Blog Link: Australia as a different type of BRIC.

In spite of some serious dysfunctionalities in its party politics and potential problems with its economic growth model (heavily dependent on mineral exports), Australia is well on its way to becoming a regional great power. In this regard it shares macro-characteristics with three of the four “BRICs:” Brazil, India and Russia (the PRC has surpassed regional great power status and is no longer, in my opinion, appropriately categorized with the others). Although Australians may prefer not be grouped with the others for a variety of reasons, I take the notion of “rising middle power” as the starting point for a comparative analysis of Australia as a different type of BRIC.

14 thoughts on “Blog Link: Australia as a different type of BRIC.

  1. A minor quibble, but – you say Russia has “become a significant arms exporter”, but this comes off as inaccurate.

    Russia has been one of the world’s premier arms exporters since the 1960s, and is now (and has been) since the late 1990s the world’s largest arms exporter, both by dollar value and by bulk. Saying it has “become a significant arms exporter” makes it sound like it has recently nudged its way into the top ten, rather than maintained its place in the top three.

    I know it’s kinda peripheral to the main thrust of your post but the Russian arms export industry is one of my areas of interest and as such it leapt out at me.

  2. I also think you’d have a hard time arguing that the Australian army is more battle-hardened than the Russian. Russia has fought three wars solo in the last twenty years, Australia has fought two wars as a junior coalition partner.

  3. Finally, to address your conclusion, I don’t really understand the difference between a “regional power” and a “southern hemisphere great power” and as such it’s difficult to agree or disagree. It is difficult to see Australia graduating to hemisphere-wide influence, though, especially on a great power level, which is what I’m guessing you mean – I can’t really see actors in Tanzania or Bolivia in 2032 caring about Australia’s position.

  4. Thanks Hugh, for the critique. All of your “quibbles” are valid and I have addressed the first two in the updated version. I see your point about the transition to great power status requiring an influence on other continents. Although its influence may not reach Bolivia or Tanzania in two decades, it certainly will in maritime states like South Africa, Argentina and Chile (for example, Australian warships have already intercepted at least one Uruguyan-flagged fishing vessel poaching Patagonian tooth fish in the Southern Ocean, and escorted it back through the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic to delivery to Uruguayan authorities). It already interfaces with the French, India, the UK, US and Chinese in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Should it diversify its export and supply chains, effective control of southern passage routes to the Africa and the Atlantic will become a possibility if not a requirement.

    All of this is just on the security front. On a diplomatic level twenty years from now it could well matter to Bolivia and Tanzania what the Australian position on any given international policy issue happens to be.

  5. Interesting and thought provoking article with some good links, I presume this is partly bigging up an Australian audience(They need it after their Olympic performance). Australia is a very long way from replacing Britain as US closest ally, the efforts of Obama notwithstanding. Population 22m vs 60m, army 30k vs 100k, troops in Afghanistan 1500 vs 9k. Australia is substantially smaller than Brazil, let alone RIC. Demographically it will not be a challenger.

    That said I think you are certainly onto something as far as America and Australia wanting to boost the role Australia plays vs Asia as Britain plays to Europe. A closely aligned US ally with deeper connections and a closer day to day relationship. Australia warrants comparison with the like of Brazil, Iran and Turkey as a regional power, but it does not warrant comparison with China and Russia.

  6. Thanks Phil, and welcome back.

    My projections are for the next 20 years. The UK, I am afraid to say, is in terminal decline, the Olympic wankery notwithstanding. I do not include the PRC in my comparison, but I do think that Oz will compare favorably with Russia as well in 20 years. I do not place as much emphasis on population size as you do because accidents of geography make it less relevant to the security of the mainland and the nature of warfare (which is not going to involve massive land troop movements in most, if not all future conflicts and certainly will not see large scale land warfare in OZ or the SW Pacific region).

    I like the fact that you mention Turkey as a rising regional power–I agree–but think that Iran will continue to be much more circumscribed in its actions due to its ongoing pariah status. That is where geography helps OZ because it can continue to build and rise on the back of its mineral economy and US security ties without having to confront any real existential threats or adversaries in the near future. The question is whether the mineral boom will last and whether its political class will behave like something other than a drunken rabble on a Sat night bender in Kings Cross.

  7. Australia is not yet an exhausted state like the U.K. For one hundred and fifty years the south and financial services (AKA “the city”) has been given priority over the north and industry. Now that Atlantic Europe is in decline relatively (and probably absolutely) to Pacific Asia/OCeania/USA British financial services will decline in importance with them. Bye bye London, hello Hong Kong. To me, British prosperity since the 1970s is a chimera built on North Sea oil and a country whose industrial revolution was made by its lack of an entrenched aristocracy is now riddled with acute class differences. I see in the London riots a direct correlation linking the failure of the British economy to provide sufficient decent jobs with the end of cheap energy from the North Sea, meaning an inability to continue to afford the benefits required to buy off the poor and thus to prevent what were, in effect, a modern consumer societies bread riots. The subsequent draconian reaction by state organs of repression were those of a frightened and besieged occupation force. Lacking the safety valve of transportation and mass migration that previously was used to defuse dissent in the lower classes a fairly violent decline into a dystopian police state is on the cards for the U.K.

    When considering the relative power of Australia do you not have to factor in New Zealand? Economically we are already a client state of Australia anyway. Let’s face it, if Australia got into a stoush with (just as an example) Indonesia we’d have to be in as well, boots and spirit of ANZAC and all. We would boost Australian economic power by a good 15-20%, with a combined population getting on to 28 million whilst our EEZ is the third biggest in the world. So really, the middle power that will be Australia would actually for all intents and purposes militarily be an ANZAC state.

  8. I think the real reason Australia can’t be considered a BRIC is that the BRICs were always first and foremost a group of non-developed nations. When the term was originally coined Mexico and South Korea were both excluded because they were too economically developed – Australia is definitely more economically developed than Mexico.

    So you can say Australia is analogous to the BRICs in some way but it’d be wrong to say it’s replaced China as one. (Although you could also argue that the BRIC term isn’t that useful anyway)

    I do agree that China can’t really be considered part of the BRIC group anymore, though. If the other BRICs were rising in the 1990s, maybe, but China has clearly pulled away in the last ten years.

  9. Dang Hugh,

    just when I thought you could argue with reason, you prove me wrong. Had you read the essay a bit more closely I explain in the introduction why the lesser- (not “non”) developed thesis is bogus. You have reverted to your usual ways.

  10. Nukes and the power to turn off German energy supply give Russia a great deal of power but I take your point.
    If your reference to terminal decline was bait you hooked me.
    Britain has just hosted a fantastic games and cemented its coolness in the eyes of the world. London is the globes premier financial centre. you probably have to be here to understand how many Europeans Americans and Asians see it as a place for opportunity they cannot get at home.
    America has handicapped itself with its zealous regulation and rrogue regulators

  11. Nukes and the power to turn off German energy supply give Russia a great deal of power but I take your point.
    If your reference to terminal decline was bait you hooked me.
    Britain has just hosted a fantastic games and cemented its coolness in the eyes of the world. London is the globes premier financial centre. you probably
    have to be here to understand how many Europeans Americans and Asians see it as a place for opportunity they cannot get at home.
    America has handicapped itself with its xenophobic financial regulation and rrogue regulators will ensure wall street lags as a destination for Arab and Asian capital.
    There is some tightening of UK banking practices taking place but nothing like the scale of the US.
    Interestingly UK auto manufacturing is back close to a peak it has not seen since the seventies with most of that product being exported.
    The UK is also undertaking education and welfare reforms which recognise that quality is fundamental. In the reasonably near future the pressure to draw back from European integration and stagnation will become inevitable. Don’t tell my British friends as I continue to tell them how crap they are. Demographics counts.

  12. Australia is a country of 22 million.

    Is Spain an emerging great power? Taiwan? Malaysia? The Netherlands? They’re all countries in the same size and wealth bracket.

    Sure, Australia spends a great deal on its military, has lots of shiny weapons and sucks up to the US, but unless one considers large scale military conflict likely in the near future, how does this shape their growth (beyond being a drain on their taxes and a hindrance to their non-US trade).

    I don’t think we’re going back to 19th century mercantilism, where a countries ability to bully its way into markets at gunpoint was a determinant of growth. Since 1945, it’s been the “quietly productive” nations that have grown while militarily belligerent ones have mostly declined (relatively).

  13. It might have been a bad idea to do a blog link about OZ in NZ.

    The concern with population size is the province of the very large and very small. For those in the middle of the demographic, large and small, the (mis) fortunes of geography and historical affiliation make for difference. Some are advantageous and some are not. I think the Ozzies have advantageous geopolitical circumstances that they can parlay into a great power position. I gave my reasons in favor and the downsides/obstacles in the linked essay.

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