In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rising Powers in World Politics

  • Introduction
  • Power Shifts and the Return of Great Power Politics
  • Contemporary Rising Powers
  • Rising Powers and their Quest for Status

International Relations Rising Powers in World Politics
Sandra Destradi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0193


The topics of power shifts and the rise and fall of great powers have been at the core of the discipline of International Relations since its inception. However, with the end of the Cold War, the increasing economic success and political visibility of countries like China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, and the concomitant perceived decline of the United States, in recent years this topic has come back to center stage in International Relations. New multilateral formats, such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit meetings, as well as new institutions, such as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, reveal the activism of rising powers in contemporary world politics. While agreement is not universal on which countries should be considered as “rising” or “emerging” powers, most studies include China, India, Brazil, and South Africa in this category—even though Brazil’s economic and political crisis calls into question the durability of such classifications. On other emerging economies, such as Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico, or Nigeria, there is less agreement in the literature, while Russia is frequently considered a declining power. Against the backdrop of the increasing international activities of rising powers, large sections of the literature that deal with these countries focus on the potential impact of rising powers on the existing world order and on the institutional architecture of international politics, which was substantially shaped by the West after World War II. While some authors are alarmistic about the challenges that rising powers pose to the current world order, several studies find that rising powers do not aim to subvert an international order that has led to their success; rather, they seek to reform it and to be recognized as great powers in the existing global order. Given their sheer size in terms of territory and population, rising powers are essential players in all fields of global governance, from climate change mitigation to global trade governance, crisis management, or sustainable development. However, their norms and preferences are frequently different from those of established powers. For example, on issues such as climate change, rising powers place a clear priority on domestic economic development and refuse binding commitments on emissions reductions. Besides their role in global politics, rising powers are also important players within their respective regions—China in East Asia, Brazil in South America, India in South Asia, South Africa in southern Africa. As “regional powers,” these countries substantially shape politics within their regions, be it by promoting regional governance or by generating resistance among smaller regional states.


Research on rising powers can be found in different kinds of journals. Since the topic of power shifts has long been at the core of the discipline of International Relations (IR), articles related to the rise of new powers are published in general IR and security studies journals such as International Security. Moreover, the increasing political relevance of the rise of China and other emerging countries for the United States and the “West” in general has automatically led to an increased visibility of the topic of rising powers across journals in the field of International Relations (e.g., International Affairs, Review of International Studies). Among the more policy-oriented journals, the Washington Quarterly has a declared special interest in the rise of China and India; journals focused on security and strategic affairs, for example Survival, have also included articles on rising powers. Finally, some journals have an explicit focus on the non-Western world and are therefore typical publication outlets for work on rising powers. Among others, Third World Quarterly and Global Society have featured special issues on this topic (see Special Issues and Anthologies).

  • Global Society. 1996–.

    Formerly known as Paradigms (1987–1995), this journal takes a more critical and less state-centric approach to international studies as compared to mainstream IR journals.

  • International Affairs. 1922–.

    Journal edited from Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs. It covers most fields of international affairs and published influential collections of articles on rising powers in Vol. 82 (2006) and Vol. 89 (2013) (see Special Issues and Anthologies).

  • International Security. 1976–.

    One of the top journals in the field of International Relations. It includes some of the most important debates in the mainstream of the field, including on power transitions and issues of polarity and balancing.

  • Review of International Studies. 1975–.

    Journal of the British International Studies Association, which has included research on regions and rising powers as regional powers but less of the realist-oriented analyses of international power shifts.

  • Survival. 1959–.

    A publication of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (London). It has a strong focus on strategic issues but also includes contributions on international affairs broadly understood.

  • The Washington Quarterly. 1978–.

    Journal hosted by the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University that includes policy-oriented studies not only on issues such as the rise of China, but also on the potential return of great power competition with Russia.

  • Third World Quarterly. 1979–.

    It has long had a focus on development issues and has brought together area studies and the discipline of political science.

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