[INSIGHT]Korea at the Door of a New World Order

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[INSIGHT]Korea at the Door of a New World Order

During the past few weeks, the array of fast-paced activities of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan are noteworthy among national efforts to seize the high ground in the unfolding new world order. Time will judge whether their independent strategies are successful.

But Korea, as a country located both geographically and geopolitically between powerful neighbors, cannot afford a laid-back attitude toward the changes taking place. To use even a tenth of the opportunities provided to us in this transition period, the government must make some difficult choices.

We should pay attention to the changes in the United States, which won the Cold War, but was not able to provide a clear vision and leadership in building a new, post-Cold War world order.

Early in its tenure, the George W. Bush administration consciously lowered the United States' position of leadership in the world. Instead of cooperating with the rest of the world, it gave the impression that it was pursuing unilateralism.

The United States, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, is clearly showing a new attention to international affairs. This is a welcome change. It is indeed good news that the United States, as a superpower, has begun to realize that strong cooperation among allied nations is necessary to protect democracy and the market economy.

During its national ordeal of the past month, the United States has shown great ability in managing the national crisis thrust upon it, and the Bush administration deserves credit. The United States has reaffirmed our trust in democracy.

First, the United States showed strongly the capacity of a democratic system to adopt rational policies. These policies kept America away from irresponsible and emotional responses to terrorism. They were developed after extensive and in-depth dialogue and with the participation of the executive and legislative branches and the media.

Second, the United States succeeded in gathering the public support indispensable for overcoming a national crisis by democratic means.

Third, as mentioned earlier, the United States utilized the recent incidents to strengthen its diplomatic policy based on cooperation with the international community centered around its free-world allies.

South Korea chose freedom at its inauguration and has stuck to that choice. In addition to honoring its special alliance with the United States, Korea will participate with the United States in efforts to protect freedom. That is the Korean people's choice.

We should recall again how important it is to protect our national interests by refraining from anti-American impulses that exist, but mostly dormantly, in our society.

Because of the dark shadows in our history, there are fears and hesitancy about being a developed country hidden somewhere in our consciousness. We have made major efforts to break away from the group of developing countries and to become a member of the developed world.

That was possible because there was a popular desire - beyond the lure of economic development - to take part along with other developed countries in protecting freedom around the world. Koreans are proud that they are taking part in a main thrust of world history.

To participate wisely, it is also necessary to reconsider some characteristics of Korean politics. In most developed countries, conservatives lean toward nationalism and closure, and progressive forces tilt toward internationalism and openness. On the contrary, in Korean society, progressive forces are nationalistic and the so-called conservatives emphasize Korea's ties with other developed countries and building reciprocal liberalization. This may be the legacy of our experience as a colony at the beginning of the 20th century and the bitter experience of division into two warring countries.

Next year will mark a new era in Northeast Asia as Korea and Japan jointly stage the World Cup soccer tournament and China becomes a member of the World Trade Organization. The rise of Northeast Asia may reveal many new difficulties because of the insecurity generated by the terrorist attacks and the economic stagnation that has now spread throughout the world.

Korea, which will have major elections next year, could make the mistake of being swept away by prevailing domestic political winds so that it goes outside the international mainstream.

Korea should consolidate its determination to avoid such dangers, now that a new world order is being born. A country must develop and be confident in order to engage in international politics.


The writer, a former prime minister and Korean ambassador to the United States, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo

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