The US is now poised to use military force against Iraq, and a massive attack appears inevitable. At the same time, however, the anti-war sentiments rising around the world have also spread to the local media. Several hundred academics have even joined a signature drive against the war. Some people in the opposition parties have described Taiwan's government policy toward the war as being that of an "ass-kisser."
Facing such a major change in the international situation and hearing so many different opinions aired domestically, the government certainly needs to clarify its stance to let people understand that its foreign policy formulation is based on the interests of the majority of its constituents.
Since diplomatic relations were severed in 1979, Taiwan and the US have not been military allies with an established defense treaty. Under the US-Taiwan Relations Act, however, the two sides maintain friendship with regards to security issues. The US was the only country in the world willing to send a large fleet to the Taiwan Strait to ensure the survival of Taiwan's democracy during the 1995 to 1996 missile crisis. The prevalence of "fast-food media" has consistently eroded our nation's culture, causing the public to pay attention to major issues for only a few days. But the historical memory of the government and the people should not become so shallow and short-sighted that they forget what the US government did for Taiwan at such a crucial moment in the nation's democratization.
When Taiwan needed help the most, the US acted without hesitation. Therefore, Taiwan must absolutely not be ungrateful when the US needs support. Some scholars have said that we should oppose the war because the various countries, organizations and individuals that oppose the US now will also step forward and oppose Beijing (for Taiwan's sake) in the future. The question is: Did activists such as those who are undressing themselves in protest against the war in Iraq remove so much as even their makeup when Taiwan was facing serious threats in the past?
The most common reason opposition parties and anti-war demonstrators cite as immoral is that the US is taking unilateral action. They point out that if Washington attacks Iraq without clear authorization by the UN Security Council, then China could duplicate the US' actions in the future. This is a naive and disingenuous analysis of cross-strait relations, based on the presumption that China would first seek authorization from the Security Council if it wanted to attack Taiwan.
By extension, would the US need authorization from the Security Council if it wanted to send troops to defend Taiwan? The people of Taiwan should not forget that the institution called the UN has not even recognized this nation yet.
Whether we like it or not, today's international situation is very different from that of the 1990s. And the international system of the Cold War as well as the rules that maintained it are no longer applicable in their entirety. For the US, the UN has become a nearly unbearable institution. Despite having made a worthwhile effort, the US has had its hands tied by other countries in the policy-making process of the UN bureaucracy. Even the UN Human Rights Commission, whose mission is to promote human rights, has been controlled by countries with dismal records in upholding their own citizens' rights. The 1945 vision of countries uniting for world peace and international human rights under the aegis of the UN has gradually blurred. New rules for maintaining world peace are already forming in the new unipolar-superpower international system.
Opposing war internationally is not equivalent to promoting peace internationally. Such opposition does not ensure peace, because international reality has never matched idealistic posturing. Peace can only be established in an international environment in which hostile leaders can reach common understanding on each other's positions. Peace can only endure on a foundation of justice. Ironically, the most important opportunity for peace in the Middle East came after the 1991 Gulf War, when talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians were held under the auspices of strong US leadership, with the joint effort of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. These are the factors which made the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords on interim self-government possible.
Now, the looming war in Iraq could also be a new opportunity for building peace in the Middle East, which has seen continual turmoil since Rabin's assassination in 1995.
After understanding Taiwan's choices amongst the international realities, we also need to consider what our government can do. Taiwan can definitely play an appropriate role in the peace-building process. This role depends not only on Taiwan's government, but also on the efforts of its entire people. Charitable organizations, such as the Tzu Chi Foundation, World Vision and the Eden Social Welfare Foundation, cooperated with the government after the Afghan war to help refugees resettle, thereby helping to eliminate factors that could lead to another war in the future. Such efforts in this chaotic world are a great contribution to peace from the government and the people of Taiwan. Our nation, alongside other countries, will once again send its love to the Middle East after the war comes to an end.
Peace should be one of the most important goals in the new century, but blind opposition to war is not enough to achieve real peace. Rather, one needs to give with boundless love and quietly build the foundations for peace. This is the work that the government is undertaking now. Opposing war and the US should be left to knee-jerk opposition parties.
Joseph Wu is deputy secretary-general to the president.
Translated by Francis Huang
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