In the days immediately before last week's G20 summit in Washington, the Russian government quietly reached out to the governments of China, India and Brazil to coordinate a meeting on the fringes of the main event. It was one of many recent signals that the international order born in the wake of World War II is giving way to one rooted in the realities of this new century. The G20 summit itself is another such sign of this trend, proof that the leaders of the world's established powers can no longer manage the challenges of the world economy without effective collaboration with an emerging class of potential rivals who have become vital partners.
When Goldman Sachs's Jim O'Neill coined the term "BRICs" in 2001 to refer to the biggest of the emerging powers-Brazil, Russia, India and China-he estimated that these four nations would displace Europe from the list of the world's six largest economies by 2050. He could not, however, have imagined that they would so quickly translate economic promise into geopolitical clout. Neither could he have envisioned how a combination of the diplomatic missteps of the Bush administration, a once-in-a-century financial crisis and the arrival of the Obama era might quickly institutionalize that rise in what may amount to nothing less than the most sweeping transformation of the international system since the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank were created in the 1940s.