Wanted: elected leaders with international experience
To solve today’s global issues, politicians need what the private sector has.
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Europeans, Japanese, and Americans who were adults during World War II – post war statesmen as diverse as German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Japan's former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, and President George H.W. Bush – were forcibly "internationalized" by witnessing the costs of a failed international system. Those too young to serve but old enough to remember – the likes of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – also understood. But today's crop of world leaders in the West and Japan, came of age in a prosperous and mostly peaceful environment where they could largely ignore international affairs. While they lived through the last decades of the cold war, for most of them it did not affect their lives directly.Skip to next paragraph
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The abolition of the draft in the US and other countries adds another dynamic. One inadvertent consequence of lifting the draft is that fewer politicians have overseas military experience. Indeed, many of the most cosmopolitan denizens of official Washington today are active duty or retired members of the US military – far more than their elected official counterparts.
Years later, it remains striking how little exposure George W. Bush had to the rest of the world prior to his White House years; and it's hard to avoid the inference that this was a liability in his conduct of foreign policy.
President Obama, having lived for several years in Indonesia, a distinctly different society, is a notably rare cosmopolitan exception among American politicians; but even in his case, as soon as he started his political career he had to operate in a purely domestic environment in Chicago.
While our politicians may internationalize over time, in the short term we are stuck with the politicians we have. Therefore, one of the pressing tasks of the business community, as well as others in positions of influence, is to impress on elected officials that overly parochial national solutions to contemporary problems are often out of date.
Today's shared economic crisis shows that failure to join forces in addressing the global challenges of the day can cost our country dearly. The G-20 meeting provides a unique opportunity for politicians to collaborate for mutual national advantage.
Robert Dujarric is director of the Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University Japan Campus in Tokyo. Andy Zelleke is a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and codirector of its Center for Public Leadership, in Cambridge, Mass.