Today's date:
Winter 2002


Closing the Digital Gap Is Key to Peace

Kim Dae Jung, president of the Republic of Korea, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2000.

Seoul-Beyond the multinational campaign against terrorism initiated in 2001, the international community needs to pool its power to establish lasting peace as it ushers in a wholly new chapter in human history, the age of knowledge and information. The first task is to close the widening gap between the rich and poor, the root cause of major conflicts in today's world.

The century we just left behind had more than 250 wars of various sizes. An incredible 110 million people lost their lives in these conflicts, and about 60 percent of them, or 63 million people, were civilians.

Wars in the 20th century had two main causes: nationalism and ideology. The confrontation caused by nationalism swept the world in the first half of the 20th century. Humanity experienced it through two world wars. Even today, world peace is threatened by the nationalistic confrontation in some parts of the Middle East.

The confrontation caused by ideology, too, brought the East-West Cold War for more than 40 years, beginning with the Korean War in 1950. The long shadow of the Cold War still darkens the Korean peninsula. Aside from nationalism and ideology, conflicts between races, religions and cultures are occurring in various places around the world.

Wars continue in the 21st century while one of the greatest revolutions in history is in progress. It is the revolution of information and globalization. In the 20th century, tangible elements-including land, capital and labor-were the sources of economic development. In the 21st century, however, intangible elements such as knowledge and information, creativity and spirit of adventure are becoming the core of competitive strength.

Two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, the final curtain has come down on the paradigm of the age of industrialization. Now, knowledge-based economies are fast expanding. Even poor nations and poor individuals will now be able to create wealth if they can make the best use of a computer.

The current information revolution can be termed as the fifth epochal event since the birth of the human species. First was the emergence of agrarian civilizations some 10,000 years ago; second, the birth of four great civilizations along the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers 5,000 to 6,000 years ago; third, the revolution of thought that took place in China, India, Greece and Israel 2,500 years ago, and, fourth, the Industrial Revolution that began at the end of the 18th century.

The Industrial Revolution laid the economic foundation for the emergence of modern nations. At the same time, it prepared the way for nationalism. Stronger people did not hesitate to proceed on the path toward "aggressive nationalism," namely imperialism, while weaker people resorted to a strategy of "defensive nationalism." Confrontation between them resulted in the tragedy of two world wars in the 20th century.

The Industrial Revolution surely brought development and great affluence to civilization. But behind it were the dark shadows of the miserable sacrifices of weaker people and the wars of imperialism of stronger nations.

What then will be the light and shadow of the age of information and globalization in the 21st century?

The information revolution, known as the "Third Wave," opens the door to the new possibilities of knowledge-based economies. Knowledge and information have emerged as the core elements creating wealth. Yet, there is the problem of disparity in information capabilities.

Behind the bright facade of information and globalization is the dark shadow of inequality in the advancement of information among nations, called the "digital divide." Nations that have economic power derived from information technologies are overwhelming the economies of developing countries.

More than 75 percent of benefits from enhanced information capabilities are concentrated in advanced nations. Developing nations are lagging behind. The gap in information capabilities between the advanced and developing nations means a widening gap between the rich and poor. And the faster information capabilities are enhanced, the wider the gap between the rich and poor becomes.

Behind the destructive fanaticism that is occurring in various places in the world today as well as the anti-globalization movement is anger over the gap between the rich and poor. Moreover, worldwide environmental degradation will be accelerated if the digital gap triggers indiscriminate development of developing nations as a means of survival.

On the other hand, the information revolution, as it inevitably accelerates openness and globalization, causes cultural conflicts. National boundaries are becoming practically meaningless as enormous amounts of information are spreading around the world instantaneously. The worsening of poverty and cultural conflicts leads to various kinds of fanaticism. Thus, enhanced information capabilities and globalization could also threaten world peace in the 21st century.

To resolve the basic problem of the digital divide, there has to be international interest and cooperation. Advanced nations must use their leadership to help developing countries with various kinds of support, including the construction of an information infrastructure.

All humanity must share the benefits from enhanced information capabilities and globalization. The interests and diversity of all nations and all peoples must be respected. Poor nations and poor people will not be patient forever, and the international society should hold serious and active discussions on this issue.
Respect for human rights and democracy as universal values is another ingredient for world peace in the 21st century and the primary condition for the safety and happiness of humankind.

The Korean peninsula remains the last legacy of the Cold War of the 20th century. Peace on the peninsula is not only the ardent wish of the 70 million Korean people but also directly linked to peace in East Asia and the world. The "sunshine policy" of my administration aims at preparing for eventual peaceful unification by establishing coexistence and peaceful interaction between South and North Korea. All nations and all peace-loving organizations, including the United Nations, support this policy.

I visited Pyongyang in June last year and held an historic inter-Korean summit with Chairman Kim Jong Il of North Korea's National Defense Commission. We agreed not to repeat the tragedy of war but to make joint efforts for exchanges and cooperation. Since then, tensions have eased greatly and a lot of positive changes have occurred on the Korean peninsula. Exchanges and cooperation between the South and North have proceeded rapidly at times and slowly at other times.

On September 15, only four days after the terrorist attacks on the United States, inter-Korean ministerial talks were held in Seoul, and agreements were reached, concerning reunions of separated families, the relinking of a railway and several other projects. Although inter-Korean relations are in a state of stagnation now, the people of Korea are convinced that the path toward a genuine peace and eventual reunification will open again if the two sides make utmost efforts with patience and consistency.

There is no alternative to the sunshine policy; it is a win-win policy that contributes to peace and safety not only in South and North Korea but also the entire world.

Living through the 20th century, the age of world wars, humankind has not given up hope for peace. After World War I, the League of Nations was formed; after World War II, the United Nations was created to ensure an end to worldwide con?icts. Endeavors toward peace will continue in the 21st century. Communication and cooperation should be the driving force for progress.

To cope wisely with the new issues of the 21st century, including the problem of eliminating the gap between the rich and poor, cooperative relations should be forged between nations, cultures, religions and races through dialogue.

Communication leads to understanding and then to cooperation. Where there is cooperation, we can expect a resolution of the problem of poverty. When these things are realized, the threat of war will disappear.