By Yun Byung-se
“Fire everywhere,” a senior EU official expressed at a recent Korea-Europe conference in Brussels to assess the world situation following the Hamas attack on Israel. It echoed my remarks to the same audience that a Pandora’s box has been opened wide on multiple fronts – geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-technological as well as on the global governance dimension.
This convergence of views is, of course, only a partial representation of ongoing debates among policymakers and opinion leaders on the current state of world affairs and their prognoses for the future. Some focus on immediate symptoms, whereas others fathom the root causes of what may be called “poly-crises” or “tectonic changes” in the global order.
With the end of the post-Cold War era, we are now entering a fragmented world, fraught more with perils than opportunities, of “unknown knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.” Geostrategic competition has triggered gaping geo-economic fractures in trade, finance and technology transfers, putting economic security upfront. What we are witnessing is a serious gap between global challenges and global responses — an over-supply of problems with a clear deficit of solutions.
This lacuna mainly stems from the hard reality that the old order is gone, but a new order is yet to come. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres elucidated in his “New Agenda for Peace” report last July that power dynamics have become increasingly fragmented in this moment of transition to a new global order and new poles of influence are yet to assume the leadership to address the poly crises that are roiling the world today.
Likewise, the Munich Security Index 2023 testified to a new age in global politics marked by an omnipresent sense of insecurity. In addition, the latest 2023 NEAR Global Survey Report released in Seoul in early December 2023 highlighted such concern over the ever-deepening, widening and prolonging divide along geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-technological fault lines.
However, views are diverging when it comes to the sense of urgency and priority of challenges and prescriptions for the future. They tend to vary, depending on where you belong – Global West, Global East and Global South – and whether you are part of certain like-minded groupings.
As for the U.S., its 2022 national security strategy report focused on ten global priorities, including competition with China, Russian aggression against Ukraine, existential threat from climate change, pandemics, economic turbulence and North Korea. The latest Hamas-Israeli war will be added to the list.
Like-minded G7 leaders chose two dozen areas of concern last May while prioritizing the Ukraine-Russia war, economic security, the Indo-Pacific (China, North Korea, etc.), the global economy, climate change, energy/food/health security, emerging technology such as AI, human rights and democracy, and the Middle East.
The historic Camp David leaders’ statements last August highlighted geopolitical competition with China including over the Taiwan Strait, climate crisis, support for Ukraine and the U.N. Charter, North Korean nuclear provocations and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), economic security and supply chain resilience, and emerging technology.
In contrast, the G20 leaders’ declaration in New Delhi in September was long on issues of growth, sustainable development, technology/digital divide, health, climate change, energy transition, multilateral institutions and terrorism, but very short on geopolitical issues except the Ukraine war.
So what will be your bet on top priorities in 2024? Cues come from two global reports mentioned above. The Munich Security Report 2023 revolves around five key areas of the future battleground – revisionist states (Russia and China), human rights, global infrastructure, development cooperation, energy security and nuclear order.
The 2023 NEAR Global Report offered its policy suggestions for future global and regional order in five key areas – management of order transition, U.S.-China strategic competition, economic security and supply chain resilience, Indo-Pacific strategies and what is defined as new multilateralism of symbiosis in which mutually reinforcing division of labor is critical among big powers, middle powers, the Global South and reformed global institutions.
Last but not least, the outcome of forthcoming elections in key stakeholders in the emerging international order, particularly the U.S., can lead to tectonic shifts in how the global order is shaped and managed, including major power competition and U.S. global role. More than two billion people in roughly 70 countries, including India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Russia, Ukraine and nations represented under the European Parliament, will head to the polls in 2024. South Korea’s general election in April will be another barometer for its own future political and strategic landscape.
Indeed, multiple daunting challenges are ahead of South Korea. It will have to navigate turbulent waters both at home and abroad safely and in the right direction. For that, it needs a grand strategy for the coming decade of danger as well as a crisis management plan for the unknowns across regions and domains.
Over the short span of 20 months, the Yoon Suk Yeol government made impressive achievements in key foreign and security policy areas, such as the ROK-US alliance, Korea-Japan relations, trilateral security cooperation among Korea, Japan and US, Korea/Japan/China trilateral cooperation, the Indo-Pacific strategy and the Global Pivotal State Initiative.
Nonetheless, we cannot afford to be complacent in the face of a shaky transition to a new world order. South Korea should be present at the creation of that order as a rule-shaper, not as a rule-taker or bystander. It demands a farsightedness, resolve and strategic mind to look over the horizon.
Allied leaders proclaimed the “Atlantic Charter” at the height of World War II. Likewise, key stakeholders in peace, prosperity and freedom can take advantage of the ever-fragmenting world order to explore the possibility of an “Indo–Pacific Charter” as suggested by the 2023 NEAR Global Survey Report. If realized, it will be a new Magna Carta, charting a new international order in this region and beyond.
Happy new year of the Blue Dragon!
Yun Byung-se, a former foreign minister of South Korea (2013-17), is now Chairman of Seoul International Law Academy (SILA), a board member of the Korea Peace Foundation and a member of several ex-global leaders’ forums and task forces, including the Astana Forum and its Consultative Council.