[OUTLOOK]New challenges, deadly stakesThe proposal to hand wartime command of Korean troops to Seoul ― a sensitive issue that must be approached with objective analysis and judgment ― is being handled in a manner that is causing tempers to flare and blood to boil in a public already suffering from the recent floods and drastic heat. In a way, this issue has helped reawaken our sense of national security, which has been particularly laggardly recently. The sense of crisis in international security that started with the missile launches by North Korea escalated with the intense military conflict in Lebanon, which has finally been brought to a halt with a fragile cease-fire after over a month. One of Australia’s most influential dailies, The Australian, has even warned in its headlines that this could be the beginning of World War III.
We must take note of the impact that globalization in all its fast-paced fury has had on the proliferation of international security crises. We must not forget that South Korea’s security is an international issue, as we are part of the global society of linked nations. It is in this broadminded perspective that we should evaluate the Korea-U.S. alliance. In our sense of security, heightened by the proposed transfer of wartime command to Korea, we should not only consider the threat of North Korea and our own defense ability, but must also consider establishing a national strategy that can meet the challenges of a new era in international security in the 21st century.
It is true that the geographic and cultural distance makes the situation in Lebanon, no matter how intense, only of secondary interest to Koreans who are concentrating on restoration work for areas damaged by floods. However, unlike other recent international conflicts and wars, the situation in Lebanon holds certain elements that could change the fundamental content of international security and perhaps the entire flow of world history.
First, the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah cannot be defined as a war between two sovereign states. We are now living in a world where wars can occur between a state and a non-state entity. While Hezbollah could be called a “sub-state,” as it exists within the Lebanese nation, it could also be seen as being above a state level, because it supposedly represents pan-Arab and pan-Islamic interests.
This leads to the second element: In such a new world environment, the existing international conventions and regulations could easily be ignored and made null. The Geneva Convention, which distinguishes civilians and military combatants, has no hold over a non-state entity armed with guns and religious convictions. The terror incidents in New York, Bali, Madrid and London were all large-scale attacks targeting the civilian population indiscriminately, and therefore have already passed the boundaries of existing definitions in international law. The situation in Lebanon has now clearly shown the limits of the old world order.
Third, in the Lebanese situation, the main participants relied on the direct and indirect support of empathizing states. Hezbollah was supported in part by Iran and Syria and Israel had the backing of the United States. In short, the Lebanese situation was viewed warily by the rest of international society as holding the aspect of a war in proxy. Fourth, missiles were the main weapons used in the Lebanese situation, and thus the strategic value of these weapons was affirmed in the eyes of many nations. Also, the majority opinion is that Hezbollah actually kidnapped an Israeli soldier to intentionally start a military conflict in response to the UN Security Council’s resolution against Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. In short, the increasing usage of missiles and the threat of nuclear proliferation will continue to plague international society as crucial issues throughout this unstable age of changes.
These profound changes in the landscape of the international order, as shown most clearly in the Middle East, hold particular significance to Korea in that we need to reevaluate our national security strategy because we must now approach the international dynamics surrounding the Korean Peninsula, and our confrontation with the North, from a new dimension. We must do more than just plead and cajole North Korea not to follow in the path of Iran. The security of our nation should not be treated as such a trifling issue. We have reached a point where we must establish and enact a national strategy with the consensus of the Korean people defining the core values we will uphold, at what costs we will uphold these values and what the most efficient means are for achieving our objective. The elements of crisis in international security are moving too fast for us to be wasting our time on outdated ideological fights.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo