Preventing Hamlet’s agony

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Preventing Hamlet’s agony

Prof. Hans Morgenthau thought that several Hamlets must have been running about in confusion for a few nights in the White House in 1961. The Kennedy administration was cornered because of a series of diplomatic and security failures, such as the unsuccessful invasion of the Bay of Pigs and the communization of Laos. To the eyes of the prestigious international politics theorist, the president was as agonized as the Danish prince in the Shakespearean tragedy.

The new Kennedy administration was harshly condemned by the public. However, Morgenthau thought that a more serious problem was the chaos within the executive branch. They were responding to the “changed’ environment with “existing” strategies. Policy decisions were made not in the national interest, but through power struggles among multiple agencies. So a number of Hamlets were in agony inside the walls of the White House.

Hamlet is synonymous with someone tormented by the necessity of making a hard decision during a desperate crisis. No government is free from the agony of Hamlet when it comes to foreign policy and security. The Park Geun-hye administration is also in anguish over the choice of a “hard-line response” or “peace and reconciliation” toward North Korea. The troubles associated with the appointments of security and economic ministers remind of Hamlet’s agony. And the Blue House is likely to spend sleepless nights over appointments.

Henry Kissinger explains the agony between “strategic threat” and “strategic trust” in his book, “On China.” He claims that successful diplomacy can resolve the dilemma, as peace can be maintained based on strategic trust. However, when the diplomacy fails, the agony becomes more serious. Arms race would begin, followed by confrontation of strategic threats, and it would lead to a war. The vicious cycle is hard to avoid, so Henry Kissinger emphasizes that the government need to make special efforts to maintain a balance.

However, it seems that the strategy of trust through diplomacy has limited space in the Park Geun-hye administration. The rhetoric of security and economy seems to overwhelm the logic of politics and diplomacy. The foreign policy and security lineup is monopolized by former military men, and the trade operation moved from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the industry and commerce ministry. It is understandable since citizens are hoping for dramatic reversals in both security and the economy. Also, two-thirds of the citizens support nuclear development on our own.

Yet, the emergence of China and the nuclear tension demand a “political and diplomatic,” rather than a military, response. The same approach works for economic and welfare issues. The age ruled by economy and technology is over, and the upcoming year will be dominated by politics and diplomacy. In economy and security, the objective conditions of the world we have lived in for the past decade have surpassed our traditional mindset and policy. Without new political and diplomatic vision, it will be difficult to improve the economic and security situations.

Then what should we do? We cannot respond to the changed diplomatic and security environment with conventional mindset and policy. We need a new strategy corresponding to the desperate crisis and renewed tasks. The premise is the organic simultaneous equation between military and economy, gripped by politics and diplomacy.

In foreign and security policy, national interest is the golden rule. However, it is not always clear like a mathematical formula. A policy decision is often made through power struggle between ministries. But it is questionable how convincing diplomatic theory would be. President Park Geun-hye recently ordered to eliminate barriers between ministries and work in a speedy manner. She wants to prevent Hamlet’s agony.

In any country, people have high hopes for a new administration, and Koreans have great expectations. We want to know if the Park Geun-hye administration will be able to resolve economic and security issues with “new policies” in the “near future.”

However, it takes time to see the outcome of a policy. The problem is how long the citizens can wait. There can be a gap between the public sentiment hoping for a drastic and fast change and the reasonable policy for national interests. In order to close this gap, the Park Geun-hye administration needs to first overcome the fiasco over appointments. Only then, can the government ask for patience and sacrifice by citizens. Domestic and international attention is on whether the still -staggering administration can get past Hamlet’s agony.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.

by Chang Dal-joong

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