Wed, Jan 31, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The Korean thaw and global post-diplomacy

By Ian Inkster and Mark Lai

During that long period of Cold War, itself dependent upon and an outcome of nuclear arms races, the enemy was relatively well defined and was located spatially; now it is ill-defied and free of space in that terrorists might appear on the bus or in the cinema and might be acting under an ideology far removed from their place of birth. Previous outbreaks of war meant international declarations in advance and actual deaths in the field were the principal measures of success, rather than today’s degrees of civilian terror.

In the new circumstances, diplomacy and the reaching of long-term understandings are much more difficult to attain within a widening group of nuclear-capable nations, and the addition of the fractious and recalcitrant North Korea merely brings this all out into the open more clearly. When we add to this the excitability of Trump and the lethargy of Europe and the UN, we cannot forecast the balance of events for even the next few months.

From last year we live in a unique conjuncture — exemplified, but not defined in both the coming of age of North Korean military status and the coming of Trump. We are fast moving toward post-diplomacy in which relations within the old comity of nations are being replaced by emergencies caused by strategically placed leaders. This leads to a situation where now a premature stupid action might become a last action before nuclear war, in contrast to an old world wherein even stupid actions by thoughtless leaders could be resolved within a quieter world of the diplomats, and where their failures resulted in more limited conventional warfare.

At the present thaw we can all doubt the depth of North Korea’s sincerity and the extent of South Korea’s sagacity. However, where in earlier cases of nuclear transition there has been some modicum of interpower understandings, where potential rogue elements could be challenged and inhibited by treaty or by commercial blackmail, or even by non-nuclear force, today’s North Korean nuclear capability has emerged in an era wherein governance is unstable and where rogues are everywhere.

Ian Inkster is professorial research associate at the Center of Taiwan Studies, SOAS, University of London; a senior fellow at the Taiwan Studies Programme, China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham; and the editor of the international journal History of Technology. Mark Lai is an associate professor in the Department of International Affairs at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages.

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