[VIEWPOINT]A false policy dichotomyThe foreign minister has been sacked. An uneasy calm before the storm surrounds the foreign ministry.
The Blue House senior secretary for personnel affairs, in explaining the reasons behind the president’s acceptance of Minister Yoon Young-kwan’s resignation ― which most see as having been handed in under pressure from the Blue House ― repeated the Blue House rhetoric. The Foreign Ministry, he said, should shed its “dependent foreign policy” and “fully understand and implement the basic spirit and direction of the participatory government’s autonomous foreign policies.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade must be rejuvenated for the national interest of the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century. But should the government try to operate on the foreign ministry with the blunt knife of dichotomy based on the 19th-century concept of dependency versus autonomy, then it would be killing the foreign ministry twice.
Furthermore, it would harm the well-being of the country to the point of no recovery. A country that cannot pursue autonomy and alliance together cannot survive in the 21st century.
At the end of the 19th century, when the status of the Joseon Dynasty was gradually declining, Yu Gil-jun, an intellectual reformist, fervently warned against the danger of thinking that the traditional and the modern, Western influence, were incompatible. If we wanted to survive in our first encounters with Western powers, a reliance on either traditional strengths or on the application of modern strengths alone would not be enough.
The scholar’s book “Seoyugyeonmun,”or “Travelogue of the West” was written in 1895 after he toured the United States and Europe. He argued that only by compounding the traditional and the modern together would we be able to survive. Yu Gil-jun’s words went unheeded, and the Joseon Dynasty was lost.
As we enter the 21st century, we again find ourselves at a turning point in history. If we succeed in compounding our autonomy and our alliances, we will survive boldly and fearlessly as a protagonist in the history of the 21st century.
If we want to succeed in compounding autonomy and alliance, we must not kill the foreign ministry twice. Once diplomats and soldiers of a country start to lose spirit, that country is doomed. If the foreign ministry, which should be unceasingly alert to the situation outside the country, is busy trying to cope with internal pressures, it is lost. If the Defense Ministry and our armed forces, which should be willing to risk lives for the national interest, show less spirit to win than the golf player Pak Se-ri, then the efforts of our people in the 21st century will collapse.
How can we save the Foreign Ministry? We must turn the minister’s resignation into an opportunity. The ministry and the National Security Council should be reorganized, shedding the outdated dichotomy of autonomy or alliance diplomacy. Should the president lead the way, presenting a 21st-century vision of overcoming confrontation between autonomy and alliance and guiding the foreign ministry and the National Security Council together, the confusion and conflict will naturally be resolved. If he does not, it will bring tragedy to the Roh administration in the short run and hasten the decline of the fate of the Korean Peninsula in the longer run.
The task that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council confront in the 21st century is not autonomy but transformation. The protagonists of the 21st century are already on stage, strutting their acts and vying for the attention of the audience.
The 21st century, on the threshold of a shift in cultural history from the industrial revolution to the information revolution, is starting out as a complex century of transformation compounded by revolution and continuity. The stages for a transformed diplomacy and military affairs are already being set. The North Korean nuclear program, U.S. troops in Korea and free trade agreements are not issues on the stages of the past.
But our foreign policies are not reading the significance of these issues correctly. Just as we failed to read the meaning of the 19th century drama of balance of power and colonialism that required national power based on wealth and military strength, and then lost our country, we again fail to read the meaning. What is even more absurd is that after the audience has left the stage of autonomy, we are still putting on a comedy of dividing into a “pro-autonomy” side and a “pro-alliance” side and squabbling among ourselves.
It is not too late now. President Roh must allow the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to become not the hands and feet of an “autonomous diplomacy” but the brains of a “transformation diplomacy.”
At the same time, the National Security Council must remain in its position as a supplementary agency in helping these efforts run smoothly. History is cruel to people led by politicians who fail to read the historical flow in time.
Korean politicians, please wake up from the sleep of history.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun