[OUTLOOK]Iraq war changed global politicsIn a war, the ending is as important as the beginning. As the war in Iraq enters its concluding stages, international society is engaged in a struggle to adjust to the emerging post-war situation.
History teaches us the enormous, sometimes fatal, price of failing to read the turning points in international politics in the right way. At the Trilateral Commission conference in Seoul last week, private-sector leaders from the United States, Europe and Asia focused their discussions on the fundamental changes in international politics that have surfaced with the war in Iraq.
First, most participants concurred that the war could be as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The end of the Cold War, as symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, left the United States as the world’s only superpower. On that fateful day in 2001 when a terror attack felled the World Trade Center in New York, the United States was launched into a new state of war.
The obvious fact that the United States, with historically unprecedented military power, had entered into a new state of war was ignored or denied by many countries; that accounted for the confusion before and after the war in Iraq. The war against terrorism that the United States has declared is not simply an effort to guarantee the safety of its citizens. It is a comprehensive war, U.S. leaders think, with the existence of the nation at stake. Such urgency is felt only by the United States, and thus its position on the war in Iraq did not attract wide support from the international media.
The final curtain is coming down on the war in Iraq but the atmosphere of international society is still unsettled. The discord between the United States and Europe and the discord within Europe have not subsided.
There has yet to be any agreement on what is to be done about Syria, Iran and especially about North Korea. To eliminate such instability in international society, we must focus ourselves on the three basic tasks that international politics faces today.
First, a victory in war does not automatically guarantee peace. It is far easier to destroy an enemy army with overwhelming military force than to earn the cooperation of a country and its people in building peace. A nation’s power can be divided into two segments: the hard power based on military might and soft power based on legitimacy. Only when these two aspects of power are coordinated can power be maximized. The task that international politics now face is how to coordinate military power and legitimacy in building a new international order.
Second, international politics must try to answer the difficult question of how to understand and deal with the tension between the fundamental principle of international law that national sovereignty is inviolable and the new concept that humanitarian outrages justify intervention in a country’s domestic affairs.
A recent case of international society exercising military power in a sovereign country because of humanitarian causes was the situation in Kosovo. As a result, President Slobodan Milosevic is now a detainee awaiting the judgment of an international tribunal. The war on terrorism that the United States has declared is different from humanitarian interventions.
The United States takes the position that it cannot rule out pre-emptive strikes when there is a clear and present threat to it and to international society. The urgent question is whether that U.S. position is supported by enough power and legitimacy to hold sway, and whether this policy will lead to changes in the widely-accepted traditional principle of respecting national sovereignty.
Third, this fundamental change of the character of international politics will change the significance of alliances between countries. Already, the United States has announced that it is not the coalition that decides the mission but the mission that determines the coalition. The old saying that there are no eternal enemies or friends in international politics has now gained a new significance.
It is the position of the United States that there can be no ally that does not participate actively in the war against terrorism.
The solution to the North Korean nuclear issue and the progress toward reunification that we hope to attain cannot operate outside the flow of international politics. Our ability and wisdom must be concentrated on understanding and reacting to these abrupt changes in international politics and understanding how they will influence our future.
We are now standing at a point where we cannot avoid such a historical test.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo