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Book chapter

Challengers, Responsible Stakeholders and Free Riders: Explaining Rising Powers’ Divergent Approaches to the Established International Order

Will rising powers use their growing power to transform or overthrow the established international political, economic and institutional order? Or will they work through the established order, using it to achieve their national goals and interests, and ultimately contribute to its maintenance and survival? The empirical record is mixed as today’s rising powers have adopted divergent approaches to the established order. While some have chosen to challenge it quite openly, others have been much more cooperative, while others still have adopted an aloof stance towards the order: they are ready to free ride on the benefits it offers but wary about taking on the burdens of its maintenance. The article looks to explain this variation by considering different factors that fall into the realist, liberal and constructivist traditions. These include the rising power’s level of development and level of integration into the world economy as well as the salience of great power identity to elites and publics in these countries.

While these factors are important, the article ultimately settles on a structural explanation that sees the variation in their power trajectories and which point they are in their rise as the decisive factor that shapes individual rising power's policies and attitudes towards the established order. The current international order is more favorable to the rise of some powers (China, India) than others (Russia).  China and India are content to concentrate on internal growth and free ride on US leadership. However, for Russia the current order is not conducive to its continued rise. It must work to change the order to assure its future relevance and status as a great power. Some powers are only beginning their rise (India, Brazil). Unlike Russia and China they have no historical tradition of great power politics. Moreover, they are still focused on the problems of their internal development and are content to work through the existing order. However, as they begin to adjust to their growing power and develop a great power identity of their own their behavior may also change and they too may begin to take on a more confrontational stance towards the existing order.