Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thoughts on the Korean Crisis (and why I can never really be a negotiator)

First post in a while and I do this? Why not another one on the LP? Because whenever I think about what Drilon and co. have done to the Party I love I get really close to a heart attack and I really, REALLY want to enjoy life now that I'm turning 30. I'll deal with those bastards some other time.

I was reading through details of the six-party talks on the (latest) North Korea issue, and if there was a better contemporary example to the efficacy of dialogue and diplomacy over knee-jerk options like bombing an offending country to the Stone Age, then this is it.

When the issue of NoKor beginning something like a nuke weapon research program started to filter into the world's attention, it understandably caused quite a concern. This was, after all, the... most unpredictable nation in the world, bar none, with a leader who is probably as unpredictable as his government's image (or more so). Saying North Korea was starting to make nuclear weapons was like handing the Football - the case that activates the American Nuclear Arsenal - to a psychotic pre-pubescent neanderthal on aggressor drugs.

If that was me, my first reaction would probably have been to mobilize an insane amount of troops and weaponry right on NoKor's doorstep as a not-so-subtle and over sized version of the policeman's "drop your weapon" threat. If NoKor answered this with a "bring it on!", then by all means I would not have hesitated to do Korean War Round 2 (or is it three already?). After making sure my back and flanks were well-protected, of course.

But that's me. I was never the negotiator of my generation's Guardians, after all. I was their analyst, their strategist, their protector. The center of the shield, the tip of the spear, the leading edge of the sword. My Training regarding threats was to not just eliminate them but also to prevent their being able to effectively threaten me or the one's I protect. This is premised on the principle that not all parties in a conflict think alike, and that there will be parties who will never see the situation the way you, in your liberal, democratic, republican and civilized upbringing would.

But yes, this is a big victory for the negotiators, for those who were told they were talking with the impossible. Students learning the intricate and delicate art of negotiation and conflict resolution should read up on how this was done.

Its also important to note, amidst all the criticism from the American Left and Right, that the success of this round of the talks hinged mostly on the principle of compromise. I have always maintained that negotiations can never happen, or be fruitful if they do occur, so long as at least one party in the talks is taking a hardline stance. Without sacrificing the basic premise of your side's position, one must allow room for maneuver. There must be concessions from all sides. There must be that general feeling of openness to resolving a conflict through dialogue and negotiation, and this cannot exist so long as one party says, "no: my way or the highway."

At the very least, this should be a hats-off to Christopher Hill, Washington's envoy to the North Koreans. I like that little anecdote attributed to him that may have provided the important breakthrough: a Korean proverb about filling a cup with too much liquid that it drains out, leaving nothing. I wonder where I can find the exact wording of that one? It seemed to have doused cold water - haha, pun not intended - on Pyongyang's greed, trying to act more like a hostage-taker demanding terms than a sovereign state dealing with its peers.

I have to hand it to the almost inhuman - it IS Pyongyang we're talking about here, after all - patience and perseverance of Hill and US SecState Condi Rice. In my new gestalt, the first thing I determine is whether or not a course of action will be effective in the persecution of a goal. If in my analysis it shows up that further action will lead nowhere but to an escalation that drains resources for no justifiable gain, then its time to cut one's losses and regroup. Or abandon the field entirely. That Hill and Rice persevered so far, despite the known preferences of their boss in the White House, should at least reap praises.

Let's just hope this goes on to a happy ending. For although a warrior's best tool is always himself as a weapon, a real warrior, a Guardian, knows that the drawing of the blade is in itself a failure because you were forced to take the final recourse. In its most ancient traditions, a drawn blade was never sheathed without shedding blood, for to draw it on another was a clear sign of serious and deadly intent.

This way, warriors need not draw the blade once again. The Sheath still holds steel, and blood does not needlessly stain the ground again.

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