The rise of the different

The rise of the different

India,China,Brazil are politically varied,poor and domestically volatile

India,China,Brazil are politically varied,poor and domestically volatile

Despite what you might have heard,the “rise of the rest” is not a new development. Nor was it unplanned.

As the United States emerged from World War II as arguably the most powerful state in history,with unprecedented shares of global GDP,manufacturing output,and military might,it set out to create a world moulded in its preferred (if not always perfected) self-image: multilateral,not imperial; serving US interests but also those of anyone who accepted the international system the US shaped.

The emergence of the Cold War masked the fact that the architects of the post-World War II world had an extraordinarily inclusive vision,and from the Marshall Plan through the end of the Cold War supported a world order that facilitated global economic growth.


In a very real but oft-ignored way,the US has been in relative decline since 1945 — and that’s just the way Washington wanted it,because it’s primarily US allies that have risen.

Today this order faces a challenge. The challenge is not,however,the rise of the “rest.” It’s the rise of the “different.”

Despite occasional commercial tensions during the Cold War,the nations that emerged onto the world stage from 1945 to 1990 did so under US tutelage and largely mirrored the US economically and politically. These were the true “rest”: advanced industrialised democracies that bought into and buttressed the liberal international order.

The rising powers now are fundamentally different. And it’s this difference,not the mere fact of others rising,that creates substantial challenges for the United States and the US-led order.

What makes the different different? For one,they are poor. On every measure except total economic size,today’s rising powers are more similar to their emerging market peers than to the developed countries that prospered after World War II. China’s GDP per capita is one-ninth that of the US; India’s is one-thirty-fifth. Because they are poor,they see further development as a right,and remain more concerned with economic growth than responsible international stakeholdership — as the West did at a similar point in development.

Second,today’s emerging powers are more politically varied than those that rose during the Cold War. Postwar Germany and Japan swiftly institutionalised representative government and robust capitalist economies and have faced no serious crises of the system since. China is by contrast authoritarian and state capitalist,Russia and Saudi Arabia rigid petrostates,and India a mix of democratic liberalism and carefully managed market capitalism. Even Brazil,the closest facsimile of the Western model among the new powers,supports a number of national champions and staunchly defends industrial policy.

Alongside this political variation is political instability. The rising “different” are domestically volatile. Riyadh eyes the Arab Awakening warily,and Russia faces a thriving domestic protest movement. Indian governance is simultaneously sclerotic and chaotic,with the ruling Congress Party reliant on fickle coalition partners to maintain power. The Bo Xilai affair has laid bare the tensions in the Chinese Communist Party. All of this fuels an insular domestic focus among the rising powers,who are more concerned with troubles at home than those around the globe.

Furthermore,the rising different simply don’t accept the legitimacy of the US-led international system even as they seek greater power within it. The BRIC countries agitate both for greater representation in the International Monetary Fund and against the IMF playing an enhanced role in monitoring members’ financial systems to prevent future crises. China and India argue that they must be included in any international climate change process but exempt from substantial responsibilities in a future global climate change regime.

This unwillingness to accept the rules under which they rose stands in stark contrast to Cold War Germany and Japan (for which fear of the Soviet Union motivated support for liberal internationalism),and poses significant obstacles for the US and its allies.

Finally,the rising different are less experienced in global affairs — in diplomacy,in peacekeeping and in the rules and norms of international governance.

Most were relatively minor players in the Cold War world order,and few had any experience as colonisers rather than as the colonised — an underrated factor in the West’s ability to shape an enduring international system after World War II. As the rising different emerge onto the international stage,their collective weight will shake the system in unpredictable,uncontrollable,and quite possibly detrimental ways.

It’s the rise of the different — not the rest — that challenges the US. And understanding that distinction is crucial for the US to chart its path in today’s world.


Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group. Gordon is head of research at Eurasia Group and former director of policy planning at the US State Department