Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More thoughts on growth engines: Military Technology

An article appeared in the English Chosun Ilbo today with the headline "Soldiers to get High Tech Combat Uniforms." If ever there was need for a reminder that the mainstream media around the globe have mis-placed their emphasis, this is it. The mainstream media would have us believe that North Korea's nuclear development and the associates Six-Party Talks are the major problem here. All the while, these same media report only in passing that South Korea has now become a technology and innovation driven, advanced economy, with military technology that far exceeds any capabilities in the North.
The article includes the following passage: "Soldiers of the future operating in winter will wear cold-weather clothing equipped with temperature-adjusting mechanisms. Their color-shifting uniforms will use digital camouflage patterns that mimic their surroundings, be it rocks or trees. Their bulletproof helmets will be outfitted with global positioning systems (GPS), image-transmitting devices and long-distance communications equipment. Previously imaginable only in sci-fi movies, this kind of high-tech gear will be supplied to South Korea's servicemen by 2020. "
Given South Korea's track record in high technology, this is a reasonable goal and will probably be realized. Contrast that with the state of nuclear weapons technology in the North.
The very thought of military technology as an export growth engine makes me think of my father, who was a great fan of President Dwight Eisenhower. In the 1952 U.S. presidential campaign, Eisenhower campaigned by saying "I will go to Korea," to end an unpopular war here. Near the end of his two-term presidency, he gave a now-famous speech warning against the unchecked growth of the "military-industrial" complex. President Eisenhower said:
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. "
Today, the pressing issue in Korea is the digital divide, which can also be characterized as a technology gap. This needs to be addressed and solved so that the country, so tragically divided after World War II, can be reunited and move ahead. Technologically and economically speaking, there are many growth engines other than military technology and one might hope that the two Koreas will agree on future emphases other than the military one.

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