BRICs and U.S. Hegemony: Theoretical Reflections on Shifting Power Patterns and Empirical Evidence from Latin America

ABSTRACT: The paper assesses the rise of the “global South” for its implications regarding U.S. world political hegemony. As the rise of “BRIC power” is more often than not portrayed as intimately tied to a new wave of decline of U.S. hegemony, or at least as a contestation to the formative role of the United States in global politics, it tries to assess the validity of such claims by looking at current developments in Latin America. This regional focus has several merits. First, it specifies a “target region” of political strategies allowing for a more differentiated account of how gradually shifting power patterns or potentials indeed translate into political consequences “on the ground.”  Second, shifting patterns of regional hegemony might also be indicative of global power shifts. Third, Latin America as a region in itself is interesting for our purposes. On the one hand, it is seen as the “traditional backyard” of the regional hegemon, the U.S.. On the other hand, the region is home to one of the BRIC-states, namely Brazil, which is increasingly being discussed as a regional powerhouse with not only the potential to act as such but also the aspirations to do so. Last but not least, Latin America has recently been deemed of heightened strategic importance by another BRIC-country situated outside the region, namely China. In that sense, if the ascendancy of the BRICs is to be interpreted as the rise of contenders to U.S. hegemony, developments in Latin America should give us a grasp on the emerging form of contestation. In the paper, the activities within the Latin American region on behalf of the U.S., China and Brazil, respectively, are therefore comparatively assessed. Our analysis is structured around four dimensions of power: military, economic, institutional and soft power, which in combination might lead to a more substantiated account of any hegemonic rivalry.

© Alexander Brand, Susan McEwen-Fial, Wolfgang Muno and Andrea Ribeiro Hoffmann 2012

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