Steen Fryba Christensen and Raúl Bernal-Meza

This chapter aims at providing a theorization of the current world system on the basis of a systemic historical and structural vision.

The chapter focuses on the post-Cold War era from 1989/1991 until the present time, emphasizing particularly the diffusion of economic and political power in the world system towards large semi-peripheral countries such as the BRICS countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This tendency towards diffusion of power in the world system is a challenge from the perspective of the hegemonic power constellation that emerged after World War II and was centered on the United States. The aim is thus to analyze how and to what extent the world system and world order is being transformed. Is the world likely to go through a transition period that will introduce a new hegemonic situation or will the traditional hegemonic structures be maintained, or could it be that a situation of Àux and indetermination is the likely outcome in the medium term?

First, Second and Third World

This chapter aims at providing a theorization of the current world system on the basis of a systemic historical and structural vision.

The chapter focuses on the post-Cold War era from 1989/1991 until the present time, emphasizing particularly the diffusion of economic and political power in the world system towards large semi-peripheral countries such as the BRICS countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This tendency towards diffusion of power in the world system is a challenge from the perspective of the hegemonic power constellation that emerged after World War II and was centered on the United States. The aim is thus to analyze how and to what extent the world system and world order is being transformed. Is the world likely to go through a transition period that will introduce a new hegemonic situation or will the traditional hegemonic structures be maintained, or could it be that a situation of Àux and indetermination is the likely outcome in the medium term?

The text is divided into ¿ve parts. In the ¿rst part, the historical origin of the world system is discussed. This is followed by a short presentation of later tendencies and the emergence of a semi-peripheral layer of countries between the core countries and the peripheral countries, as well as the emergence of a crisis of accumulation in the capitalist system in the 1970s with its impacts on tendencies within the world order. The third part then moves to consider and discuss the consolidation of the capitalist world order from 1991 with the end of the Cold War. Power rivalries related to the strengthening of “emerging powers”, and particularly of the layer of the big semi- peripheral countries of the BRICS coalition, are discussed in the fourth part, while the ¿fth part emphasizes the acceleration of the rise in relative power of the BRICS countries and discusses the impact of this on developments in terms of world order.

The Origin of the Modern World

The con¿guration of the First World is structurally and historically uni¿ed with the process of construction of the European international society and its global expansion. This process determined the con¿guration of the axis development-underdevelopment through the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the formation of a “core” and a “periphery” as consequences of it, and the imposition by the hegemony of the United Kingdom of the international regime of free trade during the nineteenth century.

In his extraordinary work, Karl Polanyi (1992 [1944]) explained how his era (he was referring to the ¿rst part of the twentieth century) was the result of what he called “the civilization of the nineteenth century”. In his interpretation, the global expansion of the European international society was a result of the conditions provided by the civilization of the nineteenth century which rested on four institutions: power balance, liberal state, free trade and the self-regulating market. However, he stressed that the key to this international system was the laws that ruled the market economy.

Adam Watson (1992; 2004) points out how the European international society, whose global expansion unfolded in the nineteenth century, was the result of European culture and civilization as they developed from the sixteenth century. For Cervo (1997) this international society was a formidable instrument for Europe’s exploitation and domination of the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, differences exist regarding the interpretation of the origin of this “society”. Some authors relate it primarily to the formation of a system of sovereign and autonomous states (Watson, Bull, Cervo, Opello and Rosow, etc.), while others ¿nd that the origin of the system of states is derived from the ¿rst economic order and thus from the expansion of mercantile capitalism. From this perspective, the global European international society is seen as having been made possible thanks to the development of capitalism and having been sustained by the Industrial Revolution. This is the interpretation of authors within the systemic historical and structural vision of the international system (Braudel, Krippendorff, Wallerstein, Polanyi, and Ferrer, amongst others). Writing from within this last perspective, the authors of this chapter ¿nd that both of the views discussed here are valuable and could be usefully combined. The arguments of this last set of authors from within the systemic historical and structural vision of the international system permits us to understand how the expansion of capitalism allowed the creation of one single world in which the form of organization of “autonomous states” and the logics of the European international society became dominant. It is exactly the expansion of capitalism that allows for the establishment of one single world and not the system of states.

Watson presents the distinction between a system of states and an international society. According to Bull (in his book The Anarchical Society), the network of pressures and interests bring states to take each other into consideration in their calculations and decisions. The international society ties the system together with a set of common rules, institutions, models of behavior, and values that are shared and agreed by the states (Watson, 2004: 31). Each system ¿xes rules, institutions and common values that serve as guides for action and condition the behavior of the member states. It is true that the rules of functioning of the interstate system were not established consensually, but were the result of the will or capacity of the most powerful states to impose these restrictions, ¿rst on the weaker states and later on their mutual relations (Watson, 2004: 55).

The states were inserted in a power hierarchy whose very existence constituted the main limit on the autonomy of action for each of them. This corresponds to a principle of realism that is sustained on the idea that states are essentially similar, but that realism obliges states to accept the dominance of the most powerful.

The Global European Society

According to Watson, the Europeans “during the nineteenth century” brought a single network of economic and strategic relations to the whole world for the

¿rst time. They managed to create this world-wide uni¿cation which put down the foundation of our current global system by spreading the European system, while continuing the development of the rules of the system (2004: 369). From that moment on there would be no abrupt barrier or revolutionary divisory line between the European states system and the actual global system (Ibid.: 385–6). In his conception, this new global society also incorporated almost all the rules and practices that had been developed in the European great republic, including its international legal system and its diplomacy, as well as the basic assumptions of sovereignty and legal equality of the states that were recognized as independent members of this society (Ibid.: 392).

The global international society established a process of systemic integration in which “Western values”, a form of cultural imperialism as Watson says, played an important role. Two categories of elements qualify as an international society: on the one hand, speci¿c principles and practices of international politics and, on the other hand, the common culture that gives them unity. The international society therefore reÀects the dense interactions between communities and states that behave according to speci¿c rules and values (Cervo, 1997: 68).

Following the great wars that affected the European international society, the congresses came that revised the common rules and institutions of an international society kept together by common values and a common civilization. This practice, according to Watson, was no longer possible after World War II. The end of the Cold War, which opens up to a transition in world order, was also not followed by a world congress that established or revised the norms and institutions, and this, in our opinion, is one of the main factors behind the questioning of the current order and also justi¿es the demand of rising powers such as China, India and Brazil to participate in the global management.

The rules and formal institutions of the European international society were based on the European culture (Watson, 2004: 361), later called the “Western culture”. Western culture is represented by a model of society, modernity, industrialization and the development of national societies that represent the “capitalist Western powers”. And this model of society, as well as Western culture, is today questioned in parts of the Second World.

The capitalist economic system imposed by the Western civilization promoted a reordering of national and regional economic structures. Watson points out that the resulting economic order was administered by the management, or leadership, of great economic powers (2004: 423–4). It is exactly in the economic ¿eld that the leadership falls most easily in the direction of the North Americans, until China transformed itself into the second-biggest economic power in the world. The new economic order after World War II was administered by the economic institutions known as the Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank being the central pieces, along with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

It is exactly in the dimension of the world economy that we now see the power of this European-North American international society declining, most clearly due to the rise in power of China and other emerging economies that have placed themselves in the top-eight economies of the world (China, Brazil, India).

Summing up, at the moment we could conclude that we are in a phase in which the dominant tendencies point towards the recon¿guration of a European-North American society, based on the European-Western tradition, under the hegemony of the world view of the United States. From the middle of the twentieth century, the European international society is consolidated thanks to the hegemony of the United States, and from this time on, the European international society became the “Western international society”. But this order, which represents the First World, is what is being questioned due to the emergence in the semi-periphery and the periphery of the world system of states, cultures and nations that do not accept this hegemonic con¿guration of the First World.

The Characteristics of the Current World System

The current world system is characterized by a combination of four factors: the crisis of the capitalism of the “core” countries, the rise of new powers, the challenge to the hegemonic North American order, and the questioning of the foundations of the Western international society dominated by North America and Europe.

In the last decades of the twentieth century a set of processes that started to transform the structural characteristics of the world system emerged.Amongst these changes were the changes in the international economy with the acceleration of the processes of economic globalization and regionalism, and in the political realm those that marked the rise and decline in the pyramid of world power. Amongst the political tendencies, China’s positioning as a regional power and its emergence as a world power became noticeable, based on its extraordinary economic growth, its growing insertion in the global economy, and the strengthening of its military- strategic power.

The re-emergence of China as one of the key actors in the economic and political world order since the late 1970s has been acclaimed throughout the world as one of the most-important events of modern world history. In a sense, China’s role is increasingly becoming comparable to the old role of the United States as an “indispensable country” (Li, 2010). This af¿rmation carries in it the seed of world competition: which state will be the next to take on the condition of being “indispensable”?

According to some estimates, China will be the biggest economy in the world before 2020. What preoccupies the Western powers is not China’s economic rise, because, clearly, other countries could bene¿t from its growth and development by associating themselves with its economic expansion. What preoccupies them is the political component, and the impact that this change in status implies. This gives reason for preoccupation, since changes in the distribution of power have historically led to great instability that have often resulted in great conÀicts and affected alliance patterns.

A change in global power implies a certain implicit or explicit change in the existing world order. As a result, it is assumed that emerging powers demand more decision-making power in world affairs, and that the established powers have dif¿culties  adapting themselves to the demands. The possible consequences of these transformations are not easy to predict.

According to the opinion and analysis of Li Minqi, the rise of the European capitalist world economy to world dominance in the nineteenth century coincided with the decline and disappearance of the Chinese Empire’s historic dominance. The interesting question then is if China’s new rise as a world power will come to coincide with the decline and disappearance of the capitalist world economy dominated byWestern hegemony that now reaches its global dimension by including the last economy opposing the capitalist model of accumulation. The spectacular emergence of China as an economic world power after 1980 was, in part, an unplanned consequence of the neoliberal turn of the advanced part of the capitalist world. The transition of China towards capitalism has played an indispensable role in the triumph of global neoliberalism (Li Xing, 2010). According to this interpretation, China is the last paradise on earth for the geographical expansion of the capitalist world economy which will reach its ¿nal limit. This last argument follows Rosa Luxemburg’s classical theory of imperialism, according to which capitalism, in order to thrive, needs to incorporate new geographical territories. It is debatable if this hypothesis or theory holds true, but clearly China’s integration into the capitalist world system through its reform policies since the late 1970s has played a major role in the dynamics of the economic world system and its parts.

Following Wallerstein (1997), the rise of China can be interpreted as part of the rhythmic cycles of the evolution of the world system, but it continues to be limited by the fundamental logic of the capitalist system of accumulation and the competition and rivalry that this implies. This is why a China completely integrated in the capitalist world economy intrinsically constitutes a new competitor for global hegemony.

On the other hand, the disintegration of the most powerful contender, the USSR, and the adoption by China of market economy demonstrated that the imposition of an alternative system of accumulation on a global scale turned out to be an impossible task. This reÀection leads to the hypothesis that, as long as the capitalist model of accumulation is dominant, all states will be integrated in the capitalist world system. Therefore, changes in hegemony can only occur within the world capitalist system.

Which Factors Characterize this Process of Changes?

The Current Phase of Crisis of the Core of the Capitalist System

What we are seeing is a crisis of the existing model of accumulation. What we today identify as “globalization” is the most-recent phase of historical capitalism in which the globalization of capital coincides with a system of ideas that did not exist in earlier phases and that was made possible by the systems of information, telecommunication and informatics generated by the technological revolution which followed the crisis of capitalism in the decade of the 1970s. This crisis was reÀected in the questioning of the Fordist model of production and the welfare state, and introduced a new phase of historical capitalism where ¿nance capital gained strong inÀuence in the historical block of power centered on the hegemony of the United States (Bernal-Meza, 1996, 1997 and 2000). We have discussed this process in more detail elsewhere (Bernal-Meza and Christensen, 2012: 16–17). What is relevant to highlight here is that the new phase of historical capitalism led to the gradual strengthening of neoliberal ideology with its emphasis on the desirability of free markets, economic deregulation, and privatization of state companies that allowed these companies to enter into the circulation and ownership of private capital through the ¿gure  of transnational companies and ¿nance  capital. This new phase of internationalization or globalization was dominated by the historical block of power of the leading industrial powers centered on the United States along with European states and Japan (Christensen, 2013: 44).

The neoliberal approach to development gained further strength with the demise of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, leading to the consolidation of capitalism now including basically all of the former planned economies in the sphere of interest of the USSR. Similarly, neoliberalism gained a stronghold in other world regions including Latin America, where the United States pursued a “neo-Monroeist” strategy of Pan-American integration under its leadership. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, between the United States, Canada and Mexico came into force, and the US proposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas, FTAA, in the same year and found great receptiveness in the region at the time with the partial exception of Brazil. By the early part of the twenty ¿rst century, however, Argentina and Venezuela had also become strongly opposed to the FTAA after negative development experiences that were seen to be an outcome of the neoliberal development strategies of the 1990s. In the area of the international security regime, the end of the Cold War led to the introduction of a new norm of “humanitarian intervention” supported by the United States and its support coalition in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This new norm was explicitly designed to make national sovereignty conditional on the internal behavior of countries, presumably to make it possible for the hegemonic powers of the Western international society to defend human rights and “human security” according to the of¿cial view of hegemonic forces. However, from a different perspective, Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães convincingly argues (2003: 108) that the development of the international system in the 1990s was characterized by “consolidating the power of ‘hegemonic structures’ in a world characterized by instability, by growing disparities between countries, and by the arbitrary use of force”. According to this view, ¿ve great processes were occurring simultaneously, leading to the growing dominance of the leading “core” states and the consequent freezing of power relations to the advantage of the hegemonic structures commanded by the leading “core states” (Ibid.). These ¿ve processes were: 1) the acceleration of scienti¿c and technological progress; 2) the reorganization of territory and sovereignty; 3) the reorganization of the system of production; 4) the concentration of technological, economic, military and political power; and 5) the reincorporation of territories in the capitalist system (Guimarães, 2005: 43; Guimarães, 2003: 103–9). The FTAA was part of this trend. The aim of the United States was to introduce a number of rules and norms that were in the interest of its leading economic sectors, and then freeze these rules into legal principles agreed in the treaty (Guimarães, 2003). The strategy in the regional sphere of the Western Hemisphere was similar in many ways to the strategies pursued by the United States and the historical block of power in the world system at the time. However, the strategy of the United States turned out not to be very successful, as is evidenced by the outbreak of a ¿nancial crisis in the United States in 2007. Furthermore, although the ¿nancial crisis started spreading to most of the world in the following two years, it provoked a relative decline in the power of the United States and a number of European Union (EU) countries, and led to a new crisis of accumulation that, according to Ougaard (2013), provoked a crisis of hegemony. It is this crisis of hegemony that is the main object of this study.

The cycle of ¿nancial crisis which started in 2007 is endogenous to capitalism. It is an instability that is inherent to the behavior of ¿nancial actors and multinational companies. Its origin is the process of neoliberal globalization which, on a world scale, is characterized by policies oriented towards the predominance of market economy and a growing transnationalization of economies carried forward by transnational companies (Rapoport and Brenta, 2010), and by the creation of new ¿nancial instruments which enormously increased monetary actives in the economic system.

The phase of global crisis that erupted in 2008 has once again shown the dif¿culties of controlling nationally- and internationally-mobile ¿nance capital, due to the hegemonic block that dominates favoring the interests of ¿nance capital. We are in the presence of a ¿nancial  system that is broader than the traditional banking system and that has been allowed to develop with the support of deregulation and ¿nancial  internationalization facilitated by “globalization”, understood here as the conÀuence of growing economic interdependence and a particular ideology favoring deregulation, which has led to the crisis of the Bretton Woods system.

It is not likely that an alternative ¿nancial system to capitalism will emerge, given that the contesting subsystem of the Soviet Bloc disappeared, and there are no signs that the Muslim world, whose culture and religion can be considered to be a force that could facilitate a union of the states that belong to it, is in a condition to develop a subsystem around its religion and culture that goes further than some minor punctual efforts, such as the project of establishing a Muslim ¿nancial system. For its part, meanwhile, the BRICS proposals of creating a BRICS fund with a capitalization of 40 billion US dollars and a joint BRICS development bank is insuf¿cient to confront the international mobility of a volume of ¿nancial capital greater than one trillion US dollars, although it is an example of the BRICS considering playing a strengthened role in development as a consequence of their economic strengthening (Christensen, 2013a).

The Emergence of New Powers: CHINA, BRAZIL, BRICS

The process of the decline of the hegemony of the United States and its dominant block leads to a crisis period which coincides with, or leads to, a world order in transition. This phase has been characterized by the emergence of new powers: “regional powers” or “emerging powers”, and could lead to a new phase of multipolarity.

China and Brazil also represent a model of modernization for more-backwards countries. In these two successful examples, technological development has been of fundamental importance. Both in China and in Brazil the role of the state has been essential for the promotion of industrialization, technological development and the internationalization of companies. But, while Brazil has pursued this path by way of the developmental model (Bandeira, 1995; Cervo, 2009; Brainard and Martínez- Diaz, 2009) with phases of both authoritarian governments and democracy, the Chinese model has been characterized by authoritarian modernization (Li Xing, 2010; Oviedo, 2011).

However, Brazil’s model of modernization with democracy ought to serve Latin America best. This argument is based on the intrinsic value of democracy which has been a signi¿cant goal of Latin American societies.

Questions Regarding the Challenge to the U.S. Hegemonic Order

The weakening of the economic power of the United States is a complex phenomenon. Following the most predominant view, the United States entered a period of relative decline in its power position as a consequence of the ¿nancial crisis that broke out in 2007/2008. But all this should only last until a new order or productive model has been established. The dynamic centers of innovation are to be found in information technologies, in which companies such as Google and Facebook dominate at the present moment; and Apple dominates in the area of entertainment; in third generation medicines, in clean energies that can successfully-rival oil and coal as well as in other areas that are being researched: hydrogen energy, nanotechnology, organs and antimatter etc.; all these are areas in which the United States is in the forefront and/or shares the leadership with its allies from EU countries and Japan.

With regard to the current scenario where the United States seems to be falling back economically, the question is: Can it be argued that the emergence of new powers and coalitions such as the BRICS are a challenge to the US hegemonic order?

This has nothing to do with military-strategic challenges, but rather economic challenges because none of the emerging powers have the military capacity to confront the United States. Neither China nor the BRICS coalition has, until the present moment, demonstrated having the capacity to transform themselves into an “indispensable” country or coalition as it is with the status of the United States. There is no alternative economic world order to the Bretton Woods-based order. This also means that there is no transition of the systemic order.

It is true that the rise of the BRICS is due to the fact that each one of the countries and the group as such has a growing weight in the global economy. However, the changes in the global economic power balance is still not suf¿cient to ensure that a transition from the economic power balance perspective will happen. The BRICS can become increasingly-weighty poles, without being the central units of the nation-state system (Turzi, 2011).

According to one view, China has played an indispensable role in the global triumph of neoliberalism and therefore has strengthened world capitalism in the current phase of globalization (Li Xing, 2010; Bernal-Meza, 2011). However, according to this view, China, as well as India and Brazil, represent different models of capitalism that are all characterized by a growing centrality of the state in the economy that differs from the model of neoliberal globalization with its emphasis on economic deregulation and the relative withdrawal of the state.

China’s economic growth and its participation in the world capitalist system have strengthened the existence of the capitalist model of accumulation (Li Xing, 2010). The close collaboration between China and the World Bank and the IMF in times of crisis has strengthened the institutions and regimes that were designed by the North American hegemony. Also, Brazil and Russia have contributed in this direction during the current period of international ¿nancial instability.

For its part, Brazil’s perception of convergent interests with parts of the developed world in its foreign policy – particularly with the EU and some of its main members – has allowed them to strengthen multilateralism through joint efforts. This convergence has been sustained, in that both of these segments of the global world share the same vision of “multipolarity and multilateralism” that has been the basis for the creation of the G20 that has substituted the old G7. Both have collaborated in strengthening the structure of the UN and in shaping the multilateral trade talks of the Doha Round and supporting the Copenhagen Summit on climate change in 2009.

Considered individually, the emergence of China will inevitably generate changes in power and it will give a new form to the international order, but, on the other hand, it also helps to build a new type of power balance in world politics based on multilateralism and international institutions (Muchie and Li Xing, 2010).

BRICS: Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa

It is dif¿cult to understand the inclusion of Russia in the concerns of this grouping if it is not from the perspective that it, like the other four countries, forms part of the big emerging economies. Considered from a political economy perspective, the BRICS are a group whose emergence is a consequence of the changes that have occurred in the structure of world power and it reÀects the multiplication of poles of power in a system that is moving in the direction of multipolarity. The rise in the structure of the world economic power of its members represents one of the main drivers of political, economic and social change at the system level. Whether these changes necessarily lead to the destruction of the foundations of the existing international order depends on the behavior of these emerging powers towards the order, as well as on how the Western hegemonic alliance behaves and pursues its strategies.

Up until the present moment, China, India and Brazil have not expressed a revisionist position with respect to the international order. Instead, they rather seek reform that makes space for them in the order, without changing its structure. This situation excludes Russia, as it is part of the G8. For now, all of the BRICS support and promote the strengthening of multilateralism because they perceive that multilateralism assures the best way for them to pursue their international objectives and that it protects their interests.

Excluding Russia, which stands as a remnant of the bipolar power structure of the Cold War, the BRICS do not represent a revisionist power even if China and India are gradually strengthening their military-strategic capacities. The existing evidence points towards their being reformist and not revisionist powers (Turzi, 2011). They seek to strengthen the existing system through a widening-out and democratization of global decision-making, and, therefore, their behavior leads towards greater legitimation of the system. They cooperate in the main structures and organizations of the international system (the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the IMF and the World Bank) that have been established under the hegemony of the United States since the Bretton Woods conference (1944).

Each one of the members of the “Second World” in the BRICS grouping, that is China, India and Brazil – with the exception of South Africa – have serious dif¿culties in assuring support for their leadership in the regions they belong to, as argued by Parag Khanna who uses the concept of the Second World to denote the countries positioned below the most-advanced countries of the First World and the least developed countries of the Third World (Khanna, 2008 and 2012). In other words Khanna’s conception of the “Second World” corresponds to Wallerstein’s (1984) and Arrighi’s (1985) conception of the semi-periphery. Surrounded as they are by more backwards and weak countries, as well as smaller Second World countries (with the exception of China due to its neighboring Japan), they are not completely on the side of the developed countries of the “First World” in their relations at the system level and at subsystem levels. But, they also do not take on the rule of confronting and challenging the great powers. None of them is promoting an order or subsystem that aspires to confront the hegemonic global power in their region. Furthermore, each of the BRICS countries is increasing its trade with its own neighbors and not with the members of the BRICS group.

The BRICS are not a homogenous structure, nor do they represent a “uni¿ed actor”. They are not a subsystem because they have economic and political disputes, disagreements and rivalries between them. Furthermore, the distribution of economic power between them is very uneven. Without China, the BRICS would not be particularly relevant. This also goes for Russia. The Chinese economy alone is larger than the three other original BRIC countries together. The BRICS have dif¿culties establishing common interests on the level of the global agenda. China’s role as an economic world power and the third largest military-strategic power globally makes it dif¿cult for the other members (India, Brazil, and South Africa) to establish common interests. China does not support Brazil’s aspiration of gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and Brazil has not managed to establish solid and permanent links with China that would guarantee them China’s political support in the multilateral arena. There has not been clear and unrestricted support from China in the themes considered of essential importance to the Brazilian foreign policy, and, in spite of promising perspectives, the political dialogue between the two countries has concentrated on the defense of general principles and norms in favor of developing countries and not on the “global” themes of world politics (Beccard, 2008).

On the other hand, as Lima and Castelán have argued (2011), the politization of the BRICS can be seen as highly relevant with regard to their attempt to pursue their common interest in gaining more inÀuence in the international system. This could be seen as the BRICS simply joining the management of the international system. In the view of Lima and Castelán, however, this would potentially be highly signi¿cant. They see the coordination of the BRICS within the G20 as the institutionalization of conÀict in the international system. Although it is true that the BRICS is not a homogenous group and that they do not share interests broadly, they do have certain important common interests in the de-freezing of global power structures and they have had some successes, particularly in the realm of global economic governance. One example is their successful defense of autonomous policies with regard to the accumulation of reserves in national Central Banks, where the United States and its supporters wanted to introduce certain global rules (Christensen, 2013a: 281; Lima and Castelán, 2011).

The BRICS have mostly focused on the economic arena in their coordination of positions of their informal group. However, they have also engaged in debates regarding the security regime of the international system. Although they may not broadly share interests and views in this area, the group has been actively engaged in debating the norm of “R2P”, the Responsibility to Protect that has underpinned a number of humanitarian interventions, where they have had a critical view of the traditional Western powers and their way of interpreting the “R2P” norm. Brazil recently got engaged in the international debate on this issue, proposing “RWP”, Responsibility While Protecting. Similarly, China has proposed the principle of “RP”, Responsible Protection (Christensen, 2013a). It is not clear, though, if the BRICS have seen actual successes in this area, as they have in the economic area. What can be said, however, is that the power coalition behind the US hegemony that consists of traditional Western powers such as Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium and Japan is, increasingly, engaging in debates with the BRICS on issues of global governance and thus tends to include the BRICS in the coalition behind US hegemony in some areas.

It is not clear to what extent the BRICS will be able to gain inÀuence on the dynamics and rules of the international system through their coordination. On the one hand, the traditional dominant powers still seem to be in a dominant position, and the BRICS, although they share some interests and have had some success pursuing such interests, are not a cohesive group and not an alliance at the level of NATO. The BRICS pursue their national interests individually. Sometimes they do this as a group, but at other times they do it separately. Their pattern of international diplomatic relations can best be described as following a pattern of “variable geometry”, i.e. they engage in different collaborative relationships (with different partners, depending on the issue), based on how they view their national interests.


In the 1980s, Brazil faced a crisis of development and of international insertion and ¿rst reacted by introducing a neoliberal strategy during the Collor government (1990–1992) and the Cardoso government (1995–2002). Later, Brazil once again reformulated its national development model, reaf¿rming the traditionally-strong and strategic role of the state as it put the construction of the “logistical state” at the center of its development model. This transition was accompanied by a change in Brazil’s main objectives from that of a “global trader” to that of a “global player”. This transition implied changes in its foreign policy paradigms of multilateralism through   participation   towards   those   of   reciprocity   multilateralism   and autonomy through diversi¿cation (Bernal-Meza, 2010 and 2010a). “Reciprocity multilateralism” is a concept coined by Amado Luiz Cervo (2011) who de¿nes it as a type of multilateralism that assures that multilaterally-agreed upon rules actually bene¿t all nations. According to Cervo, Brazil has actively promoted this kind of multilateralism in the international system. While this approach is seen as a way to defend Brazilian interests, it is also seen as part of Brazil’s self-proclaimed “solidarity diplomacy” with its aim of creating a more socially-balanced world. This is seen as being in stark contrast to the logic of the neoliberal approach of the Western powers, and as a way to reduce the hegemony of the power coalition that often dominates in multilateral institutions – that is the Western international society – with the result that multilateralism is not always that multilateral. The concept of “autonomy through diversi¿cation”, coined by Fonseca (1998), and applied by Vigevani and Cepaluni (2007), describes the foreign policy strategy of the Lula government in Brazil with its emphasis on diversifying markets, as well as partners, in the direction of the South, including stronger collaborative relations with its South American neighbors but also through coalitions of similar countries such as BISA1  (Brazil, India and South Africa) and the BRICS. This strategy, with its economic and political elements, aims at promoting Brazil’s autonomy, reducing its external vulnerability, assuring a sovereign insertion in the world, and promoting multipolarity in an attempt to avoid being subordinated to the hegemonic structures and instead rise in power in the international system.

It likewise implied a reformulation of its views of integration and regionalism and a change of the areas and partners of interest: from the regional towards the global. As a global player, Brazil promoted the creation of groups of “similar” countries such as BISA and the BRICS. This was part of Brazil’s strategy to promote the multipolarization of the international system and create a diffusion of power towards “great peripheral states” such as Brazil itself and thus work against the tendency of the concentration of power in the international system to the advantage of US hegemony and its supporting alliance (NATO, EU, Japan) (Guimarães, 2005).

There is no doubt about Brazil’s leadership aspiration (Bernal-Meza, 2009, 2010 and 2010a). Brazil coincides with China and India in the quest to strengthen multipolarity and the role of international organizations which they support without questioning. Brazil is a ¿rm supporter of the international organizations that emerged under US hegemony: the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the UN. Brazil, along with the other BRICS, seeks to strengthen their power and inÀuence inside these organizations, but it is not an anti-system actor.

At the global level, Brazil puts aside any confrontational discourse towards the great powers, recognizing the importance of maintaining good relations (Lechini and Giaccaglia, 2010); but, Brazil seeks to maintain an independent foreign policy by promoting initiatives and presenting itself as a country that cooperates with the aim of maintaining systemic stability. Brazil agrees with China on the pattern of behavior characterized by “shared leadership” in opposition to the pattern of hegemony that predominates in the relations with its neighbors (Bernal-Meza, 2010 and 2011).

However, Brazil’s big global objectives will present the country with enormous challenges. Amongst them, it is taking part in the BRICS group as a counter-power that aspires to take an active part in the new international management as the only non-nuclear power in the group, having renounced developing nuclear weapons as part of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in 1997 (apart from South Africa, which is not a power at the level of the other members of the group).

“Second World”

If one posits the emergence of the “Second World” as a criterion of systemic order, the question that comes up is the following: Does the Second World refer to a condition or to a counter position to a First World and a Third World, or does it refer to a position in the structure of the world system?

The end of the bipolar order marked the transition of the international political system. Before 1989, two binary axes divided the world politically and economically: an East–West axis, as well as a North–South axis. Regarding this last axis, but in the context of the bipolar system, “three” worlds existed: the First World was represented by the developed “core” capitalist countries; the Second World was represented by the USSR and the Soviet bloc, and ¿nally, the Third World that was integrated by the semi-periphery and the undeveloped periphery.

The characteristics of the bipolar order were: 1) an ideological-political division (capitalism versus communism); and 2) a division based on levels of development (First World versus Third World).

The three worlds were organized under structures with varying degrees of institutional rigidity/Àexibility; thus, while the First World was integrated politically and military-strategically in NATO and economically in the G7, it projected its attraction for other somewhat less-developed economies and others that were de¿ned as “semi-peripheral”. A great part of these economies, particularly the most- advanced ones, were integrated in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

For its part, the “Second World” was integrated in similar categories: the Warsaw Pact and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Meanwhile, Third World countries (both semi-periphery and periphery) were integrated in two groups: G77 and the “Non-Aligned” countries.

By the ¿rst decade of the twenty ¿rst century, with the binary East–West axis gone, the differentiation of “worlds” is based on levels of capitalist development. From this, three categories are derived today: 1) the First World, integrated by the developed capitalist countries (the Western powers plus Japan); 2) the Second World, an intermediate stage according to levels of development and power; and the Third World, integrated by the underdeveloped periphery.

From the systemic point of view and with a methodological criterion, the Second World of today should be understood as a category equivalent to semi-periphery according to the systemic-structural morphology of the structuralist tradition (Prebisch-ECLAC) (see Bernal-Meza, 2005) after 1949, with the core-periphery model that was later expanded by Wallerstein and Arrighi with the category of semi-periphery from the world system perspective (Arrighi, Wallerstein), which expresses the asymmetry and the division of the three worlds according to the conditions of their respective economic development.

From these perspectives, focusing on the economy as the structural force of the systemic con¿guration,  a group of states with intermediate characteristics between  development  and  underdevelopment,  is  emerging.  Amongst  these new actors, a group that forms part of the semi-periphery is con¿guring  an intermediate world between the First and the Third World, according to Parag Khanna’s categorization (2008).

Khanna has de¿ned this as the “Second World”, represented by macro-regions which do not form a geographical space that is uni¿ed but is instead made of separated geographical spaces: Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. These are regions that concentrate some level of power as emerging economies. Considering the previous interpretations, it is necessary to ask oneself if the vision of the “Second World” in Khanna’s interpretation allows one to understand the con¿guration of the actual world system.

According to Khanna, what is characteristic of the current world con¿guration is the emergence of several power centers that are distributed across the world and take up a segment below the three core power centers which dominate the world economy, namely the United States, the EU and China. These three power centers concentrate the biggest military-strategic, economic and political power in the world.

The characteristics which Khanna ascribe to this “Second World” present patterns of both the First and the ThirdWorld (a portion of the society has levels of consumption, quality and conditions of life that are similar to the “¿rst” world, or, in other words, they share a developed country lifestyle, while the other part of the society lives in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty). These characteristics were already identi¿ed  by Wallerstein and Arrighi. The last of these authors applied this category to describe countries which, “in spite of having experienced wide ranging social and economic transformations, which often are associated with political instability, did not, in important aspects, reach the select group of states which, at some moment in time, established the patterns of status and wealth of the world system” (Arrighi, 1998: 137–8). In other words, Khanna’s theory does not contribute anything new to the world order debate within a systemic-structural perspective of the world. The difference is that Khanna uses the concept of the Second World while Wallerstein and Arrighi use the concept of semi-periphery. The reason for including a discussion of Khanna’s theory is that it has gained followers in theoretical debates in the ¿eld,  and we wish to point out that the theory does not contribute anything new of signi¿cance that cannot be found in Wallerstein and Arrighi.

Is the “new order” Globalized?

The variable of globalization which Khanna (2008) uses (a First World that is completely “globalized”, a Second World that is partially globalized, and a Third World that is scarcely globalized or not globalized at all) lacks conceptual rigor because the variable depends on the conditions that one would want to assign to the concept of “globalization”.

As   we   know,   there   are   “liberal”,   “conservative”,   “nationalist”   and “neo-Marxist” currents of thought on globalization. In our case, we use the historical-structural interpretation of the world in order to understand that “globalization” is the present (most-recent) stage of the evolution of historical capitalism, and it is characterized by the predominance of ¿nancial capital over industrial capital, by the creation of cartels and monopolic concentration (which are the elements of the globalization of capital) that are sustained by a system of ideas and a worldview that did not exist in earlier phases of historical capitalism (these ideas and worldview correspond to globalization as an ideological construct) in a process which is possibly due to the technological support of systems of information, transmission and communication in the areas of informatics and telematics (Bernal-Meza, 1996, 1997 and 2000).

This interpretation can be synthesized in the formula:


It expresses or represents a systemic-structural con¿guration  of the world under capitalist domination. It is in this systemic context that we should interpret the role that China plays as a possible leader of the “Second World”.

In relation to the institutional differences of the order of the post-Cold War when compared to the prior order, the First World is still organized politically, militarily and economically in NATO and G8, while the Second World is not organized in a similar way. Although the groups of the Third World continue to exist, they have been diluted in a world where they have lost their ideological horizon, except for in the categories related to economic development.

What is new is that, within this Second World, alliances such as the BRICS have  emerged.  The  BRICS  represent  43  percent  of  world  population,  close to 18 percent of world GDP, and 40 percent of international reserves in hard currencies.3  Following Khanna (2008: XXV), the Second World is much wider than the BRICS and includes at least 100 individual countries.

Regardless of if through joint leadership or China’s leadership, this alliance aims at, or should aim at, advancing a global political agenda. It is not inconceivable that a medium power, or a coalition of rising powers which could include one or more smaller countries, sets out to head the formation of a more-inclusive coalition whose aim is to identify and implement a global political agenda. Its success will depend on the ability to ensure that the hegemonic power and its alliance include the coalition of rising powers in the leadership, which would then be shared between both groups. It is to be expected that this incorporation will imply that the hegemonic power (the United States) takes on the leadership of the coalition.4

This assumption implies that the confrontation between the two coalitions would be suspended and that the coalition of rising powers would be included in the management of the international order. It should also be noted that the rise of these medium powers and the incorporation of other semi-peripheral states in the management of the international order would strengthen, at the ideational level, a political economy based on a renewed acceptance of the role of the state in assuring development. This would imply greater state control over the market and a tendency towards international negotiation, leading to agreements that bene¿t national and international strategies of economic growth, redistribution of wealth and a reduction of economic inequality between countries and within countries. These themes are advanced by the agenda of the BRICS coalition and have been particularly stressed by Brazil and its partners in BISA (Christensen, 2012), while they have not been and still are not on the agenda of the hegemonic coalition led by the United States.

But, it is also possible that one of these rising powers has a strategy of coopting its regional surroundings under its regional hegemony. This is the case, for example, of Brazil, according to Fis¿sch (2012: 536). He argues that some of the foreign ministry leaders in Brazil, whose thinking is based on Marxist and dependency theory paradigms, pursue an agenda of creating a strongly statist South American block with Brazil at the “core” as the industrialized hegemonic power, and the other countries at its periphery, functioning as providers of primary goods and inputs to the industrialized core. The international political vision associated with this agenda would be characterized by antagonism towards the United States that, from this perspective, is seen as an imperialist power and as the main enemy of Brazil. Regardless of the merits of Fis¿sch’s description, it is true that Brazil, particularly since 2003 when the Worker’s Party, PT, and Lula came to power, has pursued a strategy of making South America Brazil’s sphere of interest (Christensen, 2012). This strategy has had some success, but Brazil has also encountered numerous barriers to becoming explicitly accepted as the leader of a South American block.

China and the “Second World”

We are witnessing the construction of a new order. This order is de¿ned by a number of rising states that are interested in reorganizing the international system. From this perspective, the rise of China, Russia, India, Brazil and other rising powers, with China as the central focus, is creating pressures for the established powers to accept the wish of the rising powers in the management of the system. The controversy has been reduced to this: whether these rising powers are to be recognized and given room to participate in a shared leadership, or whether the established powers will decide to ¿ght against their inclusion. China aspires to become part of the management of the international system, but it is still not part of the present hegemonic world structure, in spite of its impressive economic rise and in spite of almost having all the indicators of a developed country with the exception of the GDP per capita that remains at a low middle-income level. Given that China is not accepted into the hegemonic leadership, it is looking for support in the BRICS group, as well as from other states in Africa, Latin America etc. In other words, there are no alternative coalitions to the order of the capitalist powers led by the North American hegemony at the time being. The BRICS are focusing on their own inclusion in the management of the existing order.

At the present historical juncture, China is considered a rising power which, sooner or later, will demand more decision-making power in world affairs, at the same time that the established powers will ¿nd it dif¿cult to allow China’s access to this kind of inÀuence. One of the dif¿culties stems from the fact that China is widely considered to be a threat by the hegemonic coalition, while it does not focus as much on the growing economic interdependence between China and the rest of the world with a view to understand how China would manage to create a change in the power balance and reformulate the international order. According to the Chinese discourse, this would imply a new type of power balance based on multilateralism and institutions. What is on the table, though, is not the creation of new institutions, but rather to “democratize” the existing institutions by giving a stronger representation to some states such as the BRICS. The reality is that China, although it has helped ensure hegemonic stability by strengthening global capitalism in its crisis process, is not part of the international management.

China has not been integrated into the hegemonic capitalist order (the G7, OECD and NATO), and has instead developed its own pattern of regional economic hegemony, as well as its own pattern of relations with the periphery in the Second and Third World (Munyi, 2012; Yin-Wong Cheung and Guonan Ma, 2011; Ellis, 2009).

The intensi¿cation of commercial relations between China and Latin America, as well as between China and Africa, have also strengthened the “neocolonial” argument that sustains that China is imposing itself on the peripheral regions with a renovated “colonial” relationship. China’s rise from the periphery to the semi-periphery, and now towards the “core”, modi¿es the hierarchy of positions, introducing what could become a potential source of conÀict in the world system. Seen from this perspective, China’s gradual rise towards the “core” could be leading to the peripherization of the countries that presently belong to the semi- periphery (by China taking over their production and export markets). China is expected to continue its economic rise, and it participates actively, particularly in areas of the semi-periphery. This implies important challenges and restrictions for the development of semi-peripheral countries. It is still not clear how this process will play out in the long term, however, as China’s rise has also led to periods of dynamic effects for other semi-peripheral countries through China’s growing consumption and imports (Li Xing, 2012; Li Xing, 2012a; Li Xing and Christensen, 2012).

The general evolution of South America’s international economic relations, for instance, shows that these countries have been reorienting their economic relations towards China to a greater or smaller extent, and that this has started to inÀuence  their foreign policy orientations (Ross, 2002; Becard, 2008; Oviedo, 2010; Bernal-Meza, 2012). China is creating a new pattern of specialization in Latin America’s international trade (Sevares, 2007 and 2011; Ellis, 2009; Li Xing, 2010; Bernal-Meza, 2012 and 2012a), as is also happening to other peripheral world regions (Munyi, 2012). This could turn out to be part of the road towards the construction of a capitalist structure that is economically hegemonic between China and parts of the semi-periphery and the periphery. China seeks to use this relationship that is based on productive and commercial specialization for its rise in global position with regions of the periphery and semi-periphery, including Latin America.

Parallel to this, the Chinese model is increasingly seen to be attractive for the developing world. Due to its fast economic growth with strong political stability, many countries observe China in order to understand its management of state- market-society relations, known as the model of the “Beijing Consensus”, which builds  on  attitudes  towards  politics,  development  and  global  power  balance. What preoccupies the United States, as well as what preoccupied the European colonialists of the nineteenth century, is the transmission of this Consensus to the developing countries. Another aspect that creates preoccupation is China’s increasingly-growing defense budget. These considerations have led some realists to predict a possible Sino-Western conÀict. But the truth is that China is an interested party to the capitalist world system (Li Xing, 2010). These two reÀections point towards the difference between China and the rest of the semi-periphery and the periphery, as well as pointing towards the logics of the behavior of the hegemonic capitalist powers, and it creates doubts about a possible future con¿guration of a counter-hegemonic alliance or an alternative to the actual hegemonic power.


What we are presently witnessing is an order in transition. Its fundamental characteristics are the crisis of hegemony, demands for a more-multilateral order, and the rise of emerging powers. However, the political order will go on depending on the global dominance of capitalism. Thus, capitalism is in no way threatened. The international order will go on being capitalist. This would also be true if we were to see a transition of the economic hegemony of the West towards China and other semi-peripheral powers in the BRICS.

According to the world system theory (Wallerstein, 1979), the resolution of the systemic crisis of accumulation has often included a change in the leadership of the world process of capital accumulation. The rise of China is still marked by the fundamental logic of the system of capital accumulation. For some theorists, the integration of China in the world economy is one of the factors through which China bene¿ts from the existing international institutional order. For this reason, the rise of China does not necessarily lead to a conÀict for global dominance, since the existing international order is based on a set of rules and institutions that are dif¿cult to bring down, but easy for anybody to join.

There seems to be three possible perspectives on the evolution of the future world order: 1) the continuity of the existing order, in which the established powers resist including the new emerging powers. In this scenario the risks of conÀict intensify; 2) the emerging powers recognize that the established powers will not permit their inclusion and they take measures to form their own alliances; and 3) the established powers accept co-evolution in which the emerging powers and the established powers agree to jointly uphold global “governance”, i.e. the scenario desired by the BRICS. However, it is also possible that one or more of the emerging powers will seek to individually-strengthen its position or to achieve greater autonomy to inÀuence the world order.

For its part, it is dif¿cult to conceive of the BRICS as a counter-hegemonic “alliance” to the extent that the interests and the differences between its members do not permit one to consider it a force that could generate systemic changes. On the other hand, as argued, the BRICS have had some success in inÀuencing the rules of the international system in the economic realm. This would have been inconceivable without their growing power position and could be seen as an example of success for the coalition. In other words, with their growing power, the BRICS may be able to gain a growing footprint as rule makers in the international system through their informal coalition. It is uncertain, however, to what extent the BRICS will choose and/or manage to maintain their coalition, and to what extent this will help them inÀuence the international system and its order.

Given the argument that systemic changes can only occur in the context of the capitalist world system, our opinion is that we will continue in a cyclical phase of the crisis of capitalism until a new techno-productive pattern is consolidated. It is likely that the characteristics that lead to an increasingly-multipolar situation of the world system will be maintained, because nothing suggests that there will be a country or a group of countries that represent a power with capacity to transform itself into the new indispensable power, that is, the power that can formulate the new rules and regulate the order.

Nevertheless, we believe that the biggest challenge to the Western hegemonic domination that the United States heads could emerge from the very foundation that sustains the Western model, namely its culture and its international society of European precedence.

The transformation of China into the second-biggest economy in the world and perhaps, in the near future, into the biggest economy in the world, does not only represent challenges that derive from the political impact of such a condition. It also obliges one to consider the dimension of the world’s natural- and energy- resources that this expansion implies. Furthermore, China is arguably building its own semi-periphery and periphery within the global capitalist system.

Against the general consensus that the rise of China will help to strengthen and expand the capitalist world system, Li Minqi argues that the rise of China is a recurrent historical process that contributes to the end of the existing order.

The competition for access to natural resources and energy cannot be resolved peacefully; especially not if the concert of Western powers does not incorporate China and other emerging powers in the management and institutional renovation of the world system.

The crisis of multilateralism accentuates the development of counter-powers, such as the BRICS, that look to become participants in the global management, but without changing many of the rules of the world system. The transition thus does not imply a transition away from capitalism, but rather the rise of countries in the semi-periphery that are willing and able to struggle to gain positions in the management of the international order, although they do this within the established order. This means that after 50 years of domination of the American-European international society and the Western hegemonic order, new powers, this time not from the core countries, are struggling to become part of the management. So the issue at stake at the moment is whether the powers behind the Western hegemonic order will accept the incorporation of the BRICS in the global management.

Will the Next System be a More-Integrated One?

Watson argues that, in periods of transition, it is dif¿cult to foresee which direction the system will develop. But we can expect that the long term tendencies of pressures from the global market and the speed and ease of communication will lead to a more-integrated system.

The fact that the emerging powers of Russia, China, India and Brazil trade more with their own regions and neighboring countries point towards two issues. In the ¿rst  place, it suggests that the tendencies of more regionalism will be maintained. In the second place, it suggests that it is likely that the coalition of emerging powers, the BRICS, will turn out to be more like a conjunctural alliance than a long term political and economic union.

The return of the region as an international actor and as an analytical category of international relations since the last fourth of the twentieth century (Bernal-Meza, 2009; Bernal-Meza and Masera, 2008), suggests that it can function as a defense mechanism against some of the most-negative aspects of the capitalist system in the actual phase of globalization, understood both as a process of increasing international economic integration and its neoliberal ideological components (Bernal-Meza, 2000), and it allows the regional powers to create spaces of power.

Which is then the Scenario after the End of the First Decade of the Twenty First Century?

Highnance  and Bretton Woods have been dominated by the West, sustained by the extraordinary industrial and technological development of the capitalist powers.

At the present time, we ¿nd ourselves with a situation where the axis of the world economy is displacing itself towards what used to be the margins of this Western civilization, namely towards China and the Muslim world.

Today, China is the second-biggest economy in the world, and the Muslim periphery is, at the present time, designing a ¿nancial/banking  system, a highnance with Muslim characteristics, whose structuring element is not monetary but rather religious and cultural.

What uni¿es  the elements is the domination of global capitalism. But the characteristics of the market economy in the twenty ¿rst  century in its phase characterized by neoliberal globalization are that its institutional mechanisms have not been de¿ned. They are being questioned or are experiencing a situation of crisis.

The spirit of the European global international society can be well-understood as the belief in universalism based on Western values.

However, universalism, as a system of beliefs relative to the object of knowledge  and  to  its  methods,  whose  biggest  importance  is  constituted  by general assumptions that allow one to interpret the physical and social world, supposedly of universal validity, is being put into doubt. This also means that the concept of “universal culture” and “modernization” that are expressions of the cultural imperialism of the capitalist Western world are being questioned. This also constitutes a questioning of the hegemony of the dominant Western powers following Gramsci’s views on the signi¿cance of values and ideas for the maintenance of hegemony.

From these points of view, what is being questioned in the last account is the value system, ideas, institutions and ethos that make up the present heritage of the international society after the Cold War. Against this complex, we see the rise of regionalism and other forms of challenges to the international society’s universal multilateralism, dominated by the great capitalist powers.

The questioning of hegemony requires rising powers that are willing to take on the challenge of leadership, and that the states that are part of their geographical surroundings accept them. These two situations do not happen in a homogenous way in the ¿ve  continents: China in Paci¿c Asia, India in South Asia around the Indian Ocean, South Africa in the African continent and Brazil in South America have neither similar aspirations, nor the same level of acceptance in their geographical neighborhoods. For this reason regionalism is such an ambivalent concept in the thinking of these powers.

Risk is Our Challenge: Who Will Organize the Order?

The changes in the distribution of power have historically implied great instability that has often led to war. A change in global power implies a certain implicit or explicit transformation of the existing world order. As a result, the rising powers are demanding more decision-making power in world affairs, and the established powers are experiencing dif¿culties with adapting to these demands. The possible consequences of these transformations are not easy to predict.

In any case, the rise of China will necessarily be one of the elements of the new order. Given China’s interdependence with the rest of the world, the new order could be stabilized if there was a willingness to include China in the management of the world system. China will not be a rule-taker of the international order; it will eventually put its own rules into play. The world order should not only be composed by a balance of power, but also by a balance of justice and fairness in the rules of the game of international relations (Li Xing, 2010).

As we have pointed out, we are at the present moment, in a phase of the world system in which the dominant tendencies are the recon¿guration of a European- North American international society in which we see the rise of a semi-periphery. Great  powers  already  now  occupy  the  six  dominant  positions  of  the  world economy, but the system is still based on the European-Western tradition under the hegemony and worldview of the United States. But this order, which represents the First World, is what has been put in question by the rise in the semi-periphery and in the periphery of states, cultures and nations that do not accept the hegemonic con¿guration of the First World.

In this way, the challenge of the current world system is not so much the rise of a “Second World”, but rather the con¿guration of the international political system within the global capitalist order. Therefore, the question is posed in the following terms: Who will organize the order?


1   The Brazil, India and South Africa Dialogue Forum (BISA) was started in June 2003.

2    Here ‘process’ corresponds to the actual phase of “globalization” of capitalism, while

‘ideology’ corresponds to a system of ideas sustained by this phase. These two aspects jointly correspond to ‘neoliberal globalization’.

3    Source: Downloaded 20/8/13.

4   This argument has been taken from Flis¿sch (2012) who applies it to the case of Chile in relation to Brazil and a possible South American coalition. Here we extrapolate the idea from the sub-system level of South America to the system level.


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