There’s no need for Kissinger
The DongA Ilbo recently published an article entitled “What must be abandoned by the Presidential Committee on Unification Preparation.”
It caught my attention because it asked the government not to invite someone like Henry Kissinger to serve as a special international adviser, and the writer, Kim Young-sik, questioned what role Kissinger - who is now over 90 - could possibly play on the committee.
But although the request was surprising, it is not meaningless. It’s surprising because many people want to work with Kissinger, and he has repeatedly asked that he not be invited. And it seemed meaningful because he raised the question of whether Kissinger’s balance-of-power politics could actually help prepare Korea for unification.
The former U.S. secretary of state is a realist who believes in the balance of power. He believes the balance of power between countries is the key in keeping international order stable. To him, the sincerity and moral principles stressed by President Park Geun-hye are nothing more than secondary features. What’s important to him is the endless rebalancing of power to manage conflicts and relations among nations.
He stressed that once again in his latest book, “World Order.” Korean policymakers, as well as the media and scholars, have demonstrated a high interested in this publication because it presents Kissinger’s insights on Northeast Asian affairs, including the nuclear crisis in North Korea. It is his view, the dangerous power struggle that played out in Europe a century ago is now unfolding in East Asia.
He issued a similar warning about this possibility two decades ago. In his book, “Diplomacy,” he wrote that it was likely that China and Japan could opt to reinforce their military power and bring about instability in East Asia. To secure regional order, he stressed that a balance of power among the United States, China and Japan was necessary.
It’s undeniable that the balance of power among these nations is closely related to war and peace in Northeast Asia. During the Cold War era, the northern trilateral alliance among North Korea, China and the Soviet Union and the southern trilateral alliance among South Korea, Japan and the United States created that balance and maintained order in the region. At the time, it was important to operate a diplomatic strategy so that no one country could gain hegemony. Through this process, the balance of power among the United States, China and Japan has generally been maintained in Northeast Asia since the 1970s.
But that balance is now in danger, and concerns have grown that South Korea could end up being sandwiched between superpowers. Some argue that the alliance with the United States must be bolstered, while others claim that leaning too much on America will leave the South with almost no other option. But from the perspective of promoting unification, the view on a balance of power, particularly between the United States and China, has within it several undeniable issues.
In international relations, the gravity of a security alliance cannot be treated lightly. But in Northeast Asia, economy, culture and information communication have now gained more importance than politics and military might, and we must face this reality.
Can we talk about the end of the Cold War without discussing the influence of the global economy on the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Communist bloc and the impact of the 1975 Helsinki Declaration on the democratization of Eastern Europe? Economic flow, culture and information, and transcending borders played a guiding role in ending the Cold War. But realists who only emphasized that balance of power could not predict the end of the Cold War.
Today, our eyes toward the world are changing, and so have our capabilities. “Throughout our history, we have never had a moment when our capabilities had become so powerful,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said. “So we must not be absorbed by this defeatism that we are just a small fish being hurt in the fight between whales.”
He’s right. But the question is whether this understanding and these capabilities have yet been realized. Unfortunately, this is not the case in inter-Korean relations. The movement of people and information cannot be stopped. It is time for us to have a serious conversation on how we can share in these movements with North Korea.
During the second meeting of the Presidential Committee on Unification Preparation on Oct. 13, President Park spoke about the possibility of lifting the May 24 sanctions and her determination to have talks with the North. Her words must not become empty promises - just a mere fantasy that unification will, in fact, be a “jackpot.”
Her remarks must be turned into real policy. To this end, we all must overcome balance-of-power politics.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 25, Page 31
*The author is a professor emeritus of political science at Seoul National University.
by Chang Dal-joong