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Power shifts, economic change and the decline of the West?

Cox, Michael (2012) Power shifts, economic change and the decline of the West? International Relations, 26 (4). pp. 369-388. ISSN 0047-1178

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0047117812461336


It has become the new truth of the early twenty-first century that the Western world we have known is fast losing its pre-eminence to be replaced by a new international system shaped either by the so-called BRICs comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China, the 'rest', or more popularly by that very broadly defined geographical entity known as Asia. This at least is how many economists, historians and students of world politics are now viewing the future of the larger international system. This essay does not dispute some self-evident economic facts. Nor does it assume that the world will look the same in 50 years time as it does now. It does, however, question the idea that there is an irresistible 'power shift' in the making and that the West and the United States are in steep decline. Specifically, it makes a number of critical arguments concerning the new narrative. First, it suggests that this story, by reasonably focusing on what is obviously changing in the world, unfortunately ignores what is not; as a result, it underestimates what might loosely be termed the continued structural advantages still enjoyed by the United States and its major Western allies. Second, while it is true that many new states are assuming a bigger role in the world economy, their rise needs to be looked at more carefully than it has been so far; indeed, when such an examination is undertaken, it becomes increasingly clear that the rise of others - including China - is still hemmed in by several obstacles, internal as well as external. Third, though the Asian region, and China as part of it, is assuming an ever more important role in the wider world economy, this development should not be seen as marking the beginning of a new Asian Century. This now popular idea is not only conceptually problematic, it inevitably leads to an underestimation of other key areas in the world including incidentally the Transatlantic region. Finally I suggest that if the dubious idea of a power shift is taken to be true, this could very easily lead to greater international insecurity and conflict. Understanding the modern world better than many seem to be doing right now is therefore not only intellectually important; it is strategically necessary too.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 The Author
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Date Deposited: 05 Mar 2013 12:34
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2024 01:21

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