[VIEWPOINT]A diplomatic history lesson for RohHas President Roh Moo-hyun already learned the realities of diplomacy? Or has he been forced to retreat? These questions came to me after Mr. Roh, who adheres to “dignified diplomacy,” saying “I will say whatever I think is necessary,” suddenly stresses the importance of the U.S.-Korean alliance. In a telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush on March 13, President Roh emphasized the “spirit of the U.S.-Korean alliance” and accentuated that “there is no dissenting view between the two countries.” Considering the recent dissonance between the two countries, Mr. Roh’s remarks represented an unexpected turn.
Such a reverse discloses a hard fact about our diplomacy that has been repeated since the Kim Young-sam administration (1993-1998). Former President Kim Young-sam put an emphasis on a “solidarity of two Koreas, rather than a cooperation with allies.” Former President Kim Dae-jung pushed for an engagement policy toward North Korea to consolidate the solidarity of the two Koreas. But both men surely grew discouraged in the face of a sturdy U.S.-Korean alliance.
A former minister who emphasized the solidarity of the two Koreas rather than cooperation with allies, and then stepped down, admitted, “I had not realized in the past that the strength of the United States is so formidable.” Though this minister had studied in the United States, it was half a year later, after he took up a ministry post, that he came to understand America’s might.
Mr. Roh learned of that might within a month after his inauguration, and now seems to respond in realistic ways. It’s likely that he’ll be proficient in state affairs.
Taking into account that such a reversal came in the midst of a national security crisis and an economic downturn, however, many disappointed voices were heard, pointing out that Mr. Roh’s “dignified diplomacy” had been broken by U.S. muscle.
Whether the reversasl originated in learning or in retreating, the matter is how to reorganize the dignified alliance diplomacy in overcoming the wall of distrust. President Roh says that problems will be solved through advance discussions and close consultations. But it is by no means easy because the policies of allies are usually dominated by a strong nation’s will. As the Italian philosopher Machiavelli pointed out, a partnership between allies is always no better than a weak nation’s subordination to a strong nation.
There are some occasions in which we, the weak nation, can accept that kind of subordination. In other words, we can understand it when our interests agree with U.S. policies. During the Cold War, our interests and U.S. policies were aligned. But now it is not easy to anticipate that kind of correspondence because the United States sees North Korea as “an axis of evil” and our government regards the North as “counterpart for reconciliation and cooperation.”
During the Cold War era, South Korean presidents felt they could rely on U.S. protection even though they had irritated the United States. Because the United States could not but help protect the presidents, not for the sake of the leaders but for the sake of U.S. interests. U.S. aid to pull South Korea from the 1997 financial crisis was an example of a “paradoxical fortune,” for the United States helped us to help U.S. security interests.
But we cannot expect such a “paradoxical fortune” again. We can be protected or excluded by the United States, depending on whether we join in a U.S.-led war against terrorism. Accor-dingly, if we irritate the United States, which deals with North Korea nuclear ambitions in the framework of anti-terrorism, we cannot again expect the paradoxical fortune that was granted to us during the Cold War. We can be treated as Lilli-putians pulling Gulliver’s legs. The current security uncertainty and economic downturn might derive from Gulliver’s reprisal to Lilliputians.
Now it is time for us to ponder how to co-exist with the superpower United States, as well as with North Korea. There are only two options: consolidating the alliance with the United States or backing from it.
Because we cannot expect a paradoxical fortune again, it will be not easy to maintain the alliance through a “dignified diplomacy.” It may be difficult hearing each other’s opinions and settling differences, but better policies will be hammered out.
That, I suppose, is the essence of an “alliance diplomacy.”
* The writer is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.
by Chang Dal-joong