The European perspective

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The European perspective

“Peace is impossible, and war is improbable,”
French philosopher Raymond Aron
said on the security climate of Europe during
the Cold War in the 1960s when the
countries were heading toward nuclear
confrontation. Although friendship between
the United States and Soviet Union
was unlikely due to mutual distrust and
hostility, a nuclear war between the two
was also improbable due to nuclear deterrent
power and mutual assured destruction,
he explained. It is a sharp insight.
Last week, I had traveled to Berlin,
Paris and Warsaw at the invitation of the
European Council on Foreign Relations
and talked to government officials and experts
from various countries. The theme
was China’s rise and the future of East
Asia’s security. Surprisingly, the European
experts’ views on the security situation
of East Asia echoed Aron’s statement.
China’s rapid rise and the subsequent
strategic uncertainties are like the opening
of Pandora’s Box, and there was a very
low possibility that the United States and
Japan would acknowledge China’s
strengthening international status and
find a way to establish a peaceful coexistence.
They said the possibility is particularly
low due to the historic and geopolitical
And yet there is an extremely low possibility
that a massive war will break out
between the United States and China due
to their nuclear deterrence. Although they
cannot rule out a possibility of military
clashes between China and Japan over the
East China Sea, they are skeptical that any
clash will expand into a massive war. They
said the international community, including
the United States, would not indulge
in a hasty military intervention and the
countries are all mutually dependent on
each other economically. The reality of
continued exchanges and cooperation in
social and cultural areas also makes war
difficult, they said. A shared understanding
about a tragic outcome from a war is
also an important deterrence, they noted.
Although the trend of growing reproduction
of narrow-minded nationalism is
worrisome, the experts largely believed
that it could be managed through domestic
politics. They also said inter-Korean
issues and issues between China and Taiwan
are not likely to expand into a fullscale
“North Korea can be a cancer of the
region, but it will not be the starting point
of a massive war,” a Polish expert said.
Europe’s fractured past will not be the
future of Asia because of the self-restraints
of each country, interventions of superpowers
and pressures of the international
It was interesting that the European
experts were viewing China’s rise as an
established reality. They particularly
agreed on the size of China’s economy and
its influence. They were less impressed
with China’s military power. China may
have the ability to compete for hegemony
in the East Asian region, but it is premature
to replace the United States as a global
military power since the United States
has a worldwide network of alliances.
Furthermore, the Chinese economy’s uncertainties,
problems of politics and society
at home and the difficulty of securing
legitimacy in the international community
also work against China’s attempt to
become a global leader, they analyzed.
The key point of the European discussions
was the issue of China’s Asian Infrastructure
Investment Bank (AIIB). The
European countries largely agreed that it
must be separated from the political logic
of power balance because the AIIB is an
attempt to improve the inferior infrastructure
of Asia.
Furthermore, they made it clear that
Europe wants to join the initiative as
founding members with an intention to
create rules, principles and an ownership
structure of the AIIB that will fit international
standards. Of course, they explained
that they had to consider the economic
benefits of entering the massive infrastructure
market of Asia.
It was amazing that Britain, France
and Germany — members of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization — had been
discussing joining the AIIB for a significant
period of time. Furthermore, it was
tantalizing to see the pragmatism of Europe
when Britain made a preemptive decision
to join the bank, making it easy for
other NATO allies to join.
In other words, coordination with
Washington was their basic principle for
security issues, but they were employing
strategies to maximize their own national
interests economically without consulting
the United States. It was a clear contrast
to the situation in Korea.
Some experts presented the idea that
the NATO should extend its ties to East
Asia, but most made clear their opposition.
Because Europe cannot be a direct
security actor in East Asia, Europe must
be satisfied with the expansion of ideas
and systems of multilateral cooperation as
they saw in the Helsinki process, the experts
It was marvelous that European intellectuals
were having a serious discussion
about the future of East Asia’s security. It
makes me wonder if we are doing the
same for ourselves.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a political science professor at
Yonsei University.

by Moon Chung-in
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