[READERS’ COMMENTARY]Strategic thinking and catch-upRecent developments in relations between the United States and North Korea epitomize a security dilemma, where the defensive preparations argued for by one side are being taken as offensive intentions by the other.
Transforming its strategic security concept from deterrence to defense, The United States has in recent decades pursued a plan to establish a missile defense system against attack by “rogue states.” North Korea demands a nonaggression pact despite U.S. statements that it will not attack the North.
Sept. 11 has further transformed the U.S. concept of strategic security from defense to preemption. Nuclear deterrence obviously was not a concept of any interest in the Sept. 11 attacks; the perpetrators were undeterred and used asymmetric means to their end. When international or transnational actors, whether national leaders or terrorists, are irrational, no deterrence, nuclear or conventional, will work.
The United States practiced nuclear brinkmanship based on the notion of massive retaliation during the first term of the Eisenhower presidency (1953-57). Despite its clear-cut nuclear superiority during the early period of the Cold War, the United States was unable to “back down” the former Soviet Union from its emergence as a nuclear power, let alone to dismantle its subsequent nuclear buildup.
This time the nuclear brinkmanship comes from North Korea. Can North Korea more effectively use nuclear brinkmanship to make the United States and its allies blink? Certainly not.
The purpose of the Strategic Defense Initiative was to make nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete,” and the U.S. missile defense program is the child of that initiative. It is too speculative to look ahead and suggest that nuclear deterrence could work for the United States with North Korea as it did with the Soviet Union ― but what if the United States, as part of its new security strategy, could provide an “extended defense” shield to Japan and Korea based on its missile defense? That extended defense would replace the “extended deterrence” it now provides.
The May 2002 nuclear treaty between the United States and Russia, which calls for a nuclear drawdown, vindicates the idea that there is a “product life cycle” of nuclear arms in world politics. As the former and remaining superpower draw back from a nuclear arms race, “developing” nuclear powers, including North Korea, try to step in. But they should take some lessons from the remaining superpower.
The unipolar power structure of the international system, with that one pole being U.S. military strength, is a fact of life in the otherwise multipolar international system. Whether we like it or not, the new strategic thinking and measures developed in the United States have widespread ramifications on global security, and both North and South Korea are affected.
The security of South Korea under the new administration of President Roh Moo-hyun should be compatible with constantly changing strategic security thinking that flows from the concept of one dominant military power in a multipolar world.
South Korea has recently shown the world such new political developments as an attempt to rebalance its alliance with the United States, diplomatic persuasion based on special envoys, emotional nationalism and forced pro- or anti-Americanism choices and a “mediator” or “spectator” role in any conflict between the United States and North Korea.
These developments, however, should not be construed as mechanisms for the security of South Korea. Unless they are based on the reality of new strategic thinking and the dominance of the U.S. in the military sphere, those diplomatic efforts and domestic political pursuits will be woefully weak in ensuring the security of South Korea.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Troy State University Florida and Western Region.
by Kim Hae-shik