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[VIEWPOINT]Learn from Europe’s past

Feb 27,2006
“Will Europe’s Past Be Asia’s Future?” This is the theme of a thesis that Professor Aaron Friedberg of Princeton University wrote in 2000, and which sparked a lot of debate. The thesis was published in the quarterly magazine of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and emphasized the arms competition and conflict of national emotions in Northeast Asia as unstable factors in the region.
In other words, the countries of Northeast Asia have built up economic prosperity and national pride, but they lack an attitude of mutual understanding and cooperation. Mr. Friedberg diagnosed that, since the Cold War era, there is a chance of Northeast Asia finding itself in a dangerous situation similar to Europe before World Wars I and II because there is a lack of international facilities to control military and national conflicts in the region.
So what was Europe’s past like?
An academic conference that showcased Europe’s past was held at the beginning of February at the National Maritime Museum in London. The conference was held in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Dreadnought battleship, which lit up the fire of naval competition between the United Kingdom and Germany.
In 1906, the United Kingdom, under the leadership of Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, concentrated on building a new type of battleship, the Dreadnought, for its main fleet. The Dreadnought was a totally new concept of battleship with extraordinary maneuverability, an excellent armory system and revolutionary fighting power that included 10 12-inch guns. The strategy of the British government was to defeat for good Germany’s challenge to the British command of the seas by introducing the Dreadnought fleet.
The British planned to get rid of any hopes of naval competition Germany might have had by building their military capability at such a speed that Germany could never catch up. However, Germany soon jumped into the competition of building huge battleships like the Dreadnought, because of the ambition of the jealous Kaiser Wilhelm II and demand from a group in Germany that supported the idea of building up a strong naval force. An aggressive naval competition began around the North Sea. By the eve of the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States, France and Japan had joined the competition, and eventually even such countries as the Austro-Hungarian empire and Italy, which were relatively backward in terms of naval power, got involved, spreading the competition for battleship supremacy throughout Europe.
Among European countries at the time, developing a battleship was a sign of a nation’s pride in its military capabilities. However, the people had to suffer under a heavy tax burden to finance this. With limited financial resources, each country even had a fierce budget competition between its navy and army. Amidst all this, the race to build the best battleship, along with the military budget competition, caused a reverse spiral in the arms race and became a part of the background for the outbreak of World War I.
Pessimists like Professor Friedberg warn that Europe’s past could replay itself in Northeast Asia. It has been pointed out that the rapid development of China and the responses of the United States and Japan have many similarities to the conflict between the United Kingdom and Germany before World War I.
While historical problems in Northeast Asia lead to friction caused by patriotism and national emotions, all the countries of Northeast Asia are competitively investing the fruits of their economic development in the arms race. The naval and air capability reinforcements in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are natural investments to safeguard sovereignty, when seen from the position of the respective countries. However, when seen from a regional point of view, they have the appearance of a typical arms race.
The countries of Northeast Asia now need to concentrate on making efforts to control arms competition and to promote understanding on a pan-regional level. By doing so, each country’s efforts to strengthen its own defense capabilities won’t threaten the stability of the entire region and create a “security dilemma” which will weaken individual nations’ security also.
At the same time, there is a need for an expansion of cooperation, including economic cooperation and cultural exchanges. After all, we mustn’t repeat Europe’s history of the early 20th century as we start the 21st century.

* The writer is a lecturer of political science and international relations at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Seung-young


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