[GLOBAL EYE]Prepare for ‘big brother’s’ absenceOne day in December 1999, when people were excited with expectation and hope for the new millennium, Le Monde, the most respected daily newspaper in Paris, posted two editorials under the same title. Both titles, “The Century of the United States,” were identical except that one was followed by an exclamation mark and the other by a question mark. The conclusion of the first editorial was that the 20th century belonged to the United States, while the second questioned whether the 21st century would do so too.
Since the end of the Renaissance from the 16th to 18th centuries, Europe and China dominated the world. As China fell, Great Britain took over hegemony of the 19th century. The baton was passed to the United States in the 20th century.
Will Pax-Americana continue in the 21st century too? There is a skeptical view of that possibility. Some forecast that the main player of the 21st century will be either China or India. History teaches us that no country can have hegemony forever.
If the 21st century changes from being a century of the United States to one led by Asia, as some predict, where will the historians of future generations find clues for what brought about the reversal? Wouldn’t they record that the decline began with the George W. Bush administration, which wasted eight years at the threshold of the 21st century?
The collapse of an empire generally originates from simultaneous crises in domestic and foreign affairs. Bad financial management and excessive external expansion were common factors in the fall of both the Roman and Mongolian empires. The incompetency and misrule of a leader who does not think of the future will be followed by spiritual poverty and moral degradation.
The financial deficit of the United States has escalated to an uncontrollable level. The country is wasting resources on a war in Iraq that holds no promise. The adverse effects of indiscriminate outsourcing that is preoccupied with near-sighted interests are resulting in the hollowing-out of both the service and the knowledge-based industries, following the demise of the chimney or manufacturing industry. The United States is depriving future generations of their interests by emitting greenhouse gases without limits and drilling for oil in Alaska. Researchers at colleges and businesses are being rapidly replaced with English-speaking Chinese and Indian people. The media, by being buried in commercialism, have blurred people’s eyes and ears. The rampages of dissipated people, such as the likes of Grigory Y. Rasputin, and the dominance of dogmatic ideology are also signs of collapse.
But the decline of the United States is not that country’s problem alone. It is also our problem. Since our liberation, the United States has been like a big brother or boss to us. Past administrations that lacked legitimacy pledged allegiance to the United States, and the United States has been a shield that protected us from the rogues that had an eye on us. The decline of the United States is a problem directly connected to our own security.
A general observation is that the overwhelming dominance of the United States will last 30 to 40 years at the least. If Americans have the wisdom to choose a good leader, the country can stay paramount longer. However, a tremendous change is forecast to be ahead of us. Inter-Korean relations will change fundamentally before long. China will make fearsome progress to recapture the glory of its empire and year after year, Japan will repeatedly change itself to become a superpower.
We are in a vortex of great change. Whenever the dynamics of surrounding countries change, our fate is bound to be in turmoil. What is our choice? It is to extend our alliance with the United States as long as possible. Our wrangle over being pro-alliance or pro-self-reliant forces is an exorbitant argument. If our alliance with the United States is shaken, China and Japan will be the happiest countries. Diplomacy is a reality. Prudence is the life of diplomacy.
Also, strength should be fostered quietly. This cannot be achieved by a leader who clings to the past and appeals to the popularity of the present. We should select a leader who can see far and refrain from seeking external splendor despite internal difficulties. The leader should not be self-contented or conceited. Waiting for the right time without revealing one’s ability is not the strategy of China alone.
Now is not the time to waste national strength on consumptive controversy. It is time we quietly prepare for the absence of our godfather.
* The writer is the international affairs editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok