Early View Article - Rising Powers in Global Economic Governance: Mapping the Flexibility‐Empowerment Nexus

Image credit: Javier Ignacio Acuña Ditzel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Given long‐standing criticism of global economic institutions by rising powers, it is puzzling that these same governments supported the transfer of substantial resources and responsibilities to the IMF and the World Bank during recent reform negotiations. We argue rising powers’ support for international organization (IO) empowerment is linked to their concerns regarding an IO's flexibility. We introduce two types of flexibility as being most relevant for rising powers. These include governance flexibility – the extent to which rising powers may participate in IO decision‐making – and issue flexibility – the extent to which rising power preferences are incorporated into IO policies and programs. We illustrate our argument by examining the preferences of the BIC states (Brazil, India and China) towards IMF and World Bank reforms between 2008 and 2012. Drawing on archival material with over 50 statements from BIC representatives, we find, first, that there were clear links between Bank and Fund governance flexibility and the BICs’ support for empowerment of these IOs, but that this was not true for issue flexibility. Second, we find evidence indicating the strategies of individual BIC governments differ within these IOs, suggesting a need to undertake more differentiated studies of rising powers’ IO activities.

Policy Implications

  • The successful adaptation of multilateralism to the needs of rising powers requires greater governance flexibility and stronger inclusion of the issues of relevance to BICs into an IO's portfolio.
  • Governance and issue flexibility are crucial elements of the adaptability process of multilateral institutions across policy areas.
  • The more flexible global economic institutions are in integrating rising powers into their governance structure and including issues of more concern to these new actors, the more likely the latter will support transferring more power to IOs.
  • Empowerment (transferring more power to IOs) can only work if the demands and needs of rising powers are sufficiently taken into account.