Moscow skyline

A major conference examining how the emergence of Brazil, Russia, India and China as leading world powers should be accommodated by the international community will take place at Cambridge University later this month.

We will have a chance to find out what their different visions for the world’s future are.

Amrita Narlikar

The two-day event, “Rising Powers in the International System: Harnessing Opportunities, Managing Challenges”, is co-organized by the Centre for Rising Powers (CRP) and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH). The event is also co-sponsored by Cambridge University Press. It begins on 24 February and will bring together figures from the worlds of public policy, economics and academia.

The speakers will include Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6 and Master of Pembroke College; Jim O’Neill, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management and the economist whose ground-breaking research underpins much current thinking about the four emerging “BRICs” – an acronym he also coined; Stephen King, Chief Economist at HSBC; HE Roberto Jaguaribe, the Brazilian Ambassador to the UK; Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for International Development; and also leading historians, political scientists and economists working in the area of rising powers.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, international politics have effectively been led by liberal, western democracies. That position is now changing with the emergence of each of Brazil, Russia, India and China as leading economies and major world powers in their own right.

Against the backdrop of Russia and China’s recent decision to veto a UN security council resolution aimed at ending the violence in Syria, the conference will ask how all four BRICs can be expected to behave in the future, as they take their places at the high table of world politics. The programme will also explore the impact these powers are likely to have on other major global problems, including the economic crisis and international security.

By involving policy-makers, economists, and researchers, the event will aim to offer a unique range of cutting-edge perspectives from three fields which each have an interest in the leadership of the international community, but rarely come together to share their views.

Dr Amrita Narlikar, Director of the Centre for Rising Powers at the University of Cambridge, and the conference convener, said: “In the past, the West has presumed that as Brazil, Russia, India and China become more prominent on the world stage they will start behaving according to Western norms. What academic analysts have often ignored is the possibility that these powers may bring their alternative visions of global order to the negotiating table.”

“At the same time, the fact that these new powers are becoming more vocal in world politics means that there is a unique opportunity for the world to create a new kind of international system – one that is much more representative and fairer.”

“To do that, ways have to be found of accommodating these powers and keeping the system efficient. At the moment, we have not effectively established a way of dealing with that problem across the board, and the aim of this conference is both to discuss the issues at stake, and start to develop some answers.”

Beyond recent debates over how to handle the consequences of the Arab Spring, the growing voice of the BRICs has also limited the efficiency of the international community in other arenas. In the case of the World Trade Organisation, for instance, where the inclusion of Brazil, India and China at the core of the organization was expected to balance representation, decision-making has been rendered difficult because of their very different priorities and approaches to negotiation.

This pattern, replicated across major international institutions, means that the accommodation of the BRICs into a different kind of global order is becoming critical if the international community is to reach agreement on many of the most important issues of the 21st century so far – among them climate change and poverty reduction. Similarly, countries such as India and China tend to have a very different attitude to aid and economic development, trans-national security problems, or questions of immigration and migration.

The conference programme will touch on many of these themes, examining topics such as the negotiating behaviour of the BRICs, the historical backdrop to their rise, their role in resolving the economic crisis, their attitudes towards energy security, climate change and multiculturalism, and new security threats that may now be more prominent as a result of their emergence.

There will also be sessions focusing on the changing balance of world power itself. These will include presentations offering both Western perspectives, and those of each of the BRICs, on how the international community should go about guaranteeing future global stability.

The organisers are planning to publish some of the main presentations and conclusions from the conference at a later date.

“This is a unique opportunity, in an academic setting, to give practitioners interested in both the established and rising powers a focal point to share their views,” Narlikar added. “We will have a chance to find out what their different visions for the world’s future are. Hopefully, as a result, the ways in which they can work together as the balance of international power shifts, will become more explicit.”

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