Friday, August 7, 2009

Solecism a l'americaine. Whither a new approach to North Korea?

Yesterday Guam Diary broached the matter of solecism in US' approach to the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea], by giving a rundown of the discussion at the Japan Society in New York. Theme: North Korea: the challenges for the US, Japan, and South Korea. A scholar on Korea, an ex CIA analyst, and a former senior diplomat now president of the New York based Korea Society discussed the topic for the scheduled time of 60 minutes. As Guam Diary observed, the former CIA analyst tersely summed up the issues by saying US policy towards North Korea is as though it had jumped out of an aeroplane without a parachute, and was in free fall, and nursing hope against hope for a soft landing somewhere, anywhere. In the glare of the DPRK's new standpoint towards the US, the scholar and the former senior diplomat dig heels into outdated positions, stating that North Korea had stepped over the line that the US had drawn in the sand, and that was a matter of very serious concern. Which when analysed boiled down to the nitty gritty, and stripped to its bare bones, we find a good example of American exceptionalism. The US had laid down terms of engagement, and North Korea was playing the game as planned. Books, doctoral theses, and endless articles have been written on the matter, To not put a finer point, it can be best summed up by referring to a quotation from the Bible: America can see the mote in the DPRK's eye, but not the speck of dust in its own eye.
For America, the chapter on Korea is hardly stellar. The armies of the DPRK and the Chinese volunteers fought the UN forces, actually commanded with full authority by the US with little UN control and imput, to a stalemate. Then the US had egg on its face with the 'Pueblo' incident; almost took up arms in the mid 1970's during the 'tree cutting incident' at the 38 parallel, and fast forward to the early years of the Clinton administration, itching for a fight, found itself outmaneuvered by the surprise visit of Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang, and an agreement with Kim Il Sung which provided what nostalgically looks like the opening and golden age of discussions and negotiations with the DPRK especially on the nuclear issue. The 8 years of George Bush torpedoed any progress made; Mr. Bush's missteps and ideologically driven policy towards the DPRK, turned Pyongyang into a nuclear power. This made Bush backpeddle and in a tack not to discuss anything face to face with North Korea, devised the six party talk which made any breakthroughs on outstanding and pressing issues long and arduous and laboriously without much headway. With BHO, positions hardened the more especially since Kim Jong il didn't put off the launch of a satellite on a long range rocket. His refusal gave wide berth to sanctions in the UN Security Council initiated by BHO & co., measures which Pyongyang labelled causes for war. And there the matter lay, doubled with the start up of the DPRK's nuclear programme which it had shut down, more short and medium rocket launches, and an underground explosion which no sensors would qualify as a nuclear explosion.
Fortuitously, two US journalists got nabbed for entering North Korea illegally; were tried and condemned to 12 years of hard labour. This was the hook on which the opportunity hung for relaxing a war of propaganda which heightened tensions between the US and the DPRK.
For Pyongyang watchers something was a foot when in early July, the US didn't condemn Pyongyang's launch of short and medium range missiles in early July, followed by an apology to North Korea on behalf of the two reporters, who openly and willingly acknowledged that they had entered the DPRK illegally, and after this came Citizen Bill Clinton's trip to Pyongyang and their release.
In the meantf ime, Kim Jong il had put forth new positions, calling for face to face talks with Washington, since it had since April 2009 walked out for good, it is noted, from the six party talks in Beijing; for the US' part, BHO had put South Korea under the US nuclear protection. Now, Pyongyang saw this as a restatement of a threat to its own survival and wanted to recognised as a nuclear power which the US refused to do. On the heels of a call for direct negotiations, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon announced that such talks, another avenue for defusing heightened tension, were indeed welcome. In fact, here we may see a modality to achieve denuclearisation of the divided Korean peninsula by Pyongyang agreeing to stop for good its nuclear programme and Washington removing nuclear cover over South Korea, which decompress a situation which by chance or design lead to nuclear war, and thus allow the DPRK's neighbours room to breathe a sigh of relief. Now back to the Japan Society panel.
But for the realism of the ex CIA speaker, the scholar and the former senior diplomat brushed aside discussion of North Korea's new position, falling back on returning to six party talks in Beijing, honouring past commitments, etc. They refused to consider Kim Jong il's call for recognition of the DPRK as a nuclear power who might like South Africa and Libya give up its weapons, or another process other than a return to Beijing which Pyongyang proclaimed a dead horse. Such demands were they loudly proclaimed, unacceptable, although the former diplomat to the sheer surprise of the scholar's arched eyebrows, thought there was something in toe to toe talks. But recognition of North Korea was hors de oquestion, pure and simple. No one raised the matter of Israel's undeclared nuclear stockpile, bu some would say, Israel neither denied nor confirmed that it was a nuclear power, which at the time of the Suez Crisis of 1956 the Socialist coalition of Guy Mollet transferred nuclear technology to Israel to allow it to join the nuclear club. Israel swears that it will never use first such weapons and at the same time not saying its a nuclear nation. Such a fiction could work in the case of North Korea, but even to think in this manner, we are treading don the thin ice of lese majeste for America's elite who have imput on elaborating US policy.
We are in the hallowed presence of sacred texts, set in stone. We see a stubbornness to think outside the box, as the Americans like to say. Which simply underscores the ex CIA analyst's remarks that the US has nothing new in its approach to North Korea.
Elaborators and commentators and thought merchants such as the scholar and the former diplomat, should know almost instinctively that in diplomacy the sands shift rapidly or slowly but nothing is in stasis. What the US is lacking is any meaningful contact with the DPRK, although as the ex CIA panelist pointed out that there is enough material and contacts with say the Chinese and the Russians, to glean a goodly amount of information about what's happening in the DPRK. For what we read in the mainstream US press is a lot of fanciful reporting of rumour and innuendo, which like the wind blow today in one direction, and two minutes later in another.
No one is going to defend the DPRK for its repressive internal policies, but on the diplomatic playing field it is an independent country which deserves equal treatment. Something which US policy makers and analysts and scholars hardly recognise.
No one knows what BHO & co will do next, hiding behind the fiction that Citizen Clinton's trip didn't originate with them, wink, wink, wink, nor on the basis of Clinton's discussions with Kim Jong il to whom he extended a written or verbal message. But for the moment, if we go by official pronouncement of the White House or State, or the ideas advanced at Japan Society, we come away with an typically American solecism...a view of the world that what the US ordains, the world should follow. But as the French expression goes, it is more as though the US policy wonks and elites and government myopic in view take the clock striking two o'clock as the noon hour. With such a distorted view, little wonder US policy towards North Korea blunders.

No comments:

Post a Comment