[OUTLOOK]Russia’s cold brings a global chillLast week, Russia experienced severe cold. In Moscow, where the weather is warmer than the Urals and Siberian regions, the temperature fell below minus 20 degrees centigrade for a few consecutive days.
In order to meet the soaring demand for energy, Russia temporarily lowered the amount of gas it supplies to Europe, which affected Hungary and other neighboring nations. Russia also cut the supply earlier this year after a price dispute with Ukraine.
The changes happening in Russia this year illustrate the new international environment.
It is especially shocking because there had never been a problem delivering the gas produced in Russia to Europe, even during the Cold War era.
Europe has been dependent on Russian gas for several decades now. The fact that economic factors, including climate and price, stopped the gas flow poses a serious question in international politics.
In order for mankind to sustain our civilization, we must continue to rely on fossil fuels for several more decades.
The mutual dependency among countries rich with energy resources can be a significant variable in the foreign policy making of each nation.
There are many examples of countries pursuing changes in diplomacy and security policies because of concerns about resources.
During the era of revolutions in the 20th century, ideology and physical force were used as resources to mobilize people.
Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong famously said, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” However, the 1973 oil shock gave a birth to a new aphorism, “Political power comes from oil fields.”
At the time of the oil shock, many energy analysts argued that the combination of resource-oriented nationalism and the collision of ideologies in the Middle East were similar to the incidents in 1914 and 1939 that led to World Wars I and II.
However, Hans Morgenthau, an acclaimed authority on international relations and a realist, said that 1973 was an unheard-of year in the history of mankind because military power was distinct from economic power, which relied on rich natural resources.
Just as Mr. Morgenthau claimed, 1973 was a year that proved resources could carry global influence in international politics.
Some nations proved they could debilitate the foreign policy of a country ignoring them and even gain an enormous profit without using a gun or shedding blood. Moreover, the oil shock did not lead to military retaliation from the oil-importing countries that suffered enormous additional losses.
The United States and other oil importers saw hundreds of billions of dollars flowing to oil producers as a result of the 1973 oil shock, but refrained from using armed force. If a similar crisis happened in the 18th or 19th century, powerful nations would have used their overwhelming military force to overpower the oil-rich nations, and, in extreme cases, could have even made them colonies.
However, the strong nations did not use armed force. That is partly because military power and economic power began to separate, but also could be due to the mutual dependency in the course of sharing profits derived from the additional cost of importing oil.
At the beginning of 2006, countries in Europe and around the world received a bill from Russia for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The decades-long mutual dependency through natural gas has been tested. It is not clear how much additional cost each nation can bear.
With an increasing likelihood of a counterattack of the environment, similar tests on mutual dependency, especially in the field of fossil fuel resources, can increase.
Korea and other Northeast Asian nations, which have accomplished rapid economic growth based on nearly absolute dependency on imported energy, are bound to be more vulnerable to such tests.
In order to overcome such trials, Seoul’s diplomatic responses and insight must not remain in the past. A serious review is urgent on the complex mutual dependency and the source of absolute influence in international society as well as physical power.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan