[OVERSEAS VIEW]Europe is calm, but Asia sizzles with tensionOn the Fourth of July overseas, North Korea tested its long-range Taepodong-2 missile and Italy beat Germany in the World Cup, 2-0. Is this more than a coincidence, is there a connection? No, of course not, unless it rests in the word “shooting.” Pyongyang shot off a missile which fell apart after 35 seconds; Italy shot off two balls, which scored two goals and catapulted the country into the finals. That’s it.
But in a larger sense, the coincidence of these two events reveals something about the nature of the two worlds occupied by Europe, on the one hand, and Asia, on the other.
Take Europe. Once the place where the world’s worst and longest wars unfolded over the past 500 years, it is now as aggressive as a pussycat. Think of World War II and then look at Europe today. We kick balls, and no longer other nations. Our battlefield is the soccer pitch. The people in the bleachers put war paint on their bodies, their national colors, but they don’t go to war any more. They wave oversized flags, but they stay in their seats instead of running off into the trenches. Aggression has been tamed and ritualized. And when the game is over, those archenemies on the soccer field trade their shirts, while their supporters wander off together in search of the nearest beer keg.
Asia is different, as the North Korean missile test shows. In fact, Asia is “modern,” while Europe is “post-modern.” Post-modern designates a mindset where the fires of nationalism have burned out, where the self-realization of the individual is more important than the devotion to state and nation. And Europe is lucky. We used to slaughter each other by the millions in the name of faith, ideology or nation; now we go shopping in a vast mall, called the European Union, from Portugal to Poland.
Asia is “modern” in the sense of the West in the 19th and 20th century. While the advanced nations of Asia are as much a part of the world economy as the Europeans, the basic assumptions about politics are different. The nation-state is the most important point of reference. Sovereignty matters.
Economic policy is conducted in a national rather than a communitarian framework. National security reigns supreme. Which takes us from the soccer pitch in Germany to the missile tests in Northeast Asia. While the Europeans no longer engage in security competitions, Asia is in the very midst of such a contest.
There is China, the rising power, whose arms expenditures grow by 10 percent per year. There is India, an awakening power, that worries about nuclear-armed Pakistan in the west and China in the east. There is Japan, which is quietly rearming (it already has the world’s largest surface navy). It feels threatened directly by North Korea, and farther afield by the Chinese giant. South Korea is facing an aggressive fossil state across the 38th parallel, which it hopes to tame with its “sunshine policy.” And then there is the United States, which is trying to craft a stable balance of power by weaving a network of formal and implicit alliances across the Pacific.
This recalls Europe in the 19th century. Britain, like the U.S. today, was the extra-regional balancer. Germany was the rising power that became ever more rowdy as it got richer. France, like Russia today, had lost its great-power status and was trying to get it back. But Asia is even more complicated. It has not one, but two rising powers, China and India. And then there is North Korea, as weak as it is aggressive, as backward as it is dangerous.
But notice that it is anything but a great power. Look at its test of a missile that is said to have a range of thousands of kilometers. It crashed into the sea after only 35 seconds. As far as the eye can see, it does not have the economic and technological foundation needed for a serious nuclear power.
Nonetheless, it did break the testing moratorium in force since 1998. North Korea sells nuclear and missile technology to anybody who can pay. Isn’t it time for the six nations who have been engaged in fruitless talks for so long to start containing and constraining North Korea? Isn’t it time for South Korea and China to cooperate more closely with Japan and the United States?
One of these days, the Taepodong-2 will complete its flight.
Asia has a security problem, Europe does not. That is the long and short of it. But Europe had a security problem from 1945 to 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Europe solved its internal security problem by economic integration, and its external one by fielding an enormous deterrent force against the strategic threat that was then the Soviet Union. Asia is a long way from either solution. It does not integrate its economies, and it will not soon enjoy a stable balance of power.
Still, shooting soccer balls is better than shooting missiles.
* The writer, the publisher-editor of Die Ziet in Germany, is now teaching U.S. foreign policy at Stanford University, where he is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution.
by Josef Joffe