Prospects of peace in 2018War clouds lingered over the Korean Peninsula throughout last year, and as a new one approaches, I think about the possibility of peace with a heavy heart. From the Japanese colonial period, when I was an elementary school student, to the Korean War, when I was in college, the shadow of conflict has left me with a habit of recalling the past by focusing on memories of war.
It was good news when World War II ended, but I felt an extreme sense of futility when the Korean War, which destroyed the entire country over a span of three years and sacrificed countless lives, ended with no accomplishment or victory but rather collective self-injury. I can never forget the people who started the war and their historical sins.
The world appeared to have been liberated from the inhumane oppression and destruction of a series of wars in the era of imperialism and totalitarianism after two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century. Promising a new start for history, the United Nations launched in 1945.
But no one could stop the coming of the Cold War era of East versus West, the Soviet Union versus the United States, communism versus liberalism.
And one generation later, toward the end of the 1980s, tensions eased, and the world experienced a true turning point for new waves of peace. The 1988 Seoul Olympics ended the nightmares from the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Games, which suffered boycotts from the East and West. It was a true festival of peace in which the world celebrated the end of the Cold War.
In 1989, Korea’s ruling and opposition parties agreed to a unification formula for the Korean Peninsula, and in 1990, German unification took place, heralding an era of globalization, peace and prosperity. Countries that pushed a market economy and open policies saw remarkable accomplishments.
But history has its limits when it comes to smooth advancement and progress of peace. Fatigue from the success of globalization and the rise of new nationalism threaten the peace of the past several years. Superpowers in particular have become sentimental about their glorious imperial days of the past, fueling the possibility of conflict and war.
As Prof. Graham Allison presented in his “Thucydides Trap” paper, it appears more convincing that a war will break out between China, a new rising superpower, and the United States, the existing superpower.
At the same time, a nuclear crisis prompted by the brinkmanship of North Korea, which has risked its regime survival on nuclear arms development instead of participating in the international order of globalism, is intertwined with U.S.-China relations, rapidly escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Two months ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared at the 19th Communist Party Congress that China, armed with Marxism and Leninism, would become an economy as powerful as the United States by 2030. He also laid out a “Chinese dream” in which China becomes a global hegemon by the middle of the century.
In response to Xi’s stances toward Western individualism, separation of power and liberalism, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a national security strategy two weeks ago defining the current situation as China and Russia challenging American leadership.
He declared that the United States would maintain supremacy in all areas of politics, military and economy, making clear that a Cold War 2.0 is playing out among the United States, China and Russia.
Our immediate challenge, then, is to lead international efforts to contain a Cold War 2.0 between the United States and China, based on the successful precedence that Cold War 1.0 was contained properly before a nuclear war broke out. That is the shortcut and precondition to maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula in the era of Cold War 2.0.
Today, the United States, China and the entire world are facing a decisive moment. It is not about recognizing North Korea as a new nuclear state. The issue is whether we will allow nuclear proliferation in East Asia to push the world into extinction through a nuclear war.
We must let go of problems accumulated in the past between the two Koreas and between countries. China and the United States must lead efforts to guarantee the security of North and South Korea, both members of the United Nations, in an international treaty.
It is true that the Korean people fear war, as they have experienced enough already. The North Korean leader, too, should fear war, not peace.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 30, Page 27
*The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.