Superpower futures

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The impact on resources

  • In the last 20 years new global powers have emerged (BRICs).
  • As the EU has expanded to include 27 nations, its power as a bloc has grown. 
  • There has been spectacular economic growth in Gulf states such as the UAE, Quatar and Bahrain. 
  • Economic growth in the emerging powers has had some obvious benefits: for example, China has lifted 200 million people out of poverty since 1990. 
  • In Brazil income growth has expanded the middle class and shrunk the number of people in poverty.

However, this economiv development is raising a number of concerns, including;

  • The accelerating rise in the demand for energy and other resources.
  • The impact on the environment - from global warming to localised river pollution.
  • The uneven distribution of the benefits of economic growth, with growing inequality between the urban rich and rural poor.

The last of these concerns could create internal tensions that might destabalise and derail economic growth.

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  • The pressure on energy and other resources can be illustrated by car ownership.
  • In 2003, 13.6 out of every 1000 urban households in China had a car.
  • The highest ownership rates were in Beijing (66 per 1000) and Guangdong (43.7 per 1000). 
  • In the same year, the car ownership rate in the USA was 750 per 1000.
  • If India and China achieve future car ownership levels even half of those in the USA, there will be double the current numbers of cars in the world.
  • The rapid rise in oil prices in 2007 and 2008 was the outcome of rising demand and stagnating supply. Oil may be being pumped out of the ground at a faster rate than new reserves are being discovered.
  • A key resource concern is the path India and China take as they continue to grow economically and gain power. 
  • If growth trends since 1990 continue, some time in the first half of this century the two emerging Asian powers will reach total GDP levels similar to those of the EU countries and the USA today.
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  • Chinese and Indian ecological footprints might be similar to those of the EU and the USA by 2040, which would place huge pressure on water, energy and land resources.
  • In reality this sort of future  is probably uachieveble, as current known oil, gas, water and farmland resources simply could not support such a dramatic shift toward use of renewable resource.
  • This would involve radical restructuring of the way himans consume resources.
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The impact on the older core regions

  • The rise of the emerging superpowers has enormous implications for the rest of the world, not least the citizens and governments of those countries that have enjoyed both political power and economic wealth.
  • Until recently the emergence of new economic superpowers was seen by the established powers as more of an opportunity than a challenge. 
  • THe EU, Japan and the USA have experienced economic growth and dfalling consumer prices driven by the explosion of economic activity in semi-peripheral NICs and RICs.
  • In the future there may be uncomfortable power shifts. As oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, tensions may begin to build.
  • There may be potential for conflict between the major consumers of oil as they seek to secure supply.
  • Some of the powers, such as Russia and the Gulf states, have their own oil and gas reserves, In the future this could be a source of increased power.
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Preserving prosperity

  • Cheaper food, cheaper clothing and electronics from China have benefitted people in the USA and the EU. 
  • They have come to terms with increasing dependance on the emerging power, believing that their own wealth is assured by their ownership of the quarternary industry, high-tech research facilities and dominance of global finance and services.

This belief has been dealt a double blow by:

  • Increased outsourcing of research and technology jobs, especially to India.
  • Financial turmoil in the banking sector during the 2008 credit crunch.
  • Major global technology players, such as Microsoft and Apple, have established research facilities in China and India.
  • Rather than bring these countries' graduates to the 'global villages' of core countries, they have gone to the source of that innovative and imaginative labour force. 
  • The worry is that these mega-corporations owe no loyalty to their come country. Outsourcing of jobs has become a key concern for many Americans. 
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  • In the USA a painful period of economic restructuring is likely to continue for some time. THe US car industry is a case in point. Once pre-eminent in the world, it has shrunk drastically since the 1970s.
  • The USA is an important market for cars but the BRICs have caught up.
  • Detroit's big three, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, were begging the US government for financial help in December 2008 to avoid collapse.
  • Lack of investment and and a failure to compete with Japanese car technology brought Detroit to its knees. In 2008, the top five best-selling cars in the USA were Japanese in origin. 

Chinese car companies are gearing up to launch themselves on world markets;

  • Dongfeng is investing US$1.3 billion in a research and development centre and factory in Wuhan with a capacity of 333,000 vehicles a year.
  • FAW has committed US$1.8 billion to developing vehicles between now and 2015. 
  • By 2015 Geely will produce 1.7 million cars a year from nine factories in China and overseas plants planned in Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, Ukraine and Russia.
  • Chery is planning a fourth factory with a capacity of 200,000 cars, bringing its total capacity to 850,000 units by 2010.

The future for the US car industry, once a symbol of the country's superpower might, is likely to be intensified global competition.

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  • The EU and the USA may need to get used to competition from the emerging powers in other areas.
  • A key area of US international prestige since the 1960s has been the exploration of space. The USSR won the first few rounds of the 'space race' by launching the first satellite in 1957 and completing the first manned space mission in 1961.
  • The USA then threw the entire might of its military industrial complex behind a moon landing, which it acheived in 1969. 

In recent years, new competition has emerged to challenge NASA's number one position;

  • Europe - European Space Agency (ESA). Focuses on unmanned exploration but may plan future manned missions.
  • Roskosmos (RKA). Planning a manned, reusable spacecraft called Kliper to begin missions in 2015.
  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Planning manned missions to begin in 2015 using its GLSV-III rockets.
  • China National Space Administration (CNSA). Planning its own space station, and to land a probe on the moon by 2010. Plans manned Mars missions by 2040-60.
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Planning independent manned missions and a lunar base by 2030.
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The emerging powers and the majority of the world

  • Many developing nations, especially in Africa, could be forgiven for envying the rise of China and India.
  • Despite the rise of the BRICs, the majority of the world still lives in the developing 'South'. 
  • The growing prosperity of the BRICs is unevenly distributed inside those countries.
  • In China, the prosperous, urban coastal zone is in sharp contrast to the poor, rural interior.
  • In India the growing middle-class is concentrated in cities and the southern states. 
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  • Will the emerging powers provide the developing world with new opportunities, or more of the same? 
  • Growing economies demand resources, some human and some physical. 
  • The growing Gulf state economies are rapidly diversifying away from oil and gas towards tourism, services, and research and development.
  • This has created a spectacular building boom in the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.
  • The construction workers required come from Pakistan and India.
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  • The BRICs are in need of physical as well as human resources to fuel their economic growth. 
  • It has been estimated that China alone accounted for over 40% of the total growth in the global demand for oil in 2003-08. 
  • Of all the global arenas, Africa is probably the most disputed today.
  • As a continent it has huge mineral wealth. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia possess 50% of the world's cobalt reserves, while 98% of the world's chrome reserves are located in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
  • South Africa also accounts for 90% of the reserves of metals in the platinum group (platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium)
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  • The US thirst for oil is also boosting the strategic importance of countries such as Angola and Nigeria.
  • Experts agree that over the next 10 years Africa will become the USA's seconf most important supplier of oil, and possibly natural gas.
  • US strategy in Africa has two main elements.
  • The first is unlimited access to key markets, energy and other strategic resources, and the second is the military securing of transportation routes along which raw materials will be moved to the USA.
  • In July 2003, an attempted coup in Sao Tome and Principe, a small west African state rich in oil reserves, triggered US intervention in the archipelago. 
  • Three months later, oil companies, mostly US ones, offered more than US$500m to explore the deep waters of the Gulf of Guinea, shared by Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe. That was double what the countries had hoped for.
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Tension between cultures

  • During the Cold War there was a huge cultural divide between the USA and the USSR. It was based on a profound difference in political ideologies (capitalism vs communism). 
  • Although Russia has since turned towards capitalism, the cultural tension remains. Differences in values are magnified by the mutual distrust and suspicion that persists between the two countries.
  • Even though they are allies, cultural tensions exist between the USA and Europeans. There are some key societal and cultural differences. Although generalising about cultural differences is notoriously hard (if not dangerous), 

Some key European/American differences;

  • European. A strong emphasis on the welfare state, a tendency to eat as a family, a lower legal age for alcohol consumption, a more liberal attitude to nudity in the media, and generally not in favour of capital punishment.
  • American. Individual provision for healthcare and education, greater prevalence of fast food, shopping malls rather than high streets and outdoor shopping areas, more overtly religious, and more concerned about 'being number one'
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  • Support for the USA's war in Iraq was initially solid, with the UK, Spain, Italy, Georgia, South Korea, Australia, and Ukraine all providing over 1000 service personnel to the invasion force.
  • The was was opposed by France and Germany, and by the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
  • After the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, many countries witheld their troops, undermining the 'coalition'.
  • The Iraq War and the drawn-out attempt to restore some sort of peaceful, functioning government to Iraq undermined the USA's international status.
  • Many Europeans believe the war was less about removing Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction than about ensuring the USA had access to middle east oil supplies.
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  • A feature of the twenty-first century has been a rise in global terrorism.
  • Terrorism itself is not new. The UK experienced terrorism associated with Northern Ireland for decades, and Basque separatist terrorism is ongoing in Spain.
  • There have been many terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist groups since 2001, as well as 'flashpoints'.
  • These flashpoints are locations where the involvement of the USA and other countries is seen to be directly opposed to the interests of Islam and Muslims by extreme Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
  • Islamic terrorism is most often directed against the USA, although it is questionable whether terrorism is motivated by a dislike of American culture. 
  • It is more likely to be directed against American military and political actions.
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The future

  • Tensions between superpowers are only likely to increase in the future. As the emerging superpowers gain ground, there is the potential for a clash of cultures.
  • Despite globalisation there are at least four cultural world views, and several of those are present in emerging powers. In the Muslim world the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, with its opposition to what it sees as the moral corruption of the West, has created huge tensions and as China develops, demands for European-style freedoms there may grow.

It is difficult to know what the future will bring. The US National Intelligence Council report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World puts forward a number of future scenarios. They include;

  • A multi-polar world replaces the current uni-polar one, following the rise of China, India and other emerging powers. The USA remains dominant but less powerful.
  • Increased risk of an arms race, possibly a nuclear one, in the middle east and east Asia if tensions and conflict in those regions cannot be resolved.
  • Increased resource nationalism and tension as resources such as oil and water run short and increase in price. Rising tension develop between the BRICs as they search for more
  • Long-term decline of Europe and Japan if they fail to meet the challenges of rapidly-ageing populations.
  • Resource-rich powers increasingly challenge the political and economic order.
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