Avatar photo

Matt Field

British Diplomat

Part of Speakers' Corner

17th February 2014

A year to remember

FS William Hague in his previous visit to Brazil
FS William Hague during his previous visit to Brazil in 2012

The first few weeks of the year can be slow for many of us, waiting for the busy times to kick in. That’s certainly the theme of a ‘Calendario Brasileiro 2014’ which I see flying around on social media, suggesting we may only have a couple of working months in the year as a whole, what with Carnival, the World Cup, and elections.

But that’s certainly not how it’s felt this year, mainly because we’ve been preparing for the visit this week of our Foreign Secretary, William Hague . A Ministerial visit is always hard work, with meetings to arrange, agenda to agree, and briefing to prepare. Then you start to think about practicalities, like how much time to allow for Sao Paulo traffic, and what if we have the kind of rain that can shut Brasilia down in a heartbeat. Thankfully, the Embassy has lots of excellent colleagues who have huge experience running these visits, so we’re not relying on me. As General Norman Schwarzkopf is supposed to have put it, “Amateurs focus on strategy, professionals focus on logistics.”

The start of the year is also a great time for stepping back and thinking about what might lie ahead. I always make sure I have a good look through the Economist’s annual forward look, ‘The World in 2014’. Post Western World has several interesting articles on this theme, including one making ten predictions for 2014. This kind of crystal ball gazing is always both fun and a hostage to fortune. What we do know is that Brazil is going to the polls this year, along with South Africa (April), India (May) and Indonesia (July). And Brazil will also be hosting two major (non-sporting) events this year, with the April internet Governance Conference and the BRICS Summit in July. And for all of us ‘bluffers’ out there, the New Yorker produced this guide to the 12 questions about what’s happening in 2014.

Some other big issues also stand out. Syria will continue to occupy enormous amounts of the thinking and time of many Foreign Ministers, with the ongoing Geneva II efforts a vital opportunity to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis. The deal struck between Iran and the international community will also need sustained attention. And the US’s domestic economic resurgence seems set to influence its confidence on the world stage. Former Ambassador Tom Shannon recently had some insights into US-Brazil prospects in an interview with the Wilson Centre.

Finally, foreign policy and statistics don’t generally mix – or perhaps the people doing them don’t generally mix – but an excellent exception is the ‘Dart Throwing Chimp’ blog. This year the author again tried to predict where coups might take place, whose infrequency usually makes them almost impossible to forecast. But by using  a wide range of factors, and some Nate Silver-like data skills, he has had a pretty good success rate in the past.  As an arts graduate turned social scientist I am always impressed by this kind of big number-crunching, and see it as an invaluable addition to the foreign policy toolkit. The blog is well worth keeping an eye on.

And more on the visit next time.