Davos Meeting 2012 (3): Day Four - Davos as a Main Arena of Diplomatic Battle

It was the morning on the fourth day of the Davos Forum, and today I was able to wake up before 6 a.m. without relying on my iPhone alarm. This year, I was taking full part in this conference from start to finish for the first time. Moreover, I was scheduled to participate in sessions as a designated speaker right up to the very end. There was absolutely no chance for me to lose focus. It was essential that I look after myself. After completing the morning routine of responding to emails, I put on my suit. I decided to wear snow boots and walk along the dark, snow-covered road.

From 7:30 am, I took part in a private session at a small hotel on the outskirts of Davos. Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and the CEO of German company SAP were at this small roundtable breakfast session. I spoke three times at the session and exchanged opinions with many people there. The session was purely enjoyable. Then, I moved to the main conference hall, sharing a bus with a Stanford University professor. Being able to network while on the move is one of the great things about Davos.

The theme for the first session I attended at the main conference hall was “What If Iran Develops a Nuclear Weapon?”. At the start of this session, Yukiya Amano, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), explained the current state of Iran’s nuclear program. The President of U.S. Council on Foreign Relations spoke after Amano. Following these two speakers, a representative for the Arab world, the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel who concurrently serves as the country’s Defense Minister, and an international politics expert from China took the platform in that order.

At the session, the Israeli minister spoke passionately. He argued that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons capabilities, (1) Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt will also develop nuclear arms and (2) the position of Iran is likely to change as a consequence. The minister added that Iran is already supplying funds to antigovernment forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as to political organizations and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, and that it would adopt an even more aggressive stand if it becomes a nuclear state.

For the Israeli defense minister, the Davos Meeting was an ideal platform to generate a sense of crisis and argue for the legitimacy of the Israeli position. The session has turned into an arena of diplomatic battles. I was fascinated by the comments made by the Arab panelist - “When discussing the Arab world, how 400 million Arabs act is more important than how their leaders think.” He made repeated reference to Tahrir Square (in Egypt), emphasizing that leaders of the world must now pay careful attention to the voice of the masses. “The United States must learn how to talk to 400 million Arabs”, he noted.

While Western countries continue economic sanctions on Iran, Russia and China are reaping the economic benefits by not taking part in them. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Israel will be left with no choice but to take military action of some kind.. In the meantime, people in the Arab world are increasingly emboldened and empowered by the Arab Spring, and they are likely to take the anti-Israeli stance. Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia will then have more reasons to develop nuclear weapons of their own. Under these scenarios, what actions should be taken by the United States, the UN Security Council, or by Japan?

According to the IAEA Director-General Amano, “Experts from the IAEA will be dispatched to Iran tomorrow. There is already clear evidence that Iran is on its way to developing a nuclear weapon. Our experts will verify this point with Iranian authorities.” Tensions are running high in the Strait of Hormuz . For its part, Japan should take this problem as its own and adopt a strong stance against nuclear weapons in North Korea.

The panel session I attended next was on the Euro. The Davos meeting covers a variety of world issues. It offers participants a great chance to present their views and argue their cases before assembled global leaders. The panelists in that session included Ministers in charge of the Euro from Germany, France, and Spain, but my expectations for the panel were betrayed. Politicians’ discussions remained on the “politically correct” level and only skimmed the surface of the Eurozone problems. The newscaster serving as the session moderator could have done a lot more background work to probe the panel. I chose to leave the room midway through to attend a different session.

After spending a short while networking at a café, I attended a session by U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Again, I left the session half way through, as Geithner did not fully clarify the U.S. government’s position. At lunch, I attended a private session on the ecosystem of entrepreneurship. I picked up my coat at the cloakroom, and moved to the session venue on a shuttle bus. Daisuke Iwase of Lifenet Insurance was also a participant in that session. The discussions were too abstract centering on the question of how to develop an ecosystem conducive to business start-ups, but I expressed my own views and contributed to the session. The session was full of world’s leading venture capitalists and academic experts on entrepreneurship which made it a great place to meet people and establish contacts.

After the lunch session, I walked back to the main conference hall. In the hallway, I ran into Nik Gowing of BBC World News. This was such a happy chance meeting because I admire both his character and his professional abilities. Nik and I went to a café where we chatted for about half an hour. I then spoke to an interviewer from the Maeil Newspaper in South Korea. During the interview, I received my second invitation to attend the World Knowledge Forum (WKF) scheduled to be held in Seoul in October 2012.

On the way back to my hotel at dusk, I oversaw Sean Parker having a chat with former Harvard University President Larry Summers in a restaurant. Parker and Summers are both strong personalities who were depicted in the movie, The Social Network. For a moment, I thought about introducing myself and joining their conversation, but I was not impudent enough to do it.

In the early evening, I headed to a Harvard University reception. Many notables were there, including the president of Harvard University and the dean of Harvard Business School. I saw Carlos Ghosn at the reception and talked with him again. At Davos, you develop close relationships as you meet each other time and again.

Later that night, I spoke at a dinner session on transformational leadership. My role was to lead discussions over dinner with people like Daniel Goleman, who popularized the EQ concept, and the Tibetan Buddhism monk of French extraction I mentioned in my previous column. Transformational leadership is a field of extraordinary depth. Many participants came to this session because it was open and interactive. I spotted the president of Thomson Reuters among participants on the floor.

The session ended a little after 10 p.m. I decided to go straight back to my hotel that night and prepare for the next day. The fourth day of the Davos Meeting was over. There were two more days to go before it ended. I was beginning to feel a little weary, but was nonetheless in high spirits.

February 1, 2012
Yoshito Hori
Written at my house in Ichibancho

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