Bond on North Korea

Out of range, out of mind: Is there a role for Europe in the Korean crisis?” 

What can Europe hope to do about the situation in North Korea? Ian Bond (director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform) has some suggestions (link to full article  here):

“If this becomes a shooting war, Europe’s practical role in Korea will be limited (though European forces may be called on to stand in for US forces in areas closer to home, and some allies may have niche capabilities to offer). But if, as most experts believe, the situation eventually calms down, in the longer term Europeans can help North Korea and the concerned powers to move forward by taking the initiative in four areas. 

First, the EU should reinstate its formal political dialogue with the DPRK, postponed last November as tension around North Korea’s weapons programmes grew. The Union should also encourage the European Parliament to keep channels of communication open. The Parliament wants to maintain a firm line with North Korea but it has in the past had contacts with the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly. Even if EU officials and MEPs are unlikely to get close to any of the real decision-makers in North Korea, such contacts would expose North Korean officials to European thinking and perhaps challenge their preconceptions about Western aims. 

Second, the EU should support ‘track-two’ dialogues. Think-tanks and academic institutions in several European countries have acted as venues for discreet discussions between North Korean and Western experts and former officials. If the North wants to improve relations – an important caveat – then such fora could allow it to explore new approaches without commitment and without having to take public positions. A degree of official backing from European governments or the EU itself could help to convince the North Koreans that Europeans are also serious about helping to reduce regional tension and improve relations.

Third, the EU could strengthen people-to-people and cultural co-operation. The North Korean authorities do not make this easy, as the 2009 closure of the Goethe Institute reading room in Pyongyang showed. But there have been some successes, such as the visit of the Munich Chamber Orchestra in 2012 and the showing of ‘Bend it like Beckham’ on state television in 2010; and the British Council has a long-running programme of teaching English teachers in North Korea, using a UK-focused curriculum. Without exaggerating their impact, such connections could help to expose some North Koreans to the reality of life outside, and implicitly encourage them to draw a contrast with official propaganda about the West.

Finally, Europeans should support economic and business training. In the long run, nothing in North Korea can improve much without a radical change of economic course. Where is the DPRK going to find the people to lead and manage such a process? Inevitably, China will have the greatest part to play, given its proximity and its own history of economic transformation. But Europeans – and especially, perhaps, those from the former communist countries – should  offer their insights and expertise. According to Professor Susan Shirk of the University of California at San Diego, and a former senior State Department official, such low-key, non-political capacity building could strengthen the voices of economic rationality within the country”

Compliments to Mr. Bond for this is all good practical thinking. Mostly soft power ‘attraction’ moves, but I see nothing wrong with that. Long before Joseph Nye got to it, Confucius said, “ if things are thus, and people at a distance after all do not serve you, then cultivate learning and virtue to entice them to come”, and Confucius is big in Korea.

I rather think that the present sabre-rattling will not lead to war or anything like it. By giving various parties a chance to do some more thinking and talking about security in East Asia, it may actually end up having long term benefits.

1 Comment

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One response to “Bond on North Korea

  1. John Ingamells

    All sensible stuff. But it is hard to see this type of ‘soft’ diplomacy having any impact while the Kim dynasty is still there. It has all the hallmarks of a regime that can only stand or fall. Reform or an attempt at gradual, controlled opening will only expose the lunacy that the regime is built on. The Chinese won’t like it, but we really should be thinking longer-term to the post-Kim era. It might still be years away but it is the only place we’ll make any headway in the North.

    ‘Confucius is big in Korea’. Is he really? According to Wiki, “The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.” I wonder what the old man would have made of Kim Jong-un!!!!

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