[Outlook]A challenge to grow

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[Outlook]A challenge to grow

An empire’s decline or fall depends mainly on its capacity for change and innovation. If this becomes paralyzed, the nation falls. The Roman Empire is a prime example. Of course, there are cases in history where defeat in war leads to a nation’s collapse. Nazi Germany and the Third Reich - Germany’s self-declared third empire as established by Hitler - and the end of the imperial Japanese Empire are the most recent examples.

But even in these cases, they brought disaster upon themselves because inflexibility and uniformity in the nations’ institutions ruined their capacity for self-innovation, which contributed to their fall. In a word, they committed national suicide.

Against this backdrop, Senator Barack Obama’s election as the 44th American president is a topic of worldwide significance. It goes beyond U.S. borders.

Not only is Obama extraordinarily talented, but we also know the United States, the world’s only remaining superpower, has established itself as a de facto empire. The appearance of the first African American president in U.S. history shows the country still maintains its capacity to change and redefine itself. This removes growing worldwide concern that the United States could be the next empire to go.

As Obama mentioned in his election night address, we will know whether America’s ability to innovate succeeds at the end of his presidency.

However, the election has already given America a historic opportunity to extend its innovation and reform well into the 21st century.

The landscape of global politics has already entered a new era of polarization, and America’s economic superiority has been fluctuating due to the financial turmoil. It is certain that the optimistic embrace of change is the fastest way to develop and restore America’s prestige and leadership in the world.

The crisis facing America at this time is not confined to the United States. Practically no country can avoid the fallout from these extraordinarily difficult times due to the globalization of the economy, society, technology and culture.

Today’s nations face a fierce global competition to build their capacity for sustainable self-innovation. In this era, only those who exercise the ability to innovate will survive. America’s choice of Obama has given it a competitive edge.

President-elect Obama enjoys a bigger opportunity than ever to explore new ways to raise his nation’s standing in the world.

First, he will be able to conduct a great experiment, transforming the United States’ conflict that comes from being a multicultural society into strengths such as diversity, creativity and social progress.

The United States, [transcending its history of racism,] chose Barack Obama to become its new president; it enjoys the moral advantage of giving all other nations the opportunity to reflect, regardless of whether they are developed or developing. This will directly restore America’s global image and Americans’ pride in their country. Patriotism mixed with diversity in a multicultural society will become an extraordinary source of power.

Second, humanity’s common values - freedom, equality, human rights and welfare - which have been a hollow slogan for a long time, will re-emerge as significant policy goals under Obama’s influence. When pragmatism rooted in mature and dispassionate judgment about reality is joined to dreams and ideals, the nation becomes armed with a new growth engine that will lead its development.

Therefore, if we want to maintain a special alliance with the United States under Obama, there is an urgent need to find shared values that both nations want to pursue. Rather than taking the primitive approach of finding personal connections in the Obama administration, we should be wise enough to fly with two wings: practicality and ideology.

Many people are deeply concerned that Obama’s appearance will affect current U.S.?North Korean relations and change South?North Korean relations.

However, we must understand the historic necessity of the change that allowed Obama’s victory rather than emphasizing methodological steps to engage North Korea. His appearance can be regarded as an opportunity to give this process new life.

If North Korea also shows a capacity for self-innovation, U.S.?North Korean relations will be put back on track. The North share’s South Korea’s goal of reunification.

If North and South Korea recognize that there is no future in institutions that lack the capacity for sustainable innovation, Obama’s victory can be a welcome sign that will further accelerate peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.

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

by Lee Hong-koo
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