[OUTLOOK]Kim Is Caught in a Wilsonian Dilemma

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[OUTLOOK]Kim Is Caught in a Wilsonian Dilemma

The collapse of the governing coalition between the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats over the resignation of Lim Dong-won, former unification minister, and the subsequent reshuffle of the party leadership, Blue House staff and cabinet has raised concern. The reason is clear. Korean politics at present is too fragile to plunge into heated controversy over the status of a single cabinet minister. It is as though President Kim Dae-jung is inflicting irreparable damage on himself, his party and the nation's future by revealing the difficulties he is facing in managing the country. This truly worries me.

The first issue that concerns me is the conflicting nature of our engagement policy toward North Korea and South Korea's domestic politics.

President Kim in effect declared war on his domestic foes by encouraging those party cadres who staged a sit-in denouncing the withdrawal of the United Liberal Democrats from the governing coalition as "anti-people" and "anti-reunification." Mr. Kim also pleaded understanding on the legitimacy of his "sunshine policy" to the representatives of seven major religious groups. He further said that he would unfold "politics of appealing directly to the people " instead of engaging with political parties. All of these statements and actions exacerbate the ongoing confrontation in Korean politics and will be taken as a declaration of political war against the opposition.

Mr. Kim finds himself in a dilemma similar in nature to what Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president during and immediately after World War I, once faced. An advocate of national self-determination, President Wilson symbolized a liberal foreign policy. While he succeeded in establishing the League of Nations, an organization whose aim was to bring about a world without wars, President Wilson failed to lead the United States into that organization, as Congress refused to ratify the treaty. The American president was rebuffed by Congress as he pursued an idea that he believed was right.

In some sense, the breakup of the governing coalition between the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats is the Korean version of what President Wilson experienced with the League of Nations. Analogous to President Wilson's travails, President Kim clashed with a stiff opposition in the National Assembly as he pursued the engagement policy toward the North, which he believes is just and rational. Full merit should be granted since it is not desirable to sacrifice the national interest at the expense of political jostling. But what is clear is that without overcoming the vicious cycle that pits the national interest and domestic politics against each other, the sunshine policy will be difficult to materialize.

The second issue that concerns us is President Kim Dae-jung's style of administering policy agendas, not just the policies on North Korea but those for managing the nation as a whole. Most worrisome is the fact that Mr. Kim is increasingly drawn into a divisive tendency- black and white, right and wrong. It seems as though the black-and-white logic has spread more widely into the pursuance of the sunshine policy, following the breakup of the governing coalition.

Perhaps this phenomenon resulted from President Kim and his aides' inability to distinguish foreign policy from North Korea policy. A foreign policy should be pursued with the national interest as its ultimate end and with support across party lines. This is why it is desirable that foreign policy be pursued independent of domestic politics. When it comes to foreign policy, striving toward the middle given a choice between black and white is not a smart move.

However, the country's North Korea policy cannot be separated from its domestic politics. Forcing a choice between black and white implies a civil war. What became evident through the breakup of the governing coalition was that however good it is to end the Cold War on the Korean peninsula, there are elements within our society that do not wish to accept the Pyongyang government as legitimate.

Despite this, President Kim's strategy is to unfold "politics of appealing directly to the people," while ignoring the National Assembly. The scheme may sound feasible, but there is a hidden trap. It can lead to an imperial presidency which virtually denies political rivalry. What would be more desirable is to think of how to reach consent on the sunshine policy among the various political forces in South Korea and lead the nation.

Instead of relying on public support for the basic premise behind the sunshine policy, the president should focus on garnering support for particular policy issues, such as providing economic aid to the North and participating in unification festivals in Pyongyang.


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The writer is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.

by Chang Dal-joong

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