Building our strength

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

Building our strength


Chae In-taek

I saw on the BBC that Great Britain has launched a very special project for the centennial anniversary of World War I on May 20. Two students representing every middle school across the UK visited battle sites of World War I in Belgium and France. In the first round of field trips, students toured Ypres, where Germany used poison gas, and paid a visit to a cemetery in Belgium where 11,000 war dead are buried. War historians provided explanations to the students. The generation will be aware how foolish it is to resolve international conflicts with force.

The young Brits will learn some of the lessons of World War I and understand the problems and limits of alliances as well as the foolishness of relying on force. The United Kingdom, France and Russia were on one side, and Germany, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria were on the other. Many scholars think the countries engaged in a war that they didn’t want or need and one that brought scant benefit because of alliances that fell together.

Perhaps the lesson of history is that alliances can be an obstacle. 75 years ago in 1939, Western powers betrayed Poland, which was part of their alliance. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Great Britain and France declared war against Germany but delayed substantial military intervention. Their moves were on paper only. The Soviet Union, which Poland considered “an enemy of the enemy,” helped Nazi Germany make Poland disappear from the map. History has taught us the painful lesson that there are no eternal allies or enemies.

Based on the solid Korea-U.S. alliance, Korea is reinforcing its security with the power of its ally. Many were relieved and hoped for a delay in the scheduled transfer of wartime operation control when President Barack Obama visited Korea last month. However, others are skeptical about alliances and the power of the almighty U.S. as they watched the Ukraine crisis. They doubt whether Obama and the U.S. actually have the diplomatic or military means to put an end to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions over Ukraine, which happens to want to be closer to the West. What will happen to Ukraine, which counted on the United States when it stood up to its own government and, by extension, to Russia? We also need to watch how the three Baltic nations and Eastern European countries, now parts of the Western world, will respond to the situation.

Alliances never come for free. In addition to Korea sharing the costs of U.S. Forces in Korea, the relationship with Japan, which is an ally of our ally, is a tremendous “political cost” - far greater than financial cost. It is a well-known fact that the U.S. wants to establish a joint defense system of a trilateral alliance with Japan and Korea to counter China in Northeast Asia. This gives Korea an endless headache. How can the U.S. demand Korea pursue military cooperation with Japan, whose current government aspires to transform itself into a country that can wage a war through a right to collective self-defense? Does the U.S. understand how catastrophic it is for Korean politicians to lose a battle of pride against Japan?

The profit-and-loss account in a multilateral alliance is quite complicated. What if Korea loses flexibility and initiative in its North Korean policy? What happens if our relationship with China becomes awkward when China is our biggest trade partner and a key player in North Korean policy? At the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Shanghai on May 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands with Vladimir Putin. Exposed to the mass destruction threats of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, Korea has to act gingerly and prudently.

At this juncture, we need to build enough strength to stand on our own. When we become strong, allies will not make excessive demands and neighbors will have to accommodate our position. What we need most urgently is a project to build up military strength in time for the delayed transfer of wartime operational control. The people can only be assured that we have a plan to fight off North Korean provocation when we have an actual plan. Self-reliant national defense and economic stability to back it up are necessary not only for a Sunshine policy but for normalization of the abnormal.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 22, Page 32

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Chae In-taek

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)