Growing Competition between Major Powers: The Role of Emerging Economic Powers

The Great Power Competition between the United States (U.S.), China, and Russia operates in two global power-led blocs with multiple poles, including the Emerging Economic Powers as the Next Pole. However, these two blocs remain un-demarcated, and the poles merge at the politico-economic junction because of the role of emerging economic powers, such as Brazil, Argentina, India, Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, the UEA, etc. Dino Patti Dajala, a speaker at the World Economic Forum 2024, believes that the proliferation of middle powers, particularly in the Global South, will shape the 21st-century world order rather than greater or major powers.  Similarly, a panel of renowned scholars, including the renowned political scientist Graham Ellison-, contended that if these powers act more or less in a uniform fashion, they can ‘end up being a superpower’. Or, according to Ziya Onis and Mustafa Kutlay, these powers can create a ‘world of regions’. . In addition, in this major power competition, Fareed Zakaria, the renowned realist and – author of ‘post-Americanism’, argues that it is not necessarily the decline of the major powers, such as the US, but the rise of the rest. This is where emerging economies matter the most because they belong to the ‘era of middle powers.

In the major power competition, the Middle Powers, the emerging economic powers or influential states that sit below the great powers but still exert influence, play an important role due to their instrumentality in shaping global politics. Organski, the proponent of the ‘Power Transition Theory’ on middle powers, posits that these powers typically align with the winning side to claim victory or avoid responsibility in the event of failure or defeat.  Thus, they act unpredictably in the international system.

In this case, these countries are crucial because of their growing economic power in the form of International trade, energy markets, economic growth, technological advancement, and possibly strong currencies. In the wake of the Ukrainian conflict and resulting economic sanctions on Russia, these emerging powers are aware of the vulnerability of reliance on the Western Financial System, especially on the US dollar. Hence, they have started decoupling their economies and using local currencies, or currencies other than the US dollar, to be able to withstand or escape Western sanctions. This can accelerate the phenomenon of de-dollarization led by emerging economic powers. Subsequently, this may antagonize the West against the rest by challenging the existing financial system.

The Inter-regional trade between these middle powers increases their interdependence with the rest of the world thus, increasing their say in world politics. However, countries like India, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, do not risk while taking sides in this major power competition due to the constraining sensitivity as well as the vulnerability of economic Interdependence with other countries.

Likewise, these powers can bring balance and stability to the international order to preserve international peace and security. Especially in a crisis, these countries can also influence conflict dynamics, as well as play a stabilizing role, and prevent conflict escalation. i.e., the Ukrainian crisis, in which Middle powers like India and Brazil refused to take sides. However, they can also prove to be disruptive as well as instrumental in worsening the already fragile international order marred by great power competition. For instance, on the other hand, if these powers choose to side with a major power, Like India aligning with the US, in their quest for hegemony and against another major power, such as China; local-level conflicts would be quick to turn into regional crises with the potential to escalate into a global conflict. Therefore, the degree of their tilt towards great powers would be detrimental to the outcome of such a possibility, in either case. Besides, the independent path, if these countries follow could be equally important in defining regional as well as international politics. Similarly, a Barometer of International Cooperation, devised by the World Economic Forum, records some instances of international cooperation during a great power competition. However, it does not account for the prevention of genocidal acts of war, such as in the Hamas-Israel conflict, and consensus over the security needs of major powers such as those of Russia in Eastern Europe. This is likely due to the lack of an assertive middle power role.

Likewise, these middle powers sometimes play a different regional role compared to their global role. For instance, they may confront regionally and cooperate globally, and vice versa. Particularly in the South Asian region, the emergence of India as an economic power has emboldened it to project its hegemonic ambitions on the smaller regional countries by bullying them into submission, such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan, and portray- itself as the leader of multilateral cooperation and responsible international actor. Moreover, in the post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan, India has become the buck-passer and leaning shoulder for the US to look after regional politics, despite its acclaimed democratic credentials of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of its neighbors.

On the other hand, India is in a general confrontation with China at the regional level. Still, it keeps away from conflicts internationally, such as Ukraine, or other disputes outside the region, such as the Hamas-Israel conflict. It confirms the dual-nature role these middle powers play at different levels. These powers, such as India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany, are also critical of the existing power structure at the international level, for instance, particularly in the UN Security Council, but at the same time have the incentive to be part of the global order based on liberal norms. This would entail their selective approach to the international system where they want to benefit the most without any loss.

Subsequently, this may result in a Neo-Cold War that -differs from the old one. The middle powers, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, would likely play an assertive role or Strategic Autonomy rather than a submissive one. The most consequential fallout of this geopolitical race of interests is, as the UN Secretary-General said at the World Economic Forum 2024 in Davos, that the ‘Geopolitical divides – prevent)- us from coming together around global solutions’ such as climate change, and poverty. Therefore, the chances of multilateral cooperation are becoming highly unlikely, or otherwise would be very issue-specific in the case of emerging powers.        In sum, these emerging powers can influence and reshape the global order into a complex web of multiple poles, but with two important spheres of influence: the economic sphere and the security sphere. China, with its largest economy and trading partner in the world, is likely to dominate the financial system and global trade. And the Security Sphere is going to remain dominated by the US, which leads the largest alliance of collective security, nuclear umbrella, and military bases around the world. Therewith, the emerging economies, as middle powers, can bring stability to the system by balancing both spheres, too.


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