Savir's Corner: Interdependence

It remains our strongest and best ally, but America, too, for its own interests, is dependent on the views and policies of other powers and countries.

jewish and arab teenagers 311 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
jewish and arab teenagers 311
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
A Moroccan friend and journalist in Casablanca, Hanane Harrath, has taught me a powerful saying from an Australian aboriginal by the name of Lillia: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then, let’s work together.”
A powerful moral statement. No liberty can come at the expense of another and no well-being of one can come at the cost of another. We are all interdependent.
This is true for the individual as well as for societies and countries.
Political leaders the world over can learn from Lillia in Australia as they voice selfish, self-centered declarations about total independence and their countries being fully self-sufficient and dependent on nobody.
The international reality is far more complex. All countries in the world live in a system of interdependence for their economic development, freedom and security.
This stems from many fundamental causes, based on the nature of human beings and international relations:
The human being is dependent on parents, family, neighbors, friends, colleagues and communities. His or her identity is shaped by communication and relationships with others. This started early on, in the Garden of Eden, between Adam and Eve. People do not survive on their own.
In the modern world, the scope of individual and collective connectivity has grown in an unprecedented way with the information revolution. More than half of today’s universe is interconnected by travel and the Internet. This process has increased the awareness of interdependence.
As Chinese and Americans meet and communicate, they understand that as far apart as they are geographically, their well-being is interdependent. The Chinese depend on the American market and the Americans on Chinese finances – a far cry from the days of mutual nonrecognition.
People communicate across continents on an unprecedented scale. One billion people belong to the “Facebook State” alone, making friends in every corner of the world and creating cross-border communities of common values and interests, interconnected and interdependent.
Powerful countries are less independent than the ancient empires were, despite giant economies and massive military might. In the new international system, the weaker links of the chain are able to inflict harm on the more powerful ones. Osama bin Laden, from the ancient caves of Afghanistan, succeeded in launching the most lethal attack ever on the greatest bastion of power in the heart of Manhattan. International stability today is dependent on new balances in order to temper antagonisms that fuel conflicts. The powerful are also dependent on the goodwill of the weak.
At the same time, poorer and weaker nations are dependent on the strong in the international system – for an entry ticket to a globalized world, for aid, investment and trade. In other words, both the strong and the weak are today interdependent.
There are major ramifications to this new system of interdependencies:
The whole nature of international relations has changed; no country can dictate to another anymore. Societies do not submit to the yoke of foreign powers and do not sense inferiority. There is a democratization of international relations, and colonialism is dead. The place of dictating policies has been taken by cooperation.
The stronger powers understand that they also need the support of weaker countries in their international policies – the veto power is hardly made use of anymore in the Security Council.
With the information revolution, and with greater democratization in the world, international public opinion has become more relevant and important. A country’s international image has become all-important for its international posture.
Public opinion generally sides with the underdog.
This is the power base of the frail Dalai Lama in the face of gigantic China. International public opinion exposes increasingly universal values related to respect of human rights; countries are no longer dependent only on their own constituencies, but also on their world image.
The international system used to be unipolar or bipolar, with the leadership of the United States and the Soviet Union.
Today it is multipolar, with many leading countries, as might is not measured anymore just by militaries, but also by economies (Germany), brain power (Japan), population (China and India), land (Russia), academic institutions and the private sector (the United States) and cultural expression (Brazil and South Africa). The international system today is more defined by an array of relationships in various walks of life.
 Economies are not dominated anymore by domestic assets alone. They cannot survive on full self-reliance; they depend on international trade, tourism, financial markets, investments, modern communication, aid, loans, regional development, etc. Economies, from the most powerful to the weakest, have become interconnected and interdependent, with the European Union setting the best example.
Security also cannot be achieved on a purely national level, as threats have been globalized, such as with international terror and nuclear proliferation. Collective security is essential through shared intelligence, military alliances, technological exchanges and joint use of power; NATO is the best case in point.
Diplomacy in the era of more diffused power is being redefined.
Diplomacy, once known as “the eye, ear and mouth” of states, is not anymore about just expressing the characteristics and interests of a state. It is about international coalition-building in favor of common interests and in the face of common dangers. No power is strong enough to act on its own; collective diplomacy is necessary, such as against the threat of Iranian nuclear armament. The United States is therefore actively involved in convincing Russia and China to come on board. Modern diplomacy is collective diplomacy among interdependent countries.
International relations have been reformed due to greater interdependence, moving away from imposing policies based on balances of power, and toward greater collective action in the international economy, security and diplomacy against the backdrop of world public opinion.
There is an important lesson in this for Israel, especially on the eve of the visit of President Obama:
The days are over where we could solely rely on the United States.
It remains our strongest and best ally, but America, too, for its own interests, is dependent on the views and policies of other powers and countries. It is in need of Russia and China for Iran and Syria, of the European Union for collective diplomacy, of the pragmatic Arab countries for regional stability. Obama is a champion of collective diplomacy. Cooperating with the United States on our interests is also to take their international interests into consideration. Part of our ethos is to rely only on ourselves, our might and capacity.
It is very understandable, given Jewish history, but unrealistic. We are, as other countries, independent and sovereign, but we are also, as other countries, dependent on others for our well-being and security.
The world today is run by collective diplomacy and we must be part of it. We cannot, despite the prime minister’s bravado, confront Iran’s nuclear program by ourselves. We must cooperate with the international coalition under American leadership.
To be part of the American-led international efforts, we must regain the respect of the progressive parts of the international community and improve our image in world public opinion. That means to regain the moral high ground of real democracy and respect for human rights. This is also true for our Arab neighbors.
Israel’s security is today strongly linked to regional security and stability.
With Hezbollah and al-Qaida to the North, and Hamas and al-Qaida to the South, we have to work for regional security and anti-terror cooperation, mainly with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. Middle Eastern turmoil will affect us all, and together we have to deal with root causes and symptoms. In this region, we are, as in all regions, interdependent.
Key to these Israeli strategies in an interdependent world is a viable peace process with the Palestinians. That is a prerequisite for necessary regional and international support. Yet it goes deeper into our very being and identity. Without an independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, there is no Jewish democracy, and without Israel, there will be no Palestinian state. This is an existential interdependence. It is a result of the demographic reality between the Sea and the River, but also of political and moral considerations. We, like others today, need the international community on our side, at least the leading powers.
And much of the world expects progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Above all, our freedom and independence cannot come at the cost of our Palestinian neighbors’ freedom and independence, as their state will never survive at the expense of Israel. Ruling another people means losing control of yourself. Our economies and security are intertwined, also regionally. We cannot remain an island of wealth in a sea of poverty and must create with the Palestinians an architecture of regional relations and development.
Interdependence does not weaken and diminish sovereignty. It strengthens it in a more interconnected family of nations, or in Lillia’s words, “our liberties are bound together, let’s work together.”
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. This column was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.