In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Emerging Powers and BRICS

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Before the BRICS: Earlier Works on Emerging Powers
  • The BRICS Grouping: Symbolizing a Shift of Power in the First Decade of the 21st Century
  • The Future of Global Order
  • Global Governance/Global Institutions, Rules, and Norms
  • A Challenge to US Primacy?
  • Country-Specific Analyses in the Broader Debate about Emerging Powers
  • The Social Transformations in Emerging Powers
  • The Economics of Emerging Powers
  • Critical Approaches to Emerging Powers and BRICS

International Relations Emerging Powers and BRICS
Oliver Stuenkel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0187


The term “emerging powers” is a broad and somewhat vague category or shorthand for countries that are thought to be in the process of increasing their economic (and political) power faster than the rest. To be described as an emerging power, a country usually needs to be large (both regarding geographic extension and population, though not always, as the case of Japan shows) and poorer on a per capita basis than industrialized countries, though there is no clear definition of when a country ceases to “emerge.” Since emerging power status is desirable and implies an optimistic outlook, governments have an interest in depicting themselves as such. In the same way, investment banks are keen to identify emerging markets with above-average growth potential for their clients. One important part of the literature on emerging powers looks at international power transition in history, and how the arrival of new great powers changes global dynamics. Another, currently larger and more visible part, looks at contemporary emerging powers. For the latter, predictions and estimates about future growth (which are often too rosy) matter greatly. Yet the question of which country qualifies as an emerging power is always contested and in flux. The difficulty in predicting the future explains why some analyses in this realm often lack serious empirical and theoretical scholarship. The concept of emerging powers is not new: Brazil, for instance, was seen as an emerging power in the 1970s. Still, the term gained new prominence in the first decade of the 21st century, when large markets at the periphery of the global economy continuously grew above average, leading to a shift of power away from established powers toward the developing world. The BRICs grouping (consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, and China), created in 2001 and called BRICS (with a capital “S” since South Africa’s accession in 2010), came to symbolize a narrative that seemed distant in the 1990s but appeared to make sense in the mid-2000s: a momentous shift of power from the United States and Europe toward emerging powers. The history of the BRICS grouping can be divided into three phases. In the first phase (2001–2007), “BRIC” (then still without South Africa) stood for little more than an investment category invented by Goldman Sachs. The second phase (2008–2014) saw, contrary to general expectations, the emergence of the BRICS as a political platform, though of a largely informal nature. In 2015, the transition to a third phase began, marked by a process of institutionalization and the launch of the BRICS’s New Development Bank and around numerous meetings between government representatives, the most visible being the yearly presidential summit. The literature on emerging powers is wide and highly diverse in terms of structure, scope, and focus. In addition to more academic work, a large quantity of former policymakers and journalists write about the subject, often in a more speculative and forward-looking fashion. Many analyses deal with emerging powers as one cohesive group, others focus on specific emerging powers (most frequently China, followed by India). These include interesting analyses of the social transformation ongoing in emerging powers. Additionally, within the realm of international relations, works on emerging powers usually focus on the foreign policies of specific countries, questions of global public goods (such as climate change or security) or norms (e.g., democracy and human rights), and global order in more general terms.


The study of rising powers is a multidisciplinary issue related to many different areas, and as a consequence, many journals include articles on the topic. There are no leading journals on emerging powers specifically, but most major international relations journals include articles related to the subcategories presented in the Introduction. International Security is a leading journal that often includes articles on how rising powers such as China affect US interests. While International Security is largely US-centric, publications such as Global Governance, the Chinese Journal of International Politics and Third World Quarterly frequently include writers from outside of the Anglosphere. International Affairs, Foreign Affairs and the Cambridge Review of International Affairs are among leading journals that often provide excellent discussions on emerging powers.

  • Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 1986–.

    An international affairs journal with a broad focus, published four times per year, which frequently includes articles on rising powers.

  • China Quarterly. 1960–.

    One of the most influential interdisciplinary journals analyzing domestic developments in China and the country’s role in the world.

  • Chinese Journal of International Politics. 2006–.

    In comparison to China Quarterly, focuses more on Chinese foreign policy, regional dynamics, and the international political economy in Asia.

  • Foreign Affairs. 1922–.

    Though not an academic journal, and highly US-centric, Foreign Affairs, published six times per year, includes many influential articles that shape the discussion about rising powers.

  • Global Governance. 1995–.

    Though more recent, Global Governance, published four times per year, provides an important platform to scholars discussing rising powers, including from outside of the Anglosphere.

  • International Affairs. 1924–.

    Influential journal with frequent participation of non-Western scholars, often in the form of special editions.

  • International Security. 1976–.

    Many would agree that International Security, published four times per year, is the most influential journal regarding the debate around emerging powers, even though the journal’s focus is wider.

  • Third World Quarterly. 1979–.

    Published twelve times per year, the Third World Quarterly is one of the journals that most frequently focuses on issues related to emerging powers. It also frequently features writers from the developing world.

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