Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Empire Rising

Posted by Charles II on April 17, 2010

The tragically-misguided response of the United States to Honduras is a clear sign of a declining empire, sowing long-term enmities for short-term economic and tactical gains. But a new order is rising. In fact, they held a meeting. Beatriz Bissio, IPS News:

In the space of one day, Thursday Apr. 15, two meetings destined to have broad repercussions were held in Brasilia: the summits of the leaders of the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) groups.

The futuristic design of the Brazilian capital, which just turned 50, was the symbolic setting for the two conferences aimed at modeling a different future, with an emphasis on the defence of multilateralism and the need for reforms in the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

The fact that Brazil hosted the BRIC and IBSA gatherings confirms the influence of Brazil’s foreign policy and diplomacy and this country’s vocation to push debates on issues that were wiped off the international agenda by the neoliberal storm.

Some questions that have reemerged on the agenda are development with social justice, South-South cooperation, and the steady weakening of the dollar as a reference currency in trade transactions among emerging powers.

The coordination effort can also be interpreted as a determination to safeguard national interests and seek a new role in the formulation of proposals for overcoming the global financial and economic crisis that broke out in 2008.

IBSA and BRIC “are two important manifestations of a new order that is taking shape,” said Williams Gonçalves, a professor of international relations at the Rio de Janeiro State University and author of several books on the question.

Brazil has advantages in becoming the next rising world power. India and China are natural rivals. While India is truly a continental power, China has had periods of expansionism and is accordingly distrusted by nations like Japan and Vietnam (Japan, of course, had its own little experiment with expansionism). Russia is another of China’s natural rivals. But the only real rival of Brazil is the United States. And if the influence of the United States is declining, Brazil is the most likely of the emerging nations to fill the vacuum.

This is not to endorse this development. No earthly empire is benevolent. Terna Gyuse, IPS News:

“A part of the idea behind IBSA is to push for reform, but the reform is not about empowering smaller countries,” says Shawn Hattingh, a researcher at the International Labour Research Information Group in Cape Town.

“It’s about IBSA members getting greater voting rights (within the IMF and World Bank). It’s basically a power play within the existing system.” 
 In Hattingh’s view, neither IBSA nor BRIC represent anything new for the majority of people living in the South.

China, he says, is locked in a dependent relationship with its major trading partner, the U.S., that limits its desire to press for deep changes. ..

[Candido] But would a global economy dominated by the newly emerging powers be worse?

Grzybowski says “maybe, maybe not.” China’s approach “is better than sending armies, as imperialists have done in the last five centuries,” for instance in Africa, recalling several stages of colonialism in that continent, and the damage caused by British, French and Portuguese forces.

The difference with China, he says, is that it tries to negotiate.

“(China) doesn’t send an army, but it is a new imperialist,” he said, comparing China to another rising power in the BRIC group, Brazil. In South America, “Brazilian companies are buying everything they can lay their hands on.”

So, how are they proceeding? Fabiana Frayssinet, IPS News:

Members of the business communities of Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa wasted no time in stating loudly and clearly what they were there for, ahead of the speeches their presidents will deliver at summit meetings this week.

Energy, information technology, infrastructure, food and agribusiness are the sectors that some 400 commercial delegates identified as priorities in terms of business opportunities.

These points of interest were defined at a meeting Wednesday of business leaders from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) groups, in which economic statistics mattered more than country initials.

According to documents distributed at the IBSA-BRIC Business Forum in Brasilia, nearly 50 percent of global economic growth between 2000 and 2008 took place in the BRIC nations, and by 2014 this share is expected to reach 61 percent.

Nearly half the world’s population lives in the BRIC countries, which occupy more than one-quarter of the planet’s land area and produce 15 percent of global GDP.

Together, our countries have tremendous strength, said India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, in the upbeat tone shared by all participants.


4 Responses to “Empire Rising”

  1. I’d heard that Big Business had bought off Lula. Didn’t realize it was quite this bad.

    Must be a key reason why the corporate US press hasn’t done any waves of scare stories about him recently. Yet they still go after Chavez.

    • Charles II said

      I don’t think Lula is buyable. Too much personal history. His successor, maybe.

      Any national leader has to be very business-friendly. It’s not just part of electoral strategy. Those businesses are part of the reason a nation’s economy thrives. But Latin America is ultra-nationalistic. So, the US, with it’s economic imperialism, is not really welcome anywhere. But when it makes itself obnoxious, people start to be willing to sacrifice to become independent of it.

  2. Stormcrow said

    Charles, I have the same problem with this thesis that I do with the often-heard assertion that China will be the power that steps into America’s shoes. Except that my objections are even stronger in the case of Brazil.

    My first and, I think, most important contention is that at this point, an extended hegemonic overseas empire is economically and strategically unproductive. And that goes for everybody, across the board.

    It’s gotten to the point where even a relatively modest air force is unreasonably expensive. Carrier battle groups are insane, which is why Great Britain has none. You will note that, rhetoric aside, China’s “carrier force” is more of a face-saving gesture than a practical means of force projection.

    What we’re seeing these days is insurgencies, mostly. And small conventional wars in places like Georgia, directly adjacent to the border of the major state that’s involved.

    Even these last can end up costing far more than they’re worth.

    That’s the problem. If a defender has an indigenous arms industry, or its equivalent, and a population that’s willing to die in large enough numbers, the expansion of anybody’s empire into such a nation is a non-starter. Assuming the would-be empire’s actors are rational. If they’re not, their subsequent defeat and/or economic collapse will restore something closer to the status quo ante than to successful imperial expansion.

    Just look what happened to us in Iraq. If you think that outcome was any sort of a victory for the United States, just wait a decade or so. No matter how things shake out in Iraq, whoever ends up on top is going to be an Iranian client, not an American one. And when you consider what both sides brought to the combat in 2003, that was about as lopsided as a war can get.

    Where’s the value-add to an overseas hegemonic empire these days? To any nation-state on the planet? I just don’t see it. I think that whole concept was bankrupted by the diffusion of industrial technology and post-First-generation warfare methods into the second and third worlds. And that’s old news. 50 or 60 years old, at least. The diffusion of modern communications infrastructure broke the other leg. So Mars has to get about in a wheelchair.

    The folks inside the Beltway Bubble haven’t figured this out yet, which surprises me. Somewhat. The ruling elites of revious empires had a better appreciation of the fragility of their constructions.

    Brazil? If they want to run their own country down the tubes, just about the quickest way to do that would be to attempt to subjugate their neighbors in South America. But historically, IIRC, Brazil has been at least as reluctant to adopt an expansionist foreign policy as China has, over the course of its shorter history.

    • Charles II said

      If either China or Brazil goes the path of empire, I doubt it will be military, Stormcrow. Militarism is often a sign of the weakness of an empire, not of its strength. Strong empires have stuff that people want. There’s a line in the Apocrypha that says it all. Basically, the writer is saying, “And these wonderful Romans–who have a state where everyone (well, anyone who is free and male, anyway) is equal– have volunteered to help keep those obnoxious Seleucids in check and spread the blessings of freedom to us. They especially revere religious freedom!”

      True, the Romans were offering military assistance, but what moved the Jews to accept it was the Republic, the wholehearted acceptance of Judaism, and the other cultural goodies the Romans had to offer.

      Brazil is already enjoying substantial influence because it stood up to the US and exposed our hypocrisy on Honduras. The US is being reduced to using its military power because its cultural and economic strength is so weak.

      China is more militaristic than many people suppose. The Japanese word “kamikaze” refers to the divine wind that supposedly sank the Chinese invasion fleets of Kublai Khan 1274 and 1281. Likewise, Chinese invasions of nations on its periphery, such as Vietnam, Tibet, and Korea make it clear that China has shown a sustained interest in expansion. From about 1700-1950, they were so enfeebled by western and then Japanese occupations that they were unable to follow their historical pattern and turned to cultural imperialism. Now that their situation has improved, I would anticipate seeing the Chinese build up their military to exert far more direct pressure in Asia.

      I don’t think we’re in disagreement, but I do see empire as more than armies of occupation.

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