Much ink has been spilled over the past 12 years regarding the shift in global power from West to East in the still-young 21st century, but the implications of this momentous shift for the Jewish people and the Jewish state have been raised only recently.
One of the significant players entering that debate is former United States Ambassador to the European Union and current co-chair of the Jewish People Policy Institute, Stuart Eizenstat, who served in senior positions in the administrations of both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. This May, Eizenstat came out with a new book, The Future of the Jews: How Global Forces Are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel, and Its Relationship with the United States, and in June he participated in a panel discussion about America’s Middle East foreign policy at Jerusalem’s “Facing Tomorrow” Presidential Conference.
While at that conference, Eizenstat spoke at length with JNS.org about his book and the impact the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries will have on the U.S. and Israel.
Middle East oil of declining importance to U.S. foreign policy
A widely reported story this past year was President Barack Obama’s decision to distribute U.S. armed forces evenly between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, marking a substantial U.S. pivot towards the increasingly economically and strategically important Asia-Pacific region.
What has been relatively under-reported, however, is that U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports has been declining since 2005. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, as of 2011, 45 percent of total domestic oil demand was supplied by net imports (foreign, imported oil minus exported U.S. oil). Moreover, only one of the top five oil exporters to the U.S.—Saudi Arabia—is from the Middle East, with America’s largest foreign oil supplier by far being its northern neighbor, Canada.
These two developments, Eizenstat told JNS.org, have important ramifications for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
“It has a number of implications… As a global power the U.S. will remain engaged in every region, and certainly it will not disengage in any way from the Middle East and Europe,” Eizenstat said. “But the fact is that within 25-30 years, three-fifths of global GDP (gross domestic product) will be in Asia.”
He elaborated, “That will be accentuated by dramatic change in the energy dimension in the United States. There has been an enormous reduction in the purchase of oil from Saudi Arabia. Our heavy oil and natural gas production has grown astronomically… and with the tar sands in Canada and with Brazil’s deepwater resources, the energy future of the world is more likely to be in the Americas than in the Middle East. Combined with the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I don’t think one should say we will disengage [from the Middle East], but I think the locus of attention will be focused more heavily on Asia than in the past.”
Finding friends on the subcontinent
Throughout his interview with JNS.org, Eizenstat indicated a faith in the deep-seated commonality of American and Israeli interests. But what sets Eizenstat apart from mainstream Jewish sentiment is his strong belief that India should join Israel and the U.S. to form a triangle of strong relations.
“The best hope for Israel amongst [the BRIC countries] is India, but China is certainly also a possibility,” Eizenstat said. “But what China really craves is Israel’s military technology which Israel can’t provide because of the restrictions put in place by the Pentagon. However, those restrictions don’t exist with respect to India. Israel is one of the top three suppliers of military equipment to India.”
On the topic of strengthening Israel-India relationship, Eizenstat highlighted India’s large Muslim minority as the main factor holding back the deepening of ties between Jerusalem and New Delhi.
“India should be a model of a [close] political and economic relationship,” he said. “Both India and Israel got their independence from Great Britain at the same time, 1947. Both had been under colonial rule, both are democracies with common values and both have more or less common enemies: Pakistan and radical Islam.”
He continued, “And yet, no Indian prime minister, foreign minister, or defense minister has ever visited Israel. There have been prime ministers from Israel who have visited India, but not the other way around. Not one comparable senior Indian official has come…Why is that the case? Because they have a very large Muslim minority, as large as the largest Muslim majority country almost. And that is a significant impediment.”
Israel needs to make friends in the global neighborhood
While the shift of the global economy towards Asia will cause significant changes in U.S. foreign policy, Eizenstat doesn’t believe it will alter the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. It will, however, change the way Israel needs to approach its foreign relations with other countries.
Of utmost significance for Israel, said Eizenstat, is the shift in global power from Western countries with Judeo-Christian traditions and significant Jewish communities to rising developing countries that lack either of those elements.
“[With these countries,] Israel starts from scratch,” Eizenstat said. “It has to prove its value to these countries and what is that value: its high-tech, its innovations, its creativity.”
“Obviously the U.S. is its key ally and it has to do everything possible to cement that relationship and vice a versa but with the emerging giants in Asia and Latin America, Israel needs to turn its sort of monofocus on the United States to developing patterns and relationships with China, with India, with South Korea, with Brazil and with the Vietnams of the world,” he said.
However, in Eizenstat’s estimation, Israel’s ability to broaden economic and diplomatic ties with growing developing countries will continue to be impeded by the Israeli-Palestinian issue until that festering conflict is resolved.
“Until this [Palestinian] issue is resolved, the capability of Israel to broaden its political and economic horizons is going to be inevitably impaired,” said Eizenstat. “Now, I’m not suggesting this is Israel’s fault. What I am suggesting is it is predicate for improving relations with the Indias, Brazils and Chinas of the world that this issue be resolved.”