[OUTLOOK]Autonomy, where possible

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[OUTLOOK]Autonomy, where possible

The controversy over “self-reliant diplomacy” that was fueled by President Roh Moo-hyun’s latest remarks in Los Angeles was somehow subdued by a smile from President George W. Bush. While there is no telling how long this tranquillity will last, this seems like a good time to think over our thoughts on self-reliant diplomacy.
The first thing we must consider in discussing self-reliant diplomacy is that there is no such thing as complete self-reliance. Even the United States, which is portrayed as being unilateralist, cannot “go it alone” despite the fact that there is no country in this world today that can compete with the United States in the strictest sense. South Korea has, for a long time, depended on the United States. A “self-reliant” foreign policy on our part would always mean an “as-self-reliant-as-possible” foreign policy or a foreign policy striving towards the maximum level of self-reliance possible in a comparative sense.
Another thing we must keep in mind is that, like all other things in the world, even a comparatively “autonomous” foreign policy doesn’t come for free. A country can only practice as much self-reliance as it acquires and a self-reliant foreign policy requires pan-national, pan-social training.
Looking back, President Roh’s words and deeds made as a presidential nominee and in his early days in office were those of a self-reliance believer who lacked training. He seemed to mistake the passion of supporters for national prowess. Such a wrong perception brought on another misperception and as a result, in his first visit to the United States, Mr. Roh actually compromised his case for self-reliant foreign policy and his attitude took a fall.
However, it is natural that we pursue “as-much-self-reliance-as-possible” even if the other side is the world’s only superpower, and strive to maximize self-reliance despite large discrepancies from reality. It is only natural that we want to pursue an “as-self-reliant-as-possible” foreign policy, but the problem is whether, in our effort for self-reliant diplomacy, we use means more appropriate to our ability and level of training.
In fact, many criticized the president’s remarks in Los Angeles for this reason. For example, there was criticism that the president made nonsensical demands because he did not realize that the United States today is a different county than it was during the Clinton administration, or that he challenged the United States in such a way that Korea could not possibly live up to. Fortunately, the worry that the president could have behaved provocatively, without any prior coordination with the U.S. government, went off the mark. Yet there is no reason for President Roh to ignore the advice that he should pursue self-reliant diplomacy based on strict training.
What is more important, however, is not the training of the president or the government officials, but of the people. Included in this, is the training and self-examination of the people, who claim to know the United States better than anyone else, and who consider our relations with Washington to be crucially important. For example, the claim that the post-Sept. 11 United States will be less inclined to loosen up on its global strategy at the request of Korea is true, but why are we forgetting the fact that the new United States is also no longer capable nor willing to guarantee the stability of the Korean peninsula or to support our economy even if we meet all its demands? An expert should know this much and has the responsibility to tell the people so we can work together to come up with our own strategy.
It would be difficult to say that a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear situation is near just because the presidents of South Korea and the United States met recently and reaffirmed the principle of a peaceful solution. Washington is stuck in the slough of the war in Iraq and couldn’t launch a pre-emptive strike on the Korean Peninsula without South Korea’s concent. For the time being, we are facing a limbo where there will be no wars and there will be no ground-breaking solutions. North Korea has little room to move to rejoin the world due to lack of training, and in a way, the instability surrounding the peninsula is not all that unwelcome to the United States because it reinforces Japan’s pro-American line and keeps South Korea’s self-reliant diplomacy in check.
Our job and duty is to persevere and proceed in not letting the United States drag us around unilaterally and to persuade the North Koreans to cooperate to make the peninsula peaceful. Of course, our training for this should not only be in our foreign policies but in all aspects of our lives. As important as it is to refrain from demanding self-reliance that we aren’t capable of, we should also train ourselves not to go pale and whimper in fear every time the president or his aides mention the concept of a self-reliant foreign policy.

* The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University and the editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine Changjak-kwa-bipyong. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Paik Nak-chung
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