[GLOBAL EYE]Prepare for shockwavesU.S. President George W. Bush delivered the State of the Union address on Tuesday, the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference across the Atlantic. Mr. Bush, leader of the world’s sole superpower, and Mr. Putin, leader of the nation that currently has presidency of G8, the most important economic and political power group in the world, expressed their perspectives of the world on the same day, about two hours apart.
However, the two leaders were very different. The forms of the addresses were different and their perceptions of reality and subsequent prescriptions were also different. Mr. Bush announced his position and vision through a speech given to the U.S. Congress, where reporters were not allowed to ask questions. Mr. Putin spoke before over 1,000 reporters from all around the world and answered questions afterwards. The question-and-answer session took no less than three and a half hours.
However, more importantly than the differences in terms of formality, the two leaders displayed distinctly different perceptions over international issues. Aside from domestic matters, the key themes of their speeches were energy, Iran, Hamas and liberty.
Regarding energy, Mr. Bush said that America needed to break its addiction to oil. He proposed to cut dependence on oil imports from the Middle East by over 75 percent. Considering that the United States is a giant oil importer and an absolute majority of transnational major oil companies are U.S.-based, Mr. Bush might have implied a very significant policy change in the long term. The comments become even more meaningful if he is not just talking at a technical level but has in mind the initial investment for establishing a post-oil civilization order and a shift of U.S. geopolitical strategies.
America’s oil addiction cannot be solved by technological development of substitute energy. The global political reality the United States is facing is closely related to a cure for energy addiction, recovery of the global economy and the hegemony of the modern civilization heavily dependent on petroleum. Moreover, in converting to a civilization model independent of oil, the speed of each country will have to be different, and that switch is closely related to the strategic interests of each country. After all, Mr. Bush’s claims are directly linked to the Iraq war and policies against Iran. While Mr. Bush said the administration would stick to its existing policies regarding Iran, the world is paying attention to how his Middle Eastern policies will change in the course of treating the U.S. addiction to oil in the long run.
Mr. Putin had a completely different starting point since he hoped to aggressively exploit Russia’s energy and strategic natural resources as a new foreign policy means. To Russia, energy export means bringing in enough foreign currency to meet half its budget. Moreover, a stable supply of energy is directly related to its mid and long-term strategies on Europe. Mr. Putin emphasized the need to accelerate construction of an underwater pipeline in the north, bypassing Ukraine in order to guarantee a stable supply of Russian gas to Europe. He linked energy policy with geopolitical strategy.
While Mr. Putin agreed with Mr. Bush’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear development, he repeatedly stressed the Russian policy to ease international concerns over Iran’s nuclear weapons development by enriching uranium in Russia. By promoting an international network project on nuclear fuel supply, which Russia has wanted, Moscow hopes to secure a share in the nuclear energy construction markets in Iran and North Korea. If Mr. Bush stressed political freedom and the geopolitical position on Iran, Mr. Putin expressed more interest in the economic freedom and geo-economic aspects of Iran. The two presidents also had completely different opinions on Hamas. Mr. Putin rhetorically asked if Russia had ever diverged from the position of the United States and Europe over terrorism, but he still said that he did not agree with Washington’s view on Hamas as a terrorist group.
They also disagreed on the issue of the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Bush emphasized the proliferation of liberty by categorizing North Korea along with Iran and three other nations as countries that still need freedom. Mr. Putin, however, said that the stock market of Russia was growing no more slowly than that of Korea, a major economy in the world, and showed more interest in the South. Considering that the capitalist United States sponsored Seoul and the communist Soviet Union patronized Pyongyang during the Cold War era, the focus of the two presidents symbolically illustrates how much the world has changed since.
Lately, the United States and Russia, which have strengthened a strategic partnership since the end of the Cold War, are clashing on major international issues. Since the world does not flow by the interpretation and claims of one side, the differences in opinion between Russia, a Eurasian powerhouse and G8 president nation, and the United States, the sole superpower in the world, are deeply related to their strategies in the 21st century. We urgently need to prepare for the hidden shockwaves caused by the different global perspectives and position on pending issues of Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan