[OUTLOOK]The nature of 21st century power

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[OUTLOOK]The nature of 21st century power

The existing order of international relations is being shaken to an extraordinary degree. The shock waves of an earthquake are coming our way, but we are not even sensing them.
We are unable to grasp the character of the 21st-century earthquake because we are still trying to measure it through an old-fashioned 19th-century barometer of imperialism or colonialism, or a 20th-century barometer of Cold War or post-Cold War. And we are still continuing to try to resolve the problems of Korea-U.S. relations, Korea-Japan relations and the North Korean nuclear problem with our obsolete way of thinking.
It is said that President Roh Moo-hyun lectured on pending issues between Korea and Japan to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when the latter paid a courtesy call on the president on March 20. I wonder what Ms. Rice, a former international relations professor, was thinking as she heard the lecture?
Ms. Rice has continuously stressed since her appointment that she will be the “Acheson of the 21st century.” Dean Acheson was the U.S. secretary of state who drew the line of U.S. defense, later known as the Acheson line, on a map of the Far East that excluded South Korea, in the process of reorganizing the world order after World War II.
Ms. Rice has announced a 21st century Acheson line ― the Rice circle ― for the establishment of a new world order after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and has started to put the circle into effect. She is stressing that the diplomatic efforts to reorganize the world into three concentric circles of an alliance of free democracies, countries in the process of becoming free democracies and outposts of tyranny, is a historical effort of the 21st century.
The waves originating from the concentric circle of a free democracy alliance are already spreading to Northeast Asia. Japan, which is feeling threatened by the sudden rise of China, has made the strategic choice of quickly becoming a member of the core circle of the free democracy alliance.
China is avoiding any conflicts with the United States, and stresses peace and harmony to pursue a balanced economic development. At the moment, North Korea is classified as a country on the periphery of the concentric circles. At the recent graduation ceremony of the Korea Military Academy, President Roh said that Korea will play the role of a balancer in Northeast Asia, and that the balance of power of the region will change according to the strategic choice Korea will make in the future.
This is the result of a misunderstanding of the changing situation in Northeast Asia. There is no longer Cold War era confrontation between a southern triangle and a northern triangle, nor is there yet a structure of confrontation between China and the United States.
Let’s compare the gross domestic product (GDP) and military expenditures of the regional powers to read the power structure of Northeast Asia. The GDP of the United States is $11 trillion and military spending is $450 billion; Japan’s GDP is $4.3 trillion and military spending is $43 billion; China’s GDP is $1.4 trillion and military spending is $30 billion (unofficially $60 billion); Russia’s GDP is $400 billion and military spending is $17 billion; North Korea’s GDP is $20 billion and military spending is $1.8 billion (unofficially $5 billion); and South Korea’s GDP is $600 billion and military budget is $17 billion.
Anyone who can do elementary school level math can see that at the moment, Korea is not in a position to be the balancer of Northeast Asia or change the structure of the balance of power. What we should do first is to become a spider of Northeast Asia and bind the core and the mid-level member countries of the concentric circle together tightly in a spider’s web.
While a new concentric circle of freedom is being drawn around Northeast Asia, Korea and Japan are deeply engaged in a war over history, including the issues of the Dokdo islands and history textbooks. President Roh has proclaimed a firm determination to lead the history war to victory by responding to the Japanese action resolutely, and by winning the support of international opinion and persuading the Japanese people.
But it is a big mistake to think that we will be able to change the thoughts and actions of the Japanese people with a weak strategy of gaining the support of domestic and international public opinion. We must have a better understanding of the nature of 21st century power, and learn how to use modern and post-modern power in a refined and efficient way. In order to mobilize modern power, it is essential that we utilize the power of the United States, which is in the same circle as Japan. The most important thing in mobilizing post-modern power is that a world-class long-term investment in research should take precedence if we are to win the war of knowledge over the modern history of Korea and Japan.
The earthquake originating from the freedom concentric circle will hit the North Korean nuclear problem last. Even if we manage with great difficulty to resume the six-party talks, it will not be possible to produce a basic agreement in Beijing under present circumstances. In the end, the North Korean nuclear problem will, against our will, find a clue to solution somewhere in the structure of confrontation between the nuclear threat of North Korea and the effort to spread freedom by the United States. One important factor in this process is China. Therefore, we have to think seriously about what Korea’s role will be if the North Korean nuclear problem is solved through the freedom concentric circle method.
If we continue to respond to Korea-U.S. relations, Korea-Japan relations and the North Korean nuclear problem in an anachronistic way, there is a danger Korea will be downgraded to an outsider, far from being the balancer of Northeast Asia.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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