[Viewpoint] Korea in a multipolar world

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[Viewpoint] Korea in a multipolar world

Korea is faced with a serious crisis as North Korea’s armed provocations are escalating tensions on the divided peninsula. On the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, North Korea is increasingly becoming an outsider in global history. Unable to deal with frustrating reality and a gloomy forecast for the future, North Korea is making a series of unreasonable moves as a way to seek a breakthrough.

At this juncture, we need to be more alert in terms of security and remain calm to respond to the provocations by the North while putting together more refined strategies for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

The most urgent task is to overhaul the readiness of the ROK military and give priority to areas that call for reinforcement. Moreover, we all need to remind ourselves once again that the best way to safeguard freedom and peace is national consensus and determination to accept due sacrifices for the greater cause. Unlike old times, today’s security crisis is not a threat limited to Korea alone but is a mutual challenge faced by many nations in the globalized world.

The risk of a war on the Korean Peninsula might have been irrelevant to world order or peace in the past, but we are now living in an era of globalization when the risk directly influences many countries, including the United States and Europe. New opportunities have opened for us to pursue creative and effective foreign and security policies that we had never seen before.

During the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties our ancestors avoided armed clashes or use of hard power as much as possible and instead depended on soft power, such as diplomacy and culture, to overcome the geopolitical limitations of being surrounded by neighbors that were far more powerful than Korea.

Just as important as strengthening our military capacity, Seoul has to reinforce diplomatic efforts to bring together the energy of the international community to effectively respond to the adventurous provocations of North Korea, a self-proclaimed nuclear power.

The 21st century is a multipolar era. We have gone through the bipolar Cold War era, when the United States and the Soviet Union divided the world into West and East. And the U.S. seemed to enjoy its status as the sole superpower for a while, but the world is rapidly evolving into a multipolar age. In addition to the United States and Europe, Asia has emerged as another power center and China, India and Brazil are increasingly turning into superpowers.

This trend is opening the age of multilateral diplomacy and countless international conferences and organizations are becoming centers of diplomacy. In addition to traditional bilateral diplomacy, multilateral relations have become a new form of diplomacy that determines international relations. The most urgent diplomatic challenge for Korea is how to utilize multilateral international relations more aggressively and creatively.

For a long time, the unique bilateral Korea-U.S. relationship has long been the mainstay of our foreign policy, so multilateral diplomacy might feel strange and awkward to Koreans at first.

In the traditional Korean culture, two-way, three-way and four-way diplomacy could be misunderstood as a betrayal of faith or an unethical move to deceive.

In fact, it is certainly a concern if Korea can succeed in building multiple relationships of trust at the same time by making “partnerships” with many countries at once.

However, in the multipolar world, countries can create a network of cooperation in search of mutual interests, and multilateral interests can be moderated through diplomacy. Successfully carrying out multilateral diplomacy will determine the destiny of the country.

Today, the North Korean system is the biggest threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and in order to effectively deal with North Korea’s extraordinary behavior and risky provocations, constructive multilateral diplomacy among the five members of the six-party talks, aside from North Korea, is desperately needed.

The historical calling for Korea may be the development of a blueprint and strategy for the five-party relationship.

The structure will be able to accelerate peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula while giving Pyongyang no choice but to join the effort.

As we successfully carry out this historic mission, we need to thoroughly reinforce diplomatic capacity and create national understanding and consensus.

The task is impossible without solid support from politicians and the government, as well as from academia and the media.

Korea successfully hosted the G-20 Summit. The next big event that Korea will host is the second nuclear security summit in 2012.

The meeting will be a testing ground for Korea’s multilateral diplomacy as the discussion focuses on the explosive topic of the North Korean nuclear program.

*The writer is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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