[INSIGHT]Culture and affluence: good goals

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[INSIGHT]Culture and affluence: good goals

Recently some voices here have been raised to suggest "a strong small power" as a model for our nation. Either in Chinese character-based Korean or in English, "strong power" can be interpreted as a nation strong both in economic and military power, and one which pursues worldwide goals. A "small power" can have a similar meaning, but on a regional rather than a global scale.

Something like the phrase "square circle," a strong small power is a contradiction in terms. A country either has global ambitions or it does not.

Mere words about a person's ambitions for his country - strong small power or anything else - do not make those words a reality. Actions driven by beliefs or assertions that are self-contradictory can never lead to a good conclusion. In fact, it would be more productive to eliminate a statement of principles or goals entirely and let nature and international politics act to set a nation on its natural course.

Those who advocate a "strong small power" model would cite Switzerland or Finland as good examples. Although those nations have high gross domestic products per capita, their overall production is fairly small because their populations are small. So although individual citizens are rich, the nation as a whole cannot be thought of as a great power, either economically or militarily, at least in a global context. These countries would better be termed "small wealthy powers" rather than "strong small powers."

Using the concept of a small wealthy power is not a contradiction in terms in the literal sense, but the term - the model - is rather lacking in content in the ideological sense. For ideology-obsessed South Koreans, a goal of being a wealthy nation may not be attractive, especially since that would contrast with the even more ideology-obsessed North Koreans' professed aim of becoming a "powerful and great nation."

That latter term is probably the same as "strong power" in Pyeongyang's usage. The Korean term was coined fairly recently; it is a proper noun describing the unique North Korean goals, just as "juche ideology" is a coinage to describe the North's unique political philosophy of self-reliance.

Had North Korea used the Chinese characters for "strong power" written as a common noun rather than the Koreanized proper noun, it would have probably rasped on the nerves of the Chinese, whose government uses the same Chinese characters to describe itself.

Another connotation of the term "strong small power" is the usage by Shintaro Ishihara, a Japanese conservative politician and writer who is now the mayor of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Although he is the author of "The Japan That Can Say 'No,'" he recently gave a speech at the Hudson Institute in the United States urging a temporary alignment of Japan with the United States. The speech was made after it was clear that Japan would send its naval forces to the Gulf on the pretext of supporting U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. I use the word "pretext" because his motivation for supporting the deployment was not to help the Americans but to crack open the door for making Japan an international military power again.

The strong small power model being talked about in Korea does not seem to have this kind of hegemony-seeking motivation. Nonetheless, it does seem to contain elements of resistance to other nations which do seek to extend their influence or have already done so. In my opinion, though, the true merit of nations like Switzerland and Finland is that they do not dream of international hegemony, do not deliberately pretend to be aggressive and do not pursue a distorted form of national independence.

It is certainly justifiable for even a small nation to be firm and independent in its own defense: Heaven helps those who help themselves. But that does not mean that a nation's national model should contain words like "strong" or "great," whether out of envy or hatred of other nations.

There is no need to feel inadequate about being a fighting cock just because there are a few elephants in the world. The presence of the United States, Russia and China should not deter us from seeking our national goals. Japan is still another case entirely - it seems to want to reject the blessing of being forced to become a peace-seeking nation after its defeat in World War II. Korea, like other nations, is independent and has the right to decide on its own policies and social structure. It is meaningless to attempt to define Korea as a "strong" or "great" power merely to induce its citizens to believe that the nation can survive and prosper in the world community.

Perhaps a better goal, a better ambition, would be to seek to become a "cultured wealthy power." Shouldn't our goal be to create a beautiful culture and an affluent living environment?


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The writer is the editor of Millennium-Emerge, a monthly magazine.

by Kang Wee-seuk

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