September 28, 2022

Engaging with engagement: Preferring to talk only to God

It’s not just North Korea; U.S. has long history of not talking things out with opponents

Quite frequently there are calls from Americans for their government to “engage” with North Korea. Such exhortations naturally are more frequent around anniversaries, such as that of the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, or after nuclear tests, but there are sufficient numbers of Americans concerned about the dangers of war on the Korean peninsula, or more commonly a perceived threat to the U.S., for the topic never to fall off the radar. The underlying issue of the U.S.-DPRK relationship may continue to fester, the appeals for a negotiated resolution may persist, but administration policy shows no signs of changing.

The reasons for that lie in the wider geopolitical environment, particularly the containment of China. However, there are aspects of this which go beyond North Korea – the U.S. has traditionally been loath to accept a normal diplomatic relationship with adversaries. It refused to have much to do with China for a quarter century after 1949 and today, according to the New York Times, the administration has “written off” Russia and President Obama has decided that “he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin.” When things really need to be talked about, the U.S. so often retreats into splendid isolation. The old ditty about the reluctance of the Boston Brahmins to talk to the lower orders (which presumably included loathsome foreigners) perhaps has a contemporary and continuing relevance: