Power and Plenty in the 21St Century: Neo-mercantilism in Russia and the Rising Powers
Many liberal IR theorists argue that the spread of liberal capitalism has a civilizing influence on international relations because it decreases the role and importance of the state in the economy. Commercial relations between individuals and private enterprises based on market principles replace power based relations between states The pursuit of power advantage over other states, which has been the guiding principle of state policy for centuries, becomes an anachronism and is replaced by the pursuit of integration into the larger global economy. States are more willingness to participate in institutions because they establish rules of the game that make economic cooperation run more smoothly. The article questions the logic of this argument. Economic integration and global free trade are opening up new areas of competition between states, as Russia and other rising powers compete with the developed states of the West to attain the most profitable parts of the global marketplace. As a result, rising states are adopting neo-mercantalist policies that seek to increase their power advantages over other states. Like the 17th and 18th Century mercantilists described by Jacob Viner decades ago in his seminal essay “Power and Plenty”, they do not see a tradeoff between the pursuit of state power and economic prosperity but see these as mutually reinforcing goals. Economic integration and global free trade are opening up new areas of competition between states, as Russia and other rising powers compete with the developed states of the West to attain the most profitable parts of the global marketplace. States adopt a range of neo-mercantilist strategies in order to ensure that they are the ones that benefit most from the open world economy. Economic concerns may be taking priority over security concerns, as the prospects of military confrontation between states may have greatly diminished because economic integration makes it prohibitively costly. But states continue to be preoccupied with improving their power relative to other states because they see the pursuit of relative power advantages as being key to advancing their economic goals and securing prosperity for their countries.