Hon. Henry A. Kissinger
September 19, 2016
President Hollande, speaking at Davos last year, reminded us that France “cannot claim to be a great nation if we are not capable of giving the world what it expects from us, from France.” It was a tall order; France’s contributions to global culture, to the history of ideas, and to the building of European security and identity are as fundamental as they are innumerable. Today, it is no happenstance that France, as it has so often in history, stands once more at the fulcrum of events. As the international system is being assaulted by fanatics seeking to impose a dogmatic ideology, France, the embodiment of liberty, equality, and fraternity, has inevitably become at once a target of terrorism and of civilization’s stalwart inspiration. At the same fraught moment, Europe is obliged to redefine its identity because of Brexit. France’s role is indispensable in both evolutions. Throughout history, the political ideas of France have shaped the international system. In the 17th century, one of history’s greatest statesmen, Cardinal Richelieu, put forth the concept of the modern state. While Europe was torn apart by the Thirty Years’ War over which feudal empire or religious vocation should establish universal rule, France transcended the conflict with the concept of the state, replacing personal with institutional loyalty, and created an international order in which states related to each other on the basis of mutual recognition of certain rules and procedures. Systems first articulated then—sovereignty, diplomacy, and international law—continue to form the basis of the world’s contemporary rules-based international order. But now the future of that order is under threat; upheavals are afflicting nearly every corner of the world. The Atlantic region has spawned the paradox of globalization as the source of both economic prosperity and political disaffection undermining its premises. The Asian nations are in flux, confounded by how to manage a rising China, a renewed Japan, a volatile North Korea, and a dynamic ASEAN. In the Middle East, terrorism, civil war, popular unrest, and an assertive Iran threaten to degrade the state system. And Russia, torn once again between the restraints of European statecraft and the temptation posed by neighboring power vacuums, looms over all its borders. France, for its part, has made a seminal contribution to the fight against terrorism and jihadism. Speaking before Parliament in the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks, President Hollande declared: “We will eradicate terrorism because we are attached to freedom and to raising France’s profile around the world. We will eradicate terrorism so that the movement of people and the mixing of cultures can continue and so that human civilization is enriched.” Taxed by a refugee crisis of unparalleled scope, assaulted by terrorism, and ambivalent about its political and economic future, Europe must now revisit the task it believed it had solved in the 20th century: to forge European unity while simultaneously respecting and benefiting from its historic diversity.

At the end of two debilitating World Wars, great French leaders starting with Robert Schuman advanced the idea of unity forged from diversity and pursued it together with their European counterparts, culminating in the contemporary European Union. Regrettably, much of the current public discussion about Brexit has taken the form of technical debate about how to structure Britain’s withdrawal to restore as much as possible of the status quo ante. But the future of Europe is not a technical issue; it requires, above all, a determination to reinvigorate the continent’s original political vision: to enable Europe to participate in creating a world order with the same vigor and resolve it displayed in forging the previous one.

The Brexit crisis was caused in part because the process of unification itself became identified with the expansion of administrative structures. It inevitably collided with the historical nation-state, which had been the core of Europe for at least the last two centuries. European administrative decisions have grown controversial in many countries. Since the strategic purposes of a united Europe have been hard to agree on, common actions have reflected less of an agreed long-range concept than compromises to avoid imminent disaster. We should therefore treat Brexit not as a gateway to another set of compromises, but as an opportunity to restore dynamism to the European process and to enable Britain to participate in its agreed strategies and purposes. We should consider the creation of a security grouping that organically contains Britain and a fiscal grouping composed of countries capable of conducting a common fiscal policy. In the midst of uncertainty, President Hollande has done his part to contribute to the fulfillment of France’s historic role. In fighting the battle against ISIS, in mediating negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, and in building bridges to the formerly colonized world, President Hollande has cultivated the legacy of his nation. His example is instructive to a continent in search of vision. In all these efforts, France has been a reliable partner because it has been fulfilling its own history and meaning. In seeking to build a safer world, France has paid a high price, but it has remained resolved to live up to its greatness.

I would like to thank the organizers of this event for the opportunity to participate in giving the 2016 World Statesman Award to President Hollande. Rabbi Schneier, please to step forward to present it.
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