[Outlook]Soft power is hard

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[Outlook]Soft power is hard

The presidential election is seven months away. The coming election is not simply an election because it will decide the nation’s fate for the remainder of the 21st century, as well as the next five years.
Four adjacent powers are adding a final touch to their plans for the 21st century.
Regardless of that, the camps that support the various candidates are as discordant as ever, and no one can predict who will emerge victorious from either of the two main parties to face the verdict of the people. Consequently, the election campaign is not being fought out over competing plans for the next 100 years. Instead it is the political plots of the candidates that are dominating the debate. It is exasperating.
Washington has a similar problem. The raucous noise of political infighting has drowned out serious debate of the issues, with just 18 months left until their presidential election. The White House and the Congress are engaged in a fierce fight over the budget required for the war in Iraq.
The U.S. has poured $500 billion into Iraq, Afghanistan and other anti-terrorism actions, but 70 percent of that sum was spent in Iraq. However, although the death toll of American soldiers is approaching 4,000, the internal political situation of Iraq seems unlikely to stabilize soon.
President Bush claims an additional $250 billion is required in order to fully stabilize Iraq and has asked for a Congressional endorsement to begin spending $100 billion of that amount. As the plan is batted back and forth between a Congress determined to oppose it and the president’s determination to veto any alternatives, the final version of the budget will probably depend on what happens in Iraq. If little progress is made by September, arguments for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will be strengthened and that will become the hottest issue in next year’s presidential election.
Amidst these issues, one thing that deserves our attention is the debate on “smart power.” Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard University who coined the term “soft power” in the early 1990s, has argued that culture, values and ideas ― to wit, soft power ― are increasingly important in the world politics of the information age, alongside traditional military or economic power, and that the success of the United States in the 21st century depends on the use of smart power to balance hard and soft powers.
Important policy institutes of the U.S. are undertaking a study of smart power this year in order to prepare policies for next year’s presidential election.
In case the Iraq situation does not stabilize easily and thereby a withdrawal becomes more important in the course of the election campaign, the debate on smart power will go into full swing. The importance of the debate does not lie simply in the rights and wrongs of the Iraqi war. Rather, the discussion aims at understanding the changing nature of power in the 21st century, which is marked by networks and intelligence systems, and at raising a new force for the future of the U.S. that balances traditional forms of power with those now emerging.
While the four powers adjacent to us are, with the U.S. taking the lead in their quest to increase their smart power, the northern part of the Korean Peninsula lives under the yoke of a leadership that has an anachronistic faith in nuclear weapons, while the south is wasting priceless time with plots to determine the presidential candidates.
However, what voters want is a detailed blueprint to establish the power of 21st century Korea among the smart power countries. Practical policy ideas based on a philosophical outlook that understands the future of the 21st century are required, instead of the mass production of campaign slogans produced for the sake of an election.
An attractive idea that goes beyond the notion of smart power should be developed as an alternative. The theory of smart power is limited to the imperial superpowers, and is not applicable to us. Whereas the idea of smart power has been created to compensate for the weaknesses of hard power by supplementing them with soft power, Korea needs a form of wisdom that begins with the power of technological advance and regards that as the new force of the 21st century. We need a theory based on the power of information and intelligence. Next, Korea’s new attractiveness should be based on growing the traditional power of security and prosperity while modifying it to aim at coexistence with others. Cultural power should also be emphasized so that the world wants to come to us. Finally, a political capacity is required that incorporates these powers into a beautiful complex. We now need an attractive president who can construct an attractive country for the 21st century.

*The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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