Conventional wisdom tells us that a new star will rise in the East and over the past decade all eyes have been looking towards China or India to witness the emergence of the 21st century’s new superpower. But on 22 March 2011, the IQ2 debate challenged this assumption and suggested that we look to the West. Quietly, the economies of South America have also been transforming themselves, only in their case unburdened by the dead weight of caste politics or communism. It is they, the motion suggested, that will emerge as the Superpowers of the 21st Century.
Parag Khanna asked why it was that South America has been so perennially excluded from the conversation of geopolitics? This came down, he suggested, to the naïve assumption that hegemonic power moves in cycles from East to West to East again. To the view of South America as predominantly a resource provider rather than a resource deplorer and to the continent’s historic subservience to the United States. The US has realised that South America is ‘its turn-key solution to it’s two greatest challenges: energy security and economic competitiveness’. What is more, Asia – the world’s crowded arms bazaar – is turbulent and wracked with divisions along national and ethnic fault lines. The advantage of South America, explained Roberto Jaguaribe (Brazil’s Ambassador to the UK), was that we are ‘living in the most extensive, cohesive, and homogenous region of the world’. The region is prospering, much like the US was in early 20th century, in a context of splendid, (safe and stable) isolation.
Alright, conceded the other side of the panel, progress in South America has been spectacular, but we must recognise the weaknesses that plague the continent. After all, explained Bill Emmott, ‘Argentina is usually one president away from its next default. It is the world’s champion sovereign debt defaulter. Anyone looking for worries about the Euro and future models for how you do a sovereign debt default always reaches for the file marked “Argentina” in their file.’
What is more, suggested Gideon Rachman, while we might regard Brazil as the ‘cuddly BRIC – the one that everybody likes and they give all the tournaments to,’ we mustn’t ignore the drug wars raging in Mexico and the questionable Human Rights record in Venezuela. Take no comfort from the fact that Hugo Chavez was the 2009 winner of the Muammar Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. ‘That’s not one that you want to keep on your mantelpiece.’
Rana Mitter and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera took the debate to the question of culture. Mitter, against the motion, pointed to the permeating influence of Mandarin and the ‘universalising cultural phenomenons’ of Bollywood and Japanese Manga anime. He suggested there simply wasn’t a South American equivalent. What about Shakira? shot back Guardiola-Rivera.
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