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Building a World Future with BRIC's

Former British Ambassador Keith Haskell Speaks at Martin Forum

On Building A World Future With BRICs Diplomat suggests learning Portuguese; US losing influence

By Holly Bowen
Reprinted with permission by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
(Oct 7, 2010)

The United States emerged as the world’s dominant superpower with the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 20th century, but it’s now facing competition from a handful of developing nations that may become serious rivals within the next 20 years.

“The question is, which other countries will stake out the most convincing claims to become great powers alongside or not too far behind the United States?” asked Keith Haskell during his Martin Forum lecture Wednesday evening at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The annual forum is sponsored by the UI’s Martin Institute and Martin School of International Studies.

Haskell’s 38-year career in the British diplomatic service includes ambassadorships to Peru and Brazil. The latter is one of the four BRIC countries that will increase in global importance over the coming years, he said. BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The United States’ global influence is decreasing with international worries about the country’s demand for oil and its sky-high budget deficit, Haskell said. He said the unique balance of power in the 21st century offers the four BRIC countries the opportunity to use their potential to fulfill the particular conditions needed to become dominant superpowers.

Those conditions include free elections, freedom of speech for media and individuals, an independent and efficient judiciary, low corruption, access to natural resources, a well-educated population, technologically advanced companies and low degrees of threat from internal or external religious, ethnic or frontier disputes in addition to a low risk for natural disasters.

“You might be surprised to realize that China fails most of these tests,” Haskell said to quiet laughter among audience members. “It is undemocratic, hostile to freedom of speech and corrupt. It has relatively few natural resources within its borders. Even water is running short, which is why it has formed alliances with some of the least savory resource-rich regimes in Africa.”

He said China is known for imitation rather than innovation and the practice of cutting corners and sacrificing quality to save money. In addition, 6 million Chinese residents graduate from college each year, but about 2 million of them are without advanced jobs to match their degrees, he said.

However, “China’s main asset is its sheer size,” he said. “No country which contains 20 percent of the world’s population can ever be unimportant.”

India’s similarly massive population is complemented by a stable democracy and many well-educated people, Haskell said, but it has extensive governmental bureaucracy and corruption. It’s a leader in technology but lacks abundant natural resources, and it faces internal religious and ethnic conflicts plus tension with its neighbor, Pakistan.

Haskell said Russia has plenty of natural resources and the technology to use them but is becoming increasingly undemocratic, repressive and corrupt.

“Many people in Russia hanker for a return to the old days of Soviet hegemony and the (two-superpower) world of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” he said.

That leaves Brazil as the leader of the BRIC pack, he said. Its democracy seems firmly established 25 years after the end of military rule, its media is free and lively and it has varied and vast sources of natural resources, such as minerals, oil, gas and agricultural products like soybeans, coffee, sugar and beef.

He said Brazil’s diplomacy style is relatively laid back and lacks arrogance, and it has no significant ethnic or religious tensions within the country or with its neighbors.

It falls a little behind in education, and its judicial system can be slow, but it’s already the de facto leader of South America and has cultural ties to Africa, extending its influence.

“If you aspire to surf on the wave of the future, it might not be a bad start to learn Portuguese,” Haskell said.

The forum is sponsored by the University’s Martin Institute and Martin School of International Studies.

In addition to the forum, Haskell also guest lectured in several classes at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, met with the International Affairs Club and the Martin Scholars, and had office hours for students who wish to chat about international affairs.

Martin Forums on international topics are part of the educational and outreach missions of the Martin Institute. The institute was founded to advance research and teach about the causes of conflict and peaceful resolution.