[Outlook]Protecting what’s ours

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[Outlook]Protecting what’s ours

It is a little known fact that the defense budget of Singapore, a city state with a population of 4.5 million, is bigger than that of its Islamic neighbor Indonesia, which is populated by more than 200 million people. Already classified as an economically advanced country with a GNP per capita of over $30,000, Singapore spends some 32 percent of its national budget on defense.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, co-hosted by Singapore and Britain’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. During the lively debate on the future of Asia’s security, I could not help but envy the resolute manner in which the Singaporean government upheld its national security. The dialogue provided a glimpse at the simple logic that one must guard one’s possessions well to live well, as concretized on a national level in Singapore.
At this time of the year, we Koreans cannot but recall the civil war that started on June 25, 1950. Unfortunately, we do not have the assurance that our nation’s attitude toward our national security is as firm as it should be.
Whether it’s Singapore or Korea, there are three essential elements to a firm security policy.
First, there must be a sense that the nation’s independence and the society’s basic values come above everything else. This belief must be shared by leaders and the general public alike. Second, all members of society must be ready to pay the price for upholding national security, even when it requires a certain amount of personal sacrifice. Third, the smaller the country is, the more it must try to cooperate with international allies instead of relying exclusively on its own power. Both former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, whom I met at his office, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who gave the keynote speech at the dialogue, emphasized the importance of forming a network among allies who share common security interests. Korea and Singapore are in different situations when it comes to security or geopolitical location, but there is great potential for the two to work in close cooperation to create a regional security system for Asia’s peace.
While Korean and Singaporean leaders who attended the dialogue were generally optimistic about the future of Asia’s security, they agreed that there are three elements of danger that have to be contained.
First, any clash between the United States and China has to be prevented at all costs. China acknowledges it is not on par with the United States in military terms. However, as the Singaporean leaders pointed out, bilateral conflict concerning matters of finance or trade can create a serious situation.
Second, if the unstable situation in the Middle East including Iraq gets worse and becomes a catastrophe, Asia would not be able to escape the consequences.
Third, the harmful effects of climate change including global warming can bring on a security crisis as well. The Asian region cannot yet give up its fast-growing economy, and that leads to a dilemma between the increase of greenhouse gas emissions and the need to control or regulate it to tackle climate change.
Apart from the Asian point of view, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Germany’s Minister of Defense Franz-Josef Jung talked about the failings of each country, nuclear proliferation and international terrorism. They emphasized that preventing a crisis caused by the combination of these three elements is the top security issue for international society.
Reminding the audience that he received his Ph.D. in Soviet studies during the Cold War period, Gates declared that one Cold War is enough. He emphasized threats coming from a failed state rather than a clash between superpowers. Gates continued to express concern about the North Korean nuclear issue, which is now primary matter in Northeast Asian security, but hoped that ultimately, the six-party talks would provide a solution. Korean Minister of Defense Kim Jang-soo also emphasized that the six-party talks could provide not only a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue but also to other security issues in the Northeast Asian region.
It goes without saying that the primary responsibility lies with us in managing the security crisis on the Korean Peninsula where North Korea’s “nuclear military-first policy” and six-party talks continue simultaneously. Now, more than ever, we need our leaders to exercise courage in dealing with the security crisis accompanied by the military imbalance between the South and the North resulting from North Korea’s nuclear program. We need a national consensus to make whatever sacrifice necessary to protect our freedom and the wisdom to cooperate with our allies and international society. If we forget the lessons of the Korean War, it is not easy to expect a hopeful future.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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