A recent article cited the U.S. Secretary of State during a meeting with a special presidential envoy from South Korea in Washington on May 18 as urging North Korea to trust the administration in its promise of no hostility. Tillerson stated that the U.S. does not seek a change of the Pyongyang regime, has no plans to invade North Korea, and that Washington would guarantee the existence of the current system in North Korea.
Even if Kim were inclined to trust the current U.S. administration – a stretch of the imagination in the first place, given how often U.S. President Trump has changed his mind on one thing or another – what about succeeding presidents?
But as it is, with first one U.S. aircraft carrier strike force –then a second – in Korean waters and flyovers of the peninsula by American nuclear-capable long-range bombers that followed a series of public conversations in Washington about pre-emptive strikes and decapitation exercises, a claim of non-hostility is quite unbelievable.
It seems quite removed from reality for American policy makers to expect that, after shows of force and military posturing, any statement professing no ill will would be believed. Kim Jong Un reads the writing on the wall better than those who wrote the message. That message is clear: the U.S. has a great number of big sticks, and it is not about to speak softly.
TALKS ABOUT TALKS
Some pundits might point out that even though the demonstration of force is in conflict with the message of Washington’s words, that variance merely results in a temporary confusion.
In looking at this from the North’s position, one can easily see that the outcome is far worse than that, for actions always speak louder than words. Why would anyone trust the U.S. in tense times like this? But without some degree of trust, there is no hope for success at any level of negotiations on any matter.
Kim Jong Un reads the writing on the wall better than those who wrote the message
Further, and regarding unofficial or quasi-official meetings, the Secretary of State is said to have flatly stated that the U.S. does not communicate with foreign countries through “back channels.” That is astonishingly incorrect.
There had been a Track II meeting between American experts and North Korean officials in Oslo, Norway, from May 8th to the 10th, barely more than a week before. Just to be clear, another source referred more accurately to the talks as being at the Track 1.5 level. Regardless, that distinction makes very little difference, for it is undeniably a back-channel communication, no matter which label is used.
Perhaps the good Secretary was unaware that the Oslo meeting was public knowledge. In any case, it was imprudent to deny that the U.S. engages in such deliberations when the contrary is so well known. Such a misstatement is a direct hit on U.S. diplomatic credibility. Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing, does the head even know that its hands are not coordinated?
To a number of observers, it seems that American foreign policy is flapping in the breeze. These missteps indicate that the U.S. does not know what it is doing and that it does not have a coherent approach for Northeast Asia. That could entice an enemy into some provocation that otherwise would not be attempted. Then some sort of response would be required, and things could quickly escalate out of control from there.
To a number of observers, it seems that American foreign policy is flapping in the breeze
Setting aside the problems brought about by the recent self-inflicted wounds to the credibility of American foreign policy, the out-of-hand dismissal of sub-formal communications between Pyongyang and Washington is amateurish and uninformed.
At times, there is great utility in using non-official or quasi-official vectors of communication. This is certainly true in dealing with countries regarding sensitive subjects, and often there is a need to feel out possible avenues of compromise or areas of mutual interest without fear of exposure to premature criticism or without being part of any formal record.
U.S. officials need to exhibit a far better awareness about the activities of others acting on behalf of the American government. It would also be of value for many of the recent political appointees in Washington to brush up on Diplomacy 101: the words and actions coming out of Washington these days are just not good enough to meet the demands of international relations in Northeast Asia.
Featured image: State Department
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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