It’s not everyday that you get to be the same room with someone who is regularly addressed as “his excellency.” Yesterday, however, was one of those days.
I was invited to attend a lunch with the German Ambassador to the U.S., Klaus Scharioth, who was hosted at Brandeis by the Perlmutter Institute for Global Business Leadership and the Center for German and European Studies. Ambassador Scharioth came to Brandeis three years ago, and I remember him as a charismatic and engaging leader — as well as a true scholar of diplomacy and global relations, having received his PhD nearby at the Fletcher School.
Ambassador Scharioth spoke on “The Global Political Agenda: A European Perspective,” to a packed room of well-fed guests. The timing was ideal — it was the day after the U.S. elections, and much of his talk was focused on U.S. – European relations. Scharioth outlined a series of 12 or so “problems” facing the world and then gave us a clear demonstration of each of those problems. Not surprisingly, the economic crisis and climate change were tops on his list — in addition to the frightening problem of nuclear weapons.
But what was most striking about Ambassador’s Scharioth’s talk was its refreshing honesty about the changing nature of global relations. He made a point of repeating that global problems cannot be solved by old, one-dimensional or two-dimensional mechanisms created in the 1940s. New, legitimate players must be given a seat at the table. He made a convincing case that the Obama Administration truly understands this, and that they are doing a lot of things somewhat “behind the scenes” that are not sufficiently recognized by the American media or people. This new kind of foreign policy is not flashy — it’s instead marked by tough negotiations and the formation of long-term relationships. Scharioth made a compelling case that, while the world situation is still tenuous, considerable progress has been made at forming new and refined coalitions.
In the discussion period, Scharioth said he does not think the recent U.S. elections will have a considerable impact on global relations and foreign policy, arguing that the U.S. President is largely free to act on issues of global affairs. That might be true, but what happens in two years?