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The BRICs Superpower Challenge: Foreign and Security Policy Analysis

The BRICs Superpower Challenge: Foreign and Security Policy Analysis, by Kwang Ho Chun. Ashgate, 2014, 242 pp. 


At the time of publication, author Kwang Ho Chun was a professor of international studies at Chonbuk National University, South Korea. He brings to bear extensive academic experience in the fields of international relations, international studies, international security, and arms control. Recognizing the emergence of international stature among the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC) and the lack of literature that collectively addresses their interplay in global affairs, Chun admirably sought to advance the body of literature by writing on the implications and dynamics of these BRIC countries’ individual and collective rise in power. In doing so, he takes on a momentous task. His premise is that the projected economic rise of these countries in the coming decades will surpass most current advanced economies of the world, thus leading to the ascent in their individual and/or collective international geopolitical clout. In turn, this will afford them the opportunity to enhance their military capabilities and develop foreign policies/relations that achieve affluence on the global stage. More specifically, Chun seeks to determine through qualitative critical analysis whether BRIC countries have the potential to become global superpowers. If so, to what level of influence? 

He begins his investigation with a review of existing political science and international relations literature in developing a theoretical framework from which to conduct his examination. Chun makes distinctions between the types of power (“soft” and “hard”), the available tools within each, and the overall level of power a nation can possess economically, diplomatically, militarily, politically, and culturally—relative to its geography, demographics, endowments, and sociopolitical situation. He defines these levels of power status as either superpower, great power, middle power, or regional power. A superpower nation has the innate ability to project itself globally in profound ways, which few, if any, others can. 

The author then applies this framework to the analysis of each BRIC country to determine the level and effect of their global integration and power projection. Finally, he uses these findings to make projections on the power status of each country’s future and the power status prospects of the group as a whole. 

Chun suggests that BRIC countries all have varying domestic and international challenges that will keep them from superpower status. He notes China has emerged as a global economic leader, permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and an influential member of numerous international financial institutions. However, he sees China’s internal social and demographic challenges, rising political and public dissent, environmental and debt issues, and growing trade competition with emerging neighbors as prominent obstacles not readily overcome. Additional challenges that keep China from superpower status include criticism from international organizations concerning its human rights record, its dealings with rogue states, and its relationship with North Korea. That said, Chun falls woefully short in providing substantive support for his appraisal of China’s state of affairs. 

The author mentions Brazil as having experienced noteworthy domestic economic and international trade growth and highlights it as having abundant natural resources to facilitate future economic growth. He acknowledges Brazil is working hard building rapport toward its stature in the international community—even hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. However, Chun envisions that its inherent political corruption and environmental problems, challenges addressing global economic competitiveness, and inequitable income distribution (readily apparent in the growing number of the country’s poor) are obstacles to achieving superpower status. Chun’s Brazil estimation is not appropriately developed and supported to be a fair representation of the country’s situation as a whole. 

He identifies India as having an experience similar to Brazil, but indicates India faces a population trajectory that will make it the most populated country in the world during the next decade. It also has geopolitical and internal dissent issues with extremist groups and terrorists, balance of trade problems with near-peer competitors such as China, and military trials with neighbors Pakistan and China. This evaluation is also underdeveloped, leaving the reader to imagine the truth behind his review instead of providing tangible and compelling evidence to support his assertions. 

Russia, Chun explains, is blessed with abundant natural resources that ensure its economic viability going forward. It is a permanent member of the UNSC and the G8, providing it diplomatic pull. However, it faces many domestic, societal, and economic concerns. Chun identifies Russia as having epidemic problems with AIDS, drugs, and alcohol abuse, along with a shrinking population. The country is experiencing difficulty diversifying its economy and is further hampered by international economic sanctions as a result of dealings in Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria. Here, too, the scope and detail of the author’s analysis leaves much to be desired. 

Chun concludes that BRIC countries have too many conflicting national priorities to mutually reach superpower status. Russia, China, and India are neighbors with diverging international relations interests. China and India are emerging as near-peer military powers in East Asia, with complex and competing geopolitical security concerns. All three have varying degrees of discourse among each other over military ambition, economic policy, political views, border disputes, and general mistrust deeply rooted in tumultuous past relations. Finally, he sees Brazil as an outlier country that appears a world away. It is Western-leaning politically, economically, diplomatically, socioculturally and religiously. It has little in common with the other BRIC countries other than a foreign policy that provides a check-and-balance of other powerful states such as the United States. He asserts that these countries are more likely to compete with each other than to speak and act with a collective, common interest. 

Although Chun’s country analysis appears intuitively correct, the substance is generalized; the structure of the work is somewhat random and reads superficially for investigative outcomes. The lack of research rigor is readily apparent throughout, exemplified by weak academically cited works, chronically outdated sources and figures, as well as notable errors in referencing, such as referring to Iraq when he should have referred to Iran. The preponderance of the book focuses on the individual BRIC countries while the primary intent was to address their collective power status. The assessment criteria Chun uses were inconsistently applied to each country and often out of order, making it difficult to follow for comparative purposes. Based upon how the book is laid out for the reader, it reads like a dated doctoral dissertation that was not adequately updated, appropriately developed, and edited for errors. 

This book is best read by those seeking a generalized account of some relatively recent events that are shaping the BRIC countries, domestically and internationally, in the context of their individual and collective future power status. 


Dr. David A. Anderson

Professor of Strategic Studies 

US Army Command and General Staff College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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