The Two Clubs: Major Powers, Regional Powers, and Status Considerations in International Politics



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Figure 5: A Comparison of Threshold Entry requirements for Brazil and India, Compared with New Major Powers, 2000-2007 Timeframe.

STATE Capabilities Foreign Policy* Status** Consistency***

GDP EcReach MilSp MilReach Coop Conflict Dipcon Visits

Brazil + NIC

India + +* + NIC

China + + + +* + + SO
Japan + + + + + SU
Germany + + +* +* + NIC****

* indicates that the threshold is met but not for extra-regional interactions. ** Measured at two standard deviations from the mean. *** SIO = overachiever; SIU = underachiever; NIC = not in major power club. ****Germany qualified as a member of the club only during one of the three post-Cold War timeframes; in this period (2000-2007), it slips out as its foreign policy activity is primarily within its region.


Figure 5 integrates the data and provides a comparative positioning of Brazil and India for the most recent time frame (2000-2007), across opportunity, willingness, and status attribution thresholds. Clearly neither is a member of the club, albeit some progress has been made by India toward meeting membership requirements.

Seeking Entrance into The Club

Will Brazil and India enter the major power club in the foreseeable future, and if so, under what type of status attribution conditions? We create three scenarios, based on varying assumptions regarding Brazilian and Indian capacity to accelerate their capabilities and activities relative to other major powers. The first scenario we propose is the baseline/frozen status quo model. In this scenario we estimate prospects of entry based on a) the projected increase in their capabilities, willingness, and status attribution29 from existing data since 1991, b) assuming their average levels of political extraction30 from society by their governments over the last decade, with c) other states and major powers frozen at their present levels.

In the second scenario—the accelerated status quo model--Brazil and India’s projections are scaled by their maximum political extraction performance on the historical values since 1991. All other countries—including major powers—remain frozen in time. We assume that the maximum political extraction of Brazil and India in our models increases the rate at which each of our indicators will rise over time. If these states extract resources at their maximum observed levels, such increases should result in a proportional rise in the rate at which they will increase their capabilities, foreign policy activity, and acquire status.31

In the third scenario, the minimally contested accelerated model, Brazil and India perform at their maximum political extraction, but now the values for extant major powers are projected through 2050, allowing the thresholds to vary over time with changes in existing major power capabilities, activity, and status. This scenario contains a minimal response on the part of major powers to accelerated status seeking by these aspirants.32

The political extraction (RPE) variable measures the relative ability of states to extract resources from their domestic societies, providing a more accurate reflection of the resources available to states, compared to more traditional measures (Arbetman and Kugler 1995). 33 An increase in extraction represents increased resources available. In the second model, we use RPE to scale the rate at which states generate capability, activity, and status attribution. In the baseline scenario we assume typical levels of RPE based on existing data and project values for each measure for India and Brazil based on current yearly trends. In the accelerated status quo model, we focus on the maximum observed value of RPE for Brazil and India and increase the annual projected rate of change in each measure by the proportional difference between the state's maximum and average level of political extraction. In the minimally contested model, where Brazil and India continue to operate at their maximum RPE’s, the values for existing major powers are allowed to increase, projected on the basis of existing data and assuming an average level of RPE.

Figure 6: Projections for Brazil and India, Baseline Scenario. Brazil

Milex Milreach GDP Econreach Coop Conf Dipcon Visits Position*

2010-15 + NIC

2016-20 + NIC

2021-25 + NIC

2026-30 + NIC

2031-35 + + + NIC

2036-40 + + + NIC

2041-45 + + + NIC

2046-50 + + + NIC



India

2010-15 + + + NIC

2016-20 + + + NIC

2021-25 + + + + NIC

2026-30 + + + + NIC

2031-35 + + + + NIC

2036-40 + + + + NIC

2041-45 + + + + + SO



2046-50 + + + + + + SO

* NIC = not in status club; SO = Status overachieving major power


In all three scenarios we assume that the condition of relative foreign policy independence vis-à-vis the leading global state will not have changed appreciably in the near future. We also assume that the immediate conditions in their regional relationships will not deteriorate significantly, allowing these states to continue to focus on politics beyond their region. All three projections are based on extremely conservative assumptions regarding how states presently in the club would respond to Brazilian and Indian aspirations. These constitute the best case conditions under which Brazil and India would succeed in entering the club.34

Figure 7: Projections for Brazil and India, Status Quo Accelerated Scenario.

Brazil

TIME Milex Milreach GDP Econreach Coop Conf Dipcon Visits Position*

2010-15 + NIC

2016-20 + NIC

2021-25 + NIC

2026-30 + NIC

2031-35 + + + NIC

2036-40 + + + NIC

2041-45 + + + NIC

2046-50 + + + NIC



India

2010-15 + + + NIC

2016-20 + + + NIC

2021-25 + + + + NIC

2026-30 + + + + NIC

2031-35 + + + + NIC

2036-40 + + + + NIC

2041-45 + + + + + + SO

2046-50 + + + + + + SO

* NIC = not in status club; SO = Status overachieving major power


Note that the projections are linear in nature.35 We do so based on a vast body of literature suggesting that states’ relative growth in material capabilities and foreign policy behavior occurs linearly over time (e.g., Organski and Kugler 1980; Kugler and Lemke 2000). Two of the three recent members of the club (China and Japan) demonstrated such linear changes. Germany did not due to the sudden integration of the two Germanies. However, Germany is the only case after 1989 that enters and then slips out of the major power club. Below we will suggest conditions under which linear patterns may change, especially for India.

The results of the three scenarios are summarized in Figures 6 through 8.36 None of the three scenarios create conditions that would allow Brazil to emerge as a major power over the next four decades. Regardless of the scenario utilized, Brazil appears to resemble a major power only on economic capabilities, even when it is operating at the high end of its political extraction capacity.



Figure 8: Projections for Brazil and India, Minimally Contested Accelerated Scenario.

Brazil

TIME Milex Milreach GDP Econreach Coop Conf Dipcon Visits Position

2010-15 + NIC

2016-20 + NIC

2021-25 + NIC

2026-30 + + + NIC

2031-35 + + + NIC

2036-40 + + + NIC

2041-45 + + + NIC

2046-50 + + + NIC



India

2010-15 + + + NIC

2016-20 + + + NIC

2021-25 + + + + NIC

2026-30 + + + + NIC

2031-35 + + + + NIC

2036-40 + + + + NIC

2041-45 + + + + NIC

2046-50 + + + + NIC
The projections are more promising for India, although they may be a source of frustration for Indian policy makers if they are expecting entrance into the club soon. In the baseline scenario India does not emerge into the major power status club until the last decade of the time series. Even operating at the highest range of its political extraction capability and without major power resistance, India still does little better as it emerges into the club as an overachieving major power. In the third scenario, if existing major powers offer a minimal response by continuing their historical capability and activity trends, India will not join the club regardless of its political extraction level. For this picture to change, India’s efforts at capacity generation and global involvement would have to be above and beyond what she has been able to demonstrate historically.

The three scenarios are based on various assumptions regarding changes endogenous to Brazil and India, and thresholds that are driven exogenously, depending on whether or not major powers respond to status seeking on the part of these states. We have not created scenarios where other exogenous stimuli compel Indian decision-makers to ramp up their capabilities and activities. India is particularly vulnerable to such changes given its rivalry with an unstable nuclear Pakistan, and competition with China that ranges from ongoing border issues to active Chinese involvement in South Asia.37 Increased tensions with Pakistan may lead India to substantially increase its capabilities and its regional and global involvement in security affairs. Increased competition with China could result in similar changes in capabilities and activities and may lead India to seek alternative cooperative and security structures, including closer relationships with Japan, the U.S., and the EU. Those changes could bring it closer to achieving major power status than in our models.38



Consequences for International Politics

Our effort assumes that increasing the size of the major powers club is not necessarily a zero sum game. While membership in the club increases a state's soft power, how a state behaves with its additional capability may depend on the type of status it achieves. Foreign policy-makers may recognize this, especially for potential major powers that enter the club as overachievers. The case of China—as a new, overachiever—is illustrative. It has taken an extremely conservative approach to contesting the global order as long as other states provide it with major power status (Deng 2011). Likewise, the Russian/Soviet shift from underachieving to overachieving major power has led to reduced direct conflict with other major powers outside its own region, and presently, it is attempting to seek accommodation with both established Western39 and rising Chinese power. It is difficult to imagine an equally benign scenario had Russia been excluded from the club after 1991.

The conditions under which India is seeking entrance to the club differ from Chinese entrance. India has already reached the threshold of substantial status but without the qualifying capabilities and activities. Recognizing India as a major player in international affairs may minimize its need to develop the type of status seeking strategy that would destabilize global governance. However, in order for this to happen, India must demonstrate a dramatic increase in capabilities, reach, and commitment to engage in global affairs. Without the necessary components of opportunity and willingness, the conferral of high status alone will not be enough to guarantee a legitimate place in the club.40

In the absence of sudden, unexpected, monumental events that may change the linear course of these projections it appears that membership in the major power club is not likely to increase in the next few decades, despite explicit efforts by both India (Basrur 2011) and Brazil (Herz 2011) to join. The task appears especially difficult for Brazil as it lags far behind India and the existing great powers on a variety of indicators.

Historically, Brazil and India differ in self-ascription, and ascent to major power status may be valued somewhat differently in the two countries. While neither Indian nor Brazilian policy-makers have made a secret of harboring major power ambitions, these discussions in Brazil solidified only during the last decade (Herz 2011). Indian officials have proclaimed intentions toward major power status for a substantially longer period, and this goal has been especially stimulated by dramatic economic growth. Some Indian policy-makers already see India as having completed the transition from regional to global power (Basrur 2011). If in fact such a transition will take several decades, it could lead to considerable frustration in India's behavior and rhetoric.

It may be argued that our projections are too conservative given the recent changes that have taken place in the global economy. For example, Brazil and India may gain substantially from the recession that impacted existing major powers in ways that linear projections cannot capture. A few economic and foreign policy think tanks have already attributed major power status to India.41 These assessments, however, are either based primarily on economic indicators, or on non-replicable “expert opinion”. They seem to reflect what we have termed "opportunity", failing to capture the “willingness” component of major power status and the process by which major power status ascription is likely to be conferred by the community of states.

Rather than growing, it is plausible that the major power club will shrink in the near future. Germany, for one, has flirted with club membership in the post-Cold War period, and has moved in and then out, expanding and then contracting its activities outside of Europe. Presently, it is seeking to reduce further the size of its military, and planning other cutbacks that could reduce its status to a regional power.

Japan is an entirely different case. Its bona fides as a regional power are lacking status attribution from East Asian states; its legitimacy in the region is primarily based on the size of its economy, economic reach, and status as a major global power. As its economy continues to shrink, it has been further weakened by the recent tragic earthquake. Its 1% commitment of its GDP to military spending is looking less strong than during the booming years. Its political system appears fragile, and its foreign policy deferential to Chinese assertiveness42 even in its immediate neighborhood.

Perhaps the more salient question for international politics is not the growth of the major power club but the possibility of its shrinkage, and the consequences such exits hold as states struggle to maintain the status they have. There are two types of states that could lose their membership. There are recent joiners that may be unwilling or incapable of maintaining their capabilities or their willingness to play global roles, as perhaps exemplified by Germany’s brief and temporary entrance into the club after the end of the Cold War.

The second type is the “established member”. These would be states with a long history of club membership, still enjoying major power status, but having lost critical capabilities and consequently the willingness to consistently play on the global stage as a major power. This second group often enjoys a “halo” effect, and continues its membership for some time. Attribution of its status by the global community remains high, and likely does in-group attribution by other club members. The extent to which it is committed to maintaining its status by working to expand its capabilities and willingness to act as a major power (the salience of its self-attribution) is probably critical to whether or not it can keep its membership.

The Russian Federation is an excellent illustration of this type. Its military capabilities fell below the threshold after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet, its community based status attribution did not diminish. Equally important, other members of the major power club continued to recognize it as one of their own, allowing it to join the G-8 while its membership as a veto power in the UN Security Council went uncontested. Meanwhile, it has been increasing its military capabilities43 and its global activities. Its ability to keep its membership illustrates in part that it may be in the interest of other club members to keep certain states in the club rather than face the conflicts resulting from a member’s exit. We suspect however that the Russian route is only available to states with long-standing membership and a strong commitment to maintaining their status. States such as India likely require the longer route to membership akin to Chinese entrance into the club.

There are substantial theoretical implications for whether or not the major power club will grow or shrink in the near future. Structural theorists for instance, emphasize the size of the club as well as the distribution of capabilities within it as a predictor of competition, conflict, alliance formation, etc. (Waltz 1979). Should current major power aspirants gain membership in the club over the next few decades, the number of major powers could grow to nine. At no point in recent times has the club been so large, and it is well beyond the number of major powers that structural theories generally associate with multipolarity.

It is unclear from these theories if such a large club leads to extreme forms of the international politics pathologies typically resulting from multipolarity. Given the traditional association between large numbers of major powers, uncertainty, and conflict, such a system may be replete with opportunities for misperceptions, unstable coalitions, tension and, potentially war. Managing relations between members of the club could fall to the strongest in the group, but if Thompson’s (2011) perspective is accurate, the increasing disjuncture between U.S. military and economic capabilities, coupled with a growing list of its foreign policy failures, may ill equip it to do so. Yet trying to do so may produce counterbalancing dynamics, and not just of the “soft balancing” type.

Structural theories are less helpful in specifying conditions under which—short of major power wars or fundamental systemic disturbances—the club of major powers shrinks, and the resulting consequences for international politics. A focus on major power status attribution, including self-attribution, in-group attribution, and status strategies (Larson and Shevchenko 2010) employed by states in danger of falling out of the club may be vital in explaining alternative consequences for international politics.

Structural theories estimate the size of the major power club on the basis of capabilities alone. A focus on status considerations moves us beyond capabilities, and suggests that the type of competition usually associated with multipolarity may take non-traditional forms. The changes to conflict and cooperation from a larger club, for instance, will depend in part on whether new members enter the club as overachievers or underachievers. Likewise, it may be possible to manage transitions out of the club with creative status maintenance strategies. As these states jockey for status, seeking more of it or avoiding exit from the club, status competition may take place in the context of global and regional organizations and in issue-areas that are usually outside of the concerns of structural theories.

The post-WWII and post-Cold War eras have seen dramatic changes in military, transportation, and communication technology along with dramatic changes in the global economy. The level of destructiveness of modern weaponry and the level of integration among the current major powers’ economies are such that their leaders are unlikely to see major power war as the appropriate means to evaluate the hierarchy. Furthermore, despite dramatic progress on the part of China, the gap in military power between the US and its closest competitors is too wide for other status-inconsistent major powers to consider open military competition as the most viable avenue toward status consistency. Even the most aggressive military competitors of the US see the acquisition of certain defense and dual-use technologies as means toward additional prestige rather than ways of overtaking the US in military power.44 For example, China has been explicit in signaling that she sees especially economic institutions as the realms in which she desires to be attributed status (Deng, 2011). While we cannot divine how far into the future these trends will persist, it appears that the focus on status and status inconsistency generates predictions that differ substantially from traditional structural perspectives. The approach invites a broader reinterpretation of “standard” expectations about major powers, the size of the major power club, and international politics.



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