Kindness as an Instrument of Foreign Policy

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Thursday, April 12, the government of North Korea launched a multi-stage rocket which it said was intended to put a satellite into orbit, but which our government feared was an attempt to test that rocket as a potential vehicle for the long-distance delivery of nuclear weapons. It’s a scary thought to be sure. The only good news is that the rocket malfunctioned and never achieved its stated or other objectives. At most, its failed launching will turn out to be a learning experience for North Korean rocket scientists and engineers.

Shortly thereafter, the United States.. No, let’s make that “we,” to personalize the point. Shortly thereafter, we canceled a deal we had struck with North Korea to provide badly needed food aid to that country in return for its agreeing to calm things down and not initiate any threatening, “provocative” actions.

Keeping in mind that I am absolutely no fan of dictatorships and of the North Korean government in particular, I have a problem with what we’ve done. First of all, it’s North Korea’s right as a sovereign nation – whether or not we like the form or substance of its government – to develop weapons, including weapons we have long had in abundance. “We have these weapons, lots and lots of them, very high tech and powerful, but you (North Korea) can’t.” That’s what we’re saying. Why not? Because we don’t trust that they will have them, but not use them.

Unfortunately, our argument is intellectually, maybe even morally corrupt.

Think about it. If we have absolutely no intention of using our weapons, conventional, nuclear, whatever, why do we have them? As a deterrent? For self-defense? To protect and further the national interests of our country? Fine. So why don’t those same justifications work for North Korea? They work for China and Russia. For our European allies. For India. Pakistan? For Israel. Why not North Korea?

The answer is not because we don’t trust them, or because they’re not a democratic government. It’s because North Korea is small, currently poses no military threat to the United States and is un-influential, except as a nuisance, in the grand scheme of world politics. Because we don’t depend upon their economy. And, most importantly, because we can get away with it. Does anybody out there really think we’re going to stop trading with or, heaven forbid, stop borrowing from China if they test a new rocket that might have military applications? Of course not.

And then, we strike a deal: Food for the people of North Korea in return for what we define as acceptable behavior by the government of North Koreas, the same government that doesn’t care a rat’s tush about its people. My personal religious beliefs aside, and to use the term generically, I can’t image a less Christian, less humane, less kind proposal. “You’re people are suffering, even starving. We, on the other hand, have an abundance of food” – but apparently a complete lack of charity. “We’ll give your people that food, but only if you, the government, behave.” What’s not to like?

Our beef, no pun intended, is not with the people of North Korea. Our problem is with the relatively few who run the country. Those few misbehaved, failed to abide by our rules and the deal we imposed on them, and our reaction is to punish the masses, to threaten the health and even the survival of countless thousands of innocents. And we pretend to take the moral high ground in international politics? Wow. Talk about audacity. Our government’s foreign policy makes us the poster child of hypocrisy.

Here’s an idea. Let’s try kindness as an instrument of foreign policy. Give the people of North Korea food, unconditionally. Even better, send our farmers, agricultural scientists and engineers, nutritionists and other specialists with the seed, fertilizers and equipment the people of North Korea can use to develop their agricultural resources and feed themselves. (Not incidentally, we’ll be turning foreign aid into more jobs for Americans which is always a good thing.)

It may take a generation or two, but the net result will be a favorable, lasting relationship between the people of North Korea and America that will, eventually, encourage the civilized North Korean democracy we are after. Oh, and there’s another reason we should give them the food, regardless of their government’s saber rattling. Because it’s not just the smart, it’s also the right thing to do.

-wf

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