[Viewpoint]Attaining smart powerThe JoongAng Ilbo recently co-sponsored a special lecture titled “Smart Power and the ‘War on Terror’” by Professor Joseph S. Nye of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. At the lecture Nye pointed out, among other things, that it was not a good idea to make a “global war on terrorism” the theme for American foreign policy. He further suggested that the next United States president would need what he called “contextual intelligence” to align tactics with objectives to create smart strategies in varying situations.
The bipartisan Smart Power Commission co-chaired by Nye and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington concluded last year that the United States needed to rediscover how to be a smart power, moving from exporting fear to inspiring optimism and hope. In this regard, quite a few elements of smart power deserve our attention:
First, as Nye tries to make a point, soft power is not a panacea. That is why we need to combine soft and hard power judiciously in accordance with contexts.
Second, the crux of soft power comes down to spoken and written language, as Nye criticizes the hostile term “global war on terror.” People in the West commonly know that the pen is mightier than the sword. In Korea too, a proverb saying, “A phrase of words repays a thousand ounces of debt” is a conventional wisdom. Good words cost naught but pay a lot.
Third, recognition of the importance of soft power is not new. Psychological warfare occupied a central place in the Cold War and has given way to public diplomacy in the post Cold War era.
Fourth, soft power begets hard power. Advances in science and technology proliferate amenities of civilization. These creative inventions are often for dual use, giving rise to controversies whether they are for civilian or military use. Those goods that can be transformed into military use in the event of emergency raise questions whether they are defensive or offensive.
Fifth, becoming a smart power needs not be a strategy unique to the United States, the sole superpower in this seemingly unipolar but increasingly globalizing postmodern world. For instance, Qatar expands its worldwide role with Al Jazeera. Many small but strong states in Europe including Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the like exercise influence by peaceful means through peace-promoting industries and institutions thriving there. History has revealed that Korea was vulnerable to ambitions of big powers for hegemony or divide and rule. By contrast, Korea today occupies a vantage point to become a clearinghouse of smart power. It can find its niche or “blue ocean strategy” to become a trouble-shooter or honest broker for surrounding powers by building up its international credibility.
Sixth, postmodern nations do not build up their smart power competitively. To the contrary, they work for synergy effects by forging strategic partnerships and engaging in close cooperation. South Korea tries to visualize that a reunified Korea will contribute to regional stability and world peace. Outstanding issues between North Korea and the United States are also South Korea’s, which plays an intermediary role. South Korea is bound to assume such intermediary roles between other stakeholders and within multilateral frameworks in a wide range of issues. A division of work is desirable to employ the formidable military and economic power of the United States for the reinforcement of regional security and South Korea’s soft power for the establishment of peace in the region.
In this context, it is encouraging to note that the annual budgets of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, and of the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, have surpassed that of the Ministry of National Defense since a few years ago.
Historians advocate a hypothesis of a 300-year cycle of Korean renaissance ― that now, 600 years from King Sejong and 300 years from King Yeongjo ― is a new period of renaissance. The aspiration for peaceful Korean reunification will naturally come true if we become an advanced nation equipped with both hard and soft power, which may be translated in Korean as munmu gyeumbi, by achieving economic development, democratization, self-defense, innovation in science and technology and a renaissance.
Selection and concentration are necessary to maximize accountability by utilizing limited time and resources. In the long run, however, it is more important to avoid lopsidedness to keep balance and rhythm. Such wisdom is required so as to allocate human and material resources in ways suitable to the circumstances of time. We must consolidate the tradition of civilian rule as well as prevent it from going weak in hard power, which can be translated to Korean as munyak.
The paramount objective of South Korea’s external policy is to hand down to the next generation the optimum state of relationships with its neighbors. In order to achieve this objective, South Korea must elevate all sectors across the board to the level of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of which it is a member.
Thus it must attain the so-called global standards of smart power.
*The writer is a professor emeritus at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
by Kim Jae-bum