A euro­pean so­lu­tion

Korea JoongAng Daily - - Views - Cho hong-sik

The world com­mem­o­rated the 100th an­niver­sary of the out­break of the First World War last Au­gust. By the time the dev­as­tat­ing war ended in 1918, there were few peo­ple in the coun­tries that took part — which in­volved most of the Western world — who were not af­fected in one way or the other. Many an­a­lysts draw par­al­lels be­tween the cir­cum­stances that led up to World War I and what’s pan­ning out on the East Asian stage to­day. Ja­pan and Rus­sia are the old power des­per­ate to re­vive their past glo­ries of global in­flu­ence. China, the rapidly ris­ing new power, and the United States, des­per­ate to hold onto its pre­dom­i­nance, are en­gulfed in the same dan­ger­ously tense power strug­gle that trig­gered armed con­flicts among ma­jor and ris­ing global pow­ers a cen­tury ago. Na­tion­al­ist voices are get­ting up­per hands in each coun­try and arms races are omi­nous dark clouds over the East Asian hori­zon.

We learn his­tory to draw lessons from the past and to build a bet­ter fu­ture by avoid­ing the same mis­takes. The as­sas­si­na­tion of an heir to the throne of Aus­tria-Hun­gary pro­voked the start of the war, build­ing into con­tests be­tween al­liances of mil­i­tary pow­ers. The cir­cum­stan­tial dan­gers are hid­den in East Asia. China has no in­ten­tion of go­ing to war with the U.S. or Ja­pan. But if skir­mishes started to oc­cur and spread in an un­pre­dictable di­rec­tion, they could de­velop into a big­ger war. The ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the South China Sea could be the mines that get tripped by po­lit­i­cal or diplo­matic mis­steps.

China is en­gaged in ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with Ja­pan over the Diaoyu Is­lands (which Ja­pan calls the Senkaku Is­lands) in the East Sea and has mar­itime and is­land claims in the South China Seas that con­flict with those of Brunei, Tai­wan, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, and Cam­bo­dia. The sea dis­putes con­cern a num­ber of ar­chi­pel­a­gos and sur­round­ing fish­ing ar­eas and are highly risky be­cause sovereignt­y claims put na­tional pride at stake. Ter­ri­to­rial claims are a typ­i­cal zero-sum game. Be­cause of the ab­so­lute na­ture of sovereignt­y, a na­tion can­not tol­er­ate its ter­ri­tory be­ing claimed by some­one else. The prob­lem can be put off, but time won’t solve it. There is no win-win so­lu­tion.

A re­gional peace com­mis­sion could turn a hot­bed of dis­putes into a source of co­op­er­a­tion and co-pros­per­tiy.

So will ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes for­ever weigh on the re­gion? We can seek an an­swer to this ques­tion from Europe which has en­dured two ma­jor wars and fi­nally achieved in­te­gra­tion. In the 1950s, Euro­pean coun­tries yielded some parts of coal and steel out­put for common con­trol as the first steps to­ward in­te­gra­tion. In­dus­trial, mon­e­tary and mil­i­tary col­lab­o­ra­tion en­sued to cre­ate to­day’s Euro­pean Union. The pool­ing con­cept to share sov­er­eign pow­ers among mem­bers played the key role in knit­ting the com­mu­nity into one. In his new book on the fu­ture of Europe, Bri­tish scholar An­thony Gid­dens ar­gues for the ben­e­fits of unity un­der the con­cept of “sovereignt­y plus,” as EU mem­ber states ap­pear to give up sovereignt­y but earn more in­flu­ence in the world through the EU’s col­lec­tive iden­tity. Pool­ing sovereignt­y can de­liver sur­plus pow­ers to in­di­vid­ual states and strengthen na­tional iden­ti­ties against the wave of glob­al­iza­tion.

East Asian coun­tries also could solve their dis­putes by jointly run­ning a pool of sea ter­ri­to­ries claimed by var­i­ous na­tions. The islets and mar­itime re­sources could be­come common as­sets of the mem­ber coun­tries. A pan-na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion like the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion could over­see the ar­eas. A re­gional peace com­mis­sion could turn the hot­bed of dis­putes into a source of co­op­er­a­tion and co-pros­per­ity. De­cid­ing the stakes in the pool of sov­er­eign in­ter­ests would be mere diplo­matic tech­ni­cal­i­ties. What’s im­por­tant is a spirit of com­pas­sion for smaller states from big­ger pow­ers to achieve the kind of greater co­op­er­a­tive out­come that has led to the suc­cess of the EU.

If lead­ers could come to an agree­ment, the plan would not be so far-fetched. The dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries are not that big. They are mostly un­in­hab­it­able rocks. Be­cause they are un­in­hab­ited it should be eas­ier to reach diplo­matic ar­range­ments. To per­ceive this ar­range­ment as a sur­ren­der of sovereignt­y would be mis­guided. In­stead it should be un­der­stood as am­pli­fy­ing sovereignt­y by ex­tend­ing the ter­ri­to­rial realm. The ben­e­fits of re­source ex­ploita­tion could be shared by the mem­ber states.

The big­gest ben­e­fit would be the re­moval of sources of con­flict to build a re­gional co­op­er­a­tive net­work for last­ing peace.

Through the suc­cess of such an ex­per­i­ment with is­lands, the net­work could be de­vel­oped to cre­ates one long pan-na­tional coastal re­gion in the Pa­cific. Cre­at­ing a peace­ful stretch in the Pa­cific could be an al­ter­na­tive to re­gional war.

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