I’m currently in Jerusalem at a conference convened by Shimon Peres, entitled Facing Tomorrow, in honor of Israel’s 60th birthday. It’s a star-studded event, with last night’s speakers including Peres, Ehud Olmert, Elie Wiesel, and Tony Blair.
So far most of the sessions have suffered from the same problem: overbooking. I just came from a lunchtime panel featuring six Jewish Nobel Prize winners. A nice idea. But WAY too long. Six speeches plus an introduction all before the main course!
The highlight thus far was today’s morning plenary, featuring Amos Oz, Henry Kissinger, Bernard Henri Levy, and Abby Cohen, and moderated by Dennis Ross.
Kissinger spoke first and began by noting that Dennis Ross warned him that if he speaks longer than his allotted 15 minutes a trap door would fall open beneath him. Audience members from across the political spectrum could chuckle together imagining gnomish Kissinger falling through the floor.
Amazingly, the rest of his speech was equally engaging. Kissinger spoke about living through the years of Israel’s rise, and the honor he felt being involved politically in some way.
“I can never treat Israel as a foreign country,” he said.
The thrust of Kissinger’s comments: The nation state is in a process of modification. This is most apparent in the rise of Asia (China and India) and the centralization of the European Union. European states, said Kissinger, have given up sovereignty to become part of the EU.
One ramification of this according to Kissinger is that state’s became great because they could ask their citizens to make compromises and sacrifices. The EU has dissolved this sense of responsibility, and it has yet to be replaced.
Indeed, Kissinger suggested that the differences between the US and Europe have little to do with the policies of this particular administration, rather they come from divergent notions of international affairs, the US still living in a world where risk-taking is sometimes valued.
Kissinger saved his strongest words for Iran. The threat of nuclear weapons in Iran should not be seen as just a threat to Israel, but rather as a threat to the entire international system. If Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, despite the international bodies meant to deter them, nuclear weapons are bound to spread to even more countries.
His greatest fear when he worked in government, he said, was that the president would call him in and say: “I exhausted all diplomatic options. Should I use nuclear weapons?”
This was in a two-power world where you could basically predict reactions, but in a 10-power world, this will be impossible.