New world disorder

A small country needs allies, especially in a world where power is diffuse.

United Nations AP 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
United Nations AP 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
At the start of the modern era, summits of world leaders were as rare as they were consequential: The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 after the Thirty Years War; the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars; the 1919 Paris Conference in the wake of WWI; and the 1945 San Francisco meeting, which created the UN. Nowadays, summits of world leaders are a routine affair and their outcomes mostly inconsequential. That is the way many observers are viewing the G-8 meeting which takes place today and Tuesday on Hokkaido Island in northern Japan. Israelis may, however, want to take a closer look. Political scientists used to debate whether a "multipolar" world - where more than two states were powerful - made war less likely than a "bipolar" world in which just two superpowers competed and client states fell into line behind them. For a brief moment in history, with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Empire, scholars pondered the implications of a "unipolar" world in which Washington alone called all the shots. That debate is mostly over. International affairs today, it is becoming evident, are conducted in neither multipolar nor bipolar nor unipolar worlds, but, as Richard N. Haass argued in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, under conditions of "nonpolarity." In this new, more disordered environment, power is "diffuse rather than concentrated, and the influence of nation-states [can be expected to] decline as that of nonstate actors increases. Today's nonpolar world is not simply a result of the rise of other states and organizations, or of the failures and follies of US policy. It is also an inevitable consequence of globalization," wrote Haass. ISRAELIS LOSE sleep over terrorism, Palestinian intransigence, the Iranian menace and our underperforming political system. Thus what amounts to a major transformation in the international political arena may have escaped our notice. Yet the Jewish state must operate in this radically different world, so we had better try to understand and adapt to it. We need to remind ourselves that we are not at the center of the universe. Just look at the main issues at the G-8 confronting the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, and the US, plus the president of the European Commission: global economic malaise, galloping energy prices, a food disaster threatening very poor countries, and climate change. Yet the days when eight or nine or even 14 powers - observers were also invited - could harness their collective will and shape a new world agenda are behind us. Globalization has transformed how the game is played. So it may be unrealistic to expect the "international community" to act in concert to solve the Iran problem, Israel's principal dilemma. Iran just doesn't figure high enough on the agenda of a disordered world. Nevertheless, the task of Israel's decision makers is to raise the profile of the Iranian nuclear threat - and those reported IAF exercises off the coast of Greece were a good start. Competition for world attention is fierce; so too must be our efforts to focus the global spotlight on Teheran. BEYOND what we want of the world, let's clarify what we should expect from ourselves. We had better be absolutely certain that we are accurately assessing the threat from Iran, that we read Iranian intentions correctly and are not allowing anything save cold objectivity to guide us. In a nonpolar world we still need the understanding of patrons and friends, though they have luxuries we don't. They can theoretically acquiesce in an attack against Iran aimed at stopping an imminent threat, yet abandon us should they arbitrarily judge our actions merely "preventive." On the Palestinian front, we need to think hard both about the content of a prospective shelf agreement and about the state of the international political arena in which it might be implemented. Israel cannot afford a bad deal to be adjudicated in an unfriendly nonpolar environment. Israel sorely needs wise leaders capable of navigating in this new international arena in which Jewish rights are still not universally recognized, and where existential threats loom large. A small country needs allies, especially in a world where power is diffuse.