Thus did Otto von Bismarck

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Thus did Otto von Bismarck

The three leading presidential candidates have brought experts and veterans on foreign and security affairs into their camps. They pledge that they can solve various pending problems as well as sticky issues rooted in the past with North Korea, China and Japan.

But Korean history and world history shows that if the leader of a government is not equipped with a strategic mind backed by historical understanding, he or she cannot defend and advocate for the country on the intensely competitive world stage or raise the national dignity in a broader and more aggressive sense.

Historian and Yale University professor Paul Kennedy’s citation of the strategic diplomatic skills and statesmanship of Otto von Bismarck during an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last month could provide some meaningful guidance to our aspiring presidential candidates.

When Bismarck came to power as Minister President of Prussia in 1862, what is now Germany was comprised of numerous states loosely aligned under the Confederation of the Rhine, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. It was a messy mixture of kingdoms, principalities and free cities.

At the time, Europe was under a postwar peace settlement among roughly equal powers - France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia - crafted in 1814 in Vienna by the coalition that battled and defeated Napoleon’s French Empire. Bismarck broke the mythical arrangement and balance of power to wage strategic wars with Denmark, Austria and France to weld German states into a powerful united nation and dominant leader on the continent.

In invading Denmark in 1864, Prussia teamed up with Austria to strike Schleswig and Holstein and respectively claimed the territories. At the same time, Bismarck prepared for battle with Austria. He employed the power of diplomacy as much as military means in his wars. In the following year, he won a pact with France under which the latter vowed to maintain neutrality in the Austro-Prussian War. Napoleon III, convinced of Prussia’s defeat over Austria, encouraged the war.

In 1866, Prussia struck Austria and in just three weeks claimed Holstein and decisively defeated Austria in the battle of Koniggratz. Austria was no match for troops and forces that cleverly and quickly moved ahead by railroad under the command of war genius Helmuth von Moltke. Moltke and other generals wanted to march right into Vienna to crush and occupy Austria. But the Iron Chancellor said no. He refused to destroy and humiliate a state that could be its useful ally in the future.

Bismarck was already preparing a bigger war with France. The French Emperor demanded border territories around the Rhine in return for keeping his promise of neutrality in Prussia’s war with Austria. The Treaty of Vienna had been a conservative constraint against the spread of French Revolutionary Wars. To Bonaparte’s nephew, emperor Napoleon III, the Vienna regime was an eyesore. He cheered Bismarck’s challenge and overthrow of the system through initiating wars, but could not stand a united Germany becoming a new dominant European power.

Bismarck quickly and clandestinely bargained with southern German states and also persuaded Russia and Austria not to intervene in the war with France. If he had listened to his generals and occupied Vienna, Bismarck would have had to fret about a potential coalition attack during his war with France.

Opportunity comes to those who are well prepared. Prussia declared war against France after the latter blocked the candidacy of a Prussian prince to the Spanish throne. And victory was delivered to the better prepared. By scrupulously isolating and using his targets, Bismarck defeated opponents one by one and incrementally sewed together a patchwork of four kingdoms, 18 principalities, three free cites and two empires to realize a historical unification in the year of 1871.

Bismarck’s entire foreign policy had been intricately and strategically interwoven. He read the moves of his opponents before moving his pawns. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in his book “Diplomacy” warned against leadership that is swept up in momentary moods without a broader strategy. Kissinger also analyzed that Napoleon III failed because he attempted to solve domestic problems through foreign policy.

The relationship among South Korea, China and Japan is in its messy state today because leaders are more engrossed in making sensational headlines than looking at a bigger picture. When Bismarck retired in 1890 leaving the realpolitik legacy, European newspapers lamented the “dropping of the pilot” out of concerns about peace on their continent - a lesson for all the presidential hopefuls.

* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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