-balancing, or band-wagon strategies, also toward each other. Moreover, well-established powers either accommodate or contest the rising process and status claims of these emerging powers. In fact, the United States tends to accommodate and altercast the rise of China—which has reassured the system that it is a peaceful riser and a great responsible power. However, BRICS are also regional powers. Regional peers contest the rising process of BRICS states, particularly their claims to global powerhood. BRICS as regional leaders sometimes lack regional followers; such followership is rather selective, and depends on the issue area at stake and whether the matter is regional or international in nature.

BRICS unfold their foreign policies within multilateral regional and international institutions, which are not only arenas of foreign policy for emerging powers but are also the outcomes thereof. Some emerging powers have launched regional cooperation schemes to deal with local security challenges. While BRICS can be seen as striving for the reform of multilateral institutions, the traditional view of BRICS as a homogenous force, and with similar interests, is sometimes misleading. Even though BRICS states have their own forum and institution with a new bank, they pursue different interests within traditional institutions, and their positions vary according to the issue of governance being negotiated. Therefore, the existing literature on BRICS is tilted toward systemic and institutional concerns—allowing little room for agency-driven approaches beyond the state as a unitary actor. Although works taking into consideration the first and second levels of analysis (people and state) in foreign policy analysis do exist, they are not necessarily related to emerging processes. People, leaders, and governmental institutions are decision makers or are part of the decision-making process in foreign policy; thus, they form perceptions and act according to how the rising process of the state is unfolding. An integration of the systemic, state, and personal levels captures the essence of the foreign policies of BRICS states in the context of rising, and can take into consideration the ups and downs and stalemates of rising process trajectories in international politics.