[OUTLOOK]Mr. President, drive with carePresident Roh Moo-hyun had a summit meeting with the United States last month and with Japan this month. As someone who is now more acquainted with domestic politics, the president has started to press his foreign policies in earnest. This is when he should be most careful. The probability of an accident is highest not right after earning your driver’s license but when you start to think you have got more or less the hang of driving.
As a beginner in foreign policy, what are some of the dangers that the president should be careful about? First, there is North Korea’s nuclear threat. After the two summit meetings, Mr. Roh expressed his confidence in solving North Korea’s nuclear crisis through peaceful means. But the reality is not that easy. The United States is pursuing five-way talks and a so-called “proliferation security initiative” on weapons of mass destruction. The initiative calls for economic sanctions, land, water and air interdiction and interception and the military option. Should it be implemented on an international scale under the aegis of the United States, North Korea would find itself in a situation difficult as never before.
North Korea’s exports of weapons, illegal drug trafficking and illegal money transactions are estimated to amount to more than $1 billion. Last year, North Korea saw a trade deficit of $1 billion, with exports totaling $700 million and imports about $1.7 billion. Blocking the North’s foreign currency-earnings of more than $1 billion a year would not only put pressure on North Korea to accept negotiations, it could take the entire regime out. Understandably, North Korea’s government vehemently protests the “proliferation security initiative.” The situation is more dynamic than Mr. Roh’s optimism makes it out to be. South Korea urgently needs to prepare itself for the possibility of the United States’ initiative and North Korea’s resistance.
The second issue on which the president must tread carefully is the U.S.-Korea alliance. At the press conference after the summit meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, Mr. Roh expressed optimism that the alliance would grow stronger over the next 50 years than it had during the last 50. The situation is not that simple. The United States’ concept of alliance has changed in the 21st century from what it was in the previous century.
The U.S.-Korea alliance in the 20th century had been the product of the Korean War and the Cold War. After the September 11 terror attack, however, the United States is pursuing a different order of alliances. Primarily, the United States is looking for allies to support its global network against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Secondly, the United States wants a geopolitical alliance aimed at curtailing the growing power of China in the 21st century. It is also seeking a geo-economic alliance to maintain and strengthen the world capitalistic framework.
Yet 21st-century Korea faces the difficulty of keeping its alliance with the United States in the Cold War context. South Korea also needs the United States to maintain the balance of power and the drive toward prosperity in the Northeast Asian region. To misread these changes and to ignore the help of each other would bring unimaginable difficulties to both nations.
Last but not least is the issue of building an era of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. Mr. Roh’s spoken ambition to turn the Korean Peninsula into the hub of the Northeast Asian peace and cooperation is unfortunately an outdated model for the 21st century. The new century is not a century of hubs, an emphasis on centralization. It is the century of nodes, or the materialization of decentralization. What is important is not whether we become the hub of Northeast Asia but how to link the Northeast Asian network to the global network and how to link the individual states within the network to one another.
Europe is still in the process of building its union at an advanced age of modernity. Northeast Asia is still young in the progress of modernization and it will take a while to overcome the still-present tensions. It is, therefore, too early to expect a new order in Northeast Asia. These are the three caution signs that Mr. Roh must watch out for to avoid accidents as he climbs behind the wheel to drive his newly assembled foreign policy.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun