Change: The new rules for nation building – a case study

In the past couple of weeks, I have listened to a number of friends and acquaintances moan about what is happening to their countries, be it America or the UK. To paraphrase their arguments, they find that there is no sense of direction, economically or socially. To cite examples about Britain: The Olympics this year were seen as a smokescreen for an economy that lacks hope; the Levenson Report on the media revealed just how shallow life has become; people live in fear.

Bottom line: The 2008 global credit crisis and the threats of warfare have changed the workings of the modern world……for the significant worse.

This was put in to perspective for me last night, when I listened to a talk in English from Israel’s erudite Minister of (Military) Intelligence, Dan Meridor. Speaking in Tel Aviv and addressing the umbrella organisation for the international chambers of commerce in Israel, the politician revealed his full experience of nearly four decades in politics and international diplomacy.

Meridor observed that Israel has been forced to change her ways much earlier than other countries and that maybe is the reason the Holy Land can still produce figures of 3% growth annually. He drew on two key themes.

First, Israel’s economy was effectively bankrupt back in 1985 – 400% annual inflation rate, minimal foreign currency reserves, and high interest rates to support an absurdly high public fiscal debt. Today, the economy is driven by the private sector and growth is determined by exports rather than consumption. Israel has embraced the world of high-tech, cleantech and nanotech, resulting in Siemens, Intel, IBM, Google et al with r&d centres of excellence in this part of the Middle East. At the annual GSM mobile tech exhibition in Barcelona in February 2013, Israel will host one of the largest pavilions.

Second, Meridor commented how Israel has to cope with geopolitical threats that no other country in the UN community has to deal with. Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah are just a few of the issues that spring to mind. In the past decade, Israel has fought numerous wars or campaigns along its borders with Gaza and Lebanon, often vilified in the West for what has been seen has the high level of civilian casualties that have resulted.

Meridor stated the obvious. War is horrible and even one death of a civilian is one too many. Israel had to fight these battles. They were fought in the full view of TV cameras, that also includes utube videos and the immediacy of other social media platforms. This cannot be said for what is happening in Afghanistan or Bangladesh or many places in central Africa. The world watches Israel’s every movement.

As Meridor pointed out, in the November 2012 fight in Gaza, the Israeli airforce pounded Hamas positions. Most flouted the Geneva Convention as they were placed in and around civilian locations. However, even using Palestinian statistics, total deaths were around 170. The Israeli army believes that about 110 were military personal.

To put this in proportion: “According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the civilian-to-soldier death ratio in wars fought since the mid-20th century has been 10:1, meaning ten civilian deaths for every soldier death.” Israel has adapted to change, whilst other are criticising her under bygone standards. I could not find reliable comparative figures for Afghanistan.

Meridor’s summary point is fascinating. The international leadership of today was brought up to understand that strong countries must follow the principles of the philosophy of the nation-state. However, what is governing and determining life in 2012 are “the states of non-nations“. This includes groupings like Al Qaeda and technologies such as Facebook. Just consider how the Arab Spring germinated under the bewildered noses of the most sophisticated of Western Intelligence agencies. The world has shifted, significantly, and it is time to wake up.

When countries learn to understand these changes – factors that are not nation specific or coordinated – then they will be able to take on the new economic and diplomatic challenges presented over the past decade. Deliberately or accidentally, Israel seems to have taken some concrete steps along that path.

Explore posts in the same categories: Business, Israel

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