[OUTLOOK]We need a study of pre-emption

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[OUTLOOK]We need a study of pre-emption

While the whole planet, including Korea, is immersed in the visible agony and ecstasy of World Cup soccer, a more discreet but immensely important change is occurring off the soccer fields. If U.S. media reports that the United States is changing its foreign policy guidelines are true (and it is most likely that they are), then this change in U.S. foreign policy is sure to have an enormous impact on the world.

After World War II, the international order was defined by a structure of bipolar contention between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States dealt with the Cold War by adopting policies of containment and armed deterrence.

According to the recent U.S. reports, Washington has now decided to add the option of preemptive strikes to this traditional deterrence policy. The first signs of such a policy shift came earlier this year when President George W. Bush referred to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address to Congress.

Mr. Bush further clarified his administration's position on this option in a speech two weeks ago at the graduation ceremony of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Mr. Bush and his advisors do not think it is possible to respond effectively to the threats the United States faces today by relying on deterrence ?on maintaining enough military power to retaliate effectively against an attack so that the attack never comes.

But there are two prerequisites for deterrence to be an effective strategy. First, the enemy must be convinced that the country concerned is powerful enough to launch massive retaliation after being attacked; and second, the enemy must be rational enough that the threat of such punishment prevents him from attacking in the first place.

Terror attacks such as the one that devastated the United States on Sept. 11, led by non-state actors, cannot be prevented by a traditional, effective deterrence policy; there is no country, no territory, no concentrated population to retaliate against, and the perpetrators do not always make rational calculations. To those who believe that death is the greatest honor, the threat of retaliation is of little effect.

Today's tensions are clearly different from those of the Cold War. The bipolar Cold War system that had as its premise the opponent's rationality is now a thing of the past; now the United States seems to believe that in order to protect its homeland, it must not hesitate to attack before the enemy undertakes any military actions.

Historically, the United States has been a rare power that could afford to wait patiently without attacking first. Should President Bush opt for a pre-emptive strategy, the historical image of the non-attacking United States will be changed.

A more serious issue if the United States opts for a pre-emptive military strategy would be how to guarantee that its information about its opponent is accurate. An attack launched because of inaccurate information could destroy a target that should not have been attacked; conversely, the fear of inaccurate information could have a paralyzing effect on the determination to attack.

South Korea, of course, has particular reason to be concerned with the United States' decision about pre-emptive attacks. North Korea, one of the countries that make up the so-called "axis of evil," has yet to allay suspicions about its weapons of mass destruction program.

The South Korean government, however, can understand why the United States might have reason to add pre-emption to its list of strategies. Even we acknowledge that under circumstances so different from those of the Cold War, deterrence might not be enough.

What we need foremost is a thorough analysis of the situation the international society is in today, the range of options that countries have and their impacts under such circumstances.

The most pressing question for us to try and answer is, "How would a pre-emptive strategy from the United States affect the Korea-U.S. deterrence strategy against North Korea that has maintained peace on the Korean Peninsula for the last half a century?

The United States, for its part, should not forget its position in the world and carefully consider the impact that its strategic change would have on its allies and the world order.


The writer is the president of the Institute of Social Sciences.

by Kim Kyung-won

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