Sep 23, 2008
"The mark of a statesman is the determination to change the course of events, not just to describe them, and not simply to explain them.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy has surely lived up to his own depiction of the qualities of a statesman, put forward in August 2007. He has not only explained events but changed their course. In the process, he has reinvigorated the European Union, strengthened the Atlantic Alliance and revitalized relations with the United States.
President Sarkozy has made an invaluable contribution to shaping a new world order at a moment when major transformations are taking place simultaneously on all continents. Some of them are unprecedented: the Atlantic region, in its internal relations, has overcome the historic bane of war and is dealing with the complexities of a globalization too oblivious to social and political risk; Europe finds itself in transition between a past based on the nation state and its future in a European Union that has yet to acquire the loyalties of the nation state; at the same time, a rising Asia, whose internal order is more like the balance of power of nineteenth-century Europe; and an Islamic world, posing a challenge most akin to the religious wars of seventeenth-century Europe. Touching all these regions is Russia, historically torn between the restraints of Europe and the temptations of the vacuums of power around its borders in Asia and the Middle East. Despite the different impetus of each region, all are facing common challenges that require global solutions, such as proliferation, energy and climate change.
President Sarkozy has summed up these challenges in an eloquent paragraph: “How do we reconcile order with progress, the identity we have to defend with the modernity we have to embrace? How do we help the new world come into being and get itself organized when the old one is still disintegrating? How do we make society human again? How do we enable man to regain control?”
In these circumstances, I would add two attributes to the qualities of a statesman put forward by the President: They are courage and timing. Courage is the willingness to assume risks without a guarantee of success. And timing is vital because statesmanship differs from intellectual effort in that the intellectual is not constrained by time while, for the statesman, there usually exists only a fleeting moment of opportunity during which, as in the case of an athlete, everything can be either seized or irretrievably lost. It is not enough to know what to do; it is crucial to know when to act.
This is why President Sarkozy’s actions in the early moments of the crisis over Georgia were so important. President Sarkozy understood that the crisis needed to be moved towards diplomacy quickly before a conflict that had originated in the ancient passions of the Caucasus congealed into insoluble complexity. Maintaining the independence and territorial integrity of Georgia is crucial for the self-confidence of the new Europe and especially for the countries which have only recently escaped Soviet subjugation. But Russia, striving for a new identity after losing three hundred years of its imperial history, will remain an indispensable element of an emerging world order, and the solution of many of the world’s problems, from energy and climate change to non-proliferation, requires its involvement and cooperation. President Sarkozy distilled from these complexities an overall design tied to his notion of world order: a confident Europe, allied with the United States, respectful of Russia and concerned with the independence of small countries. In pursuit of that goal, on the third day of the crisis, he undertook a mission for peace. The challenge was to make Moscow part of the solution rather than the target of recrimination. His first move was to visit Moscow rather than to put it on the dock.
This psychological sensitivity enabled President Sarkozy, during his subsequent visit to Tbilisi and working with the leadership of the European Union, to put forward the six-point framework likely to form the basis for the ultimate solution. Style has proved as important as the substance. His program, accepted by the parties and endorsed by the U.S. and the E.U., will maintain the independence of Georgia and territorial integrity of its undisputed terrain, while the disputed territories are returned as close to the status quo ante as possible through negotiations. In fulfilling these points, Russia will preserve its dignity while it reaffirms the principles of a global order of which it remains an integral and welcome part.
So let me thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to reflect on the nature of statesmanship and to participate in giving the 2008 ACF World Statesman Award to President Sarkozy, and may I ask Rabbi Arthur Schneier to step forward to present it.