The other day, as I was sitting at a College Library computer, reading for my education policy class, I temporarily grew bored and started perusing websites (I swear, by the way, if you look at Facebook for just one second, that's when someone happens to walk behind you) that had little or no relevance to cultural differences in the American classroom. Skipping around the Internet, one particular headline on CNN.com caught my eye: "North Korea Calls the U.S. Bluff." This, like most of the headlines early this week, was a reference to the fulfillment of perennial funnyman Kim Jong Il's pledge to detonate a nuclear device Monday. But the triviality of the headline seemed to present an issue almost as, if not more, important than the one it was referencing. I began to wonder: Is the relationship between the world's power players as simple as that which you'd find between some guys sitting around a poker table?
As part of the uninformed citizenry that you and I belong to, we are made to feel as though diplomatic relations are something so complicated that we're better off not even knowing about what goes on behind the scenes. Is this really the case? One advantage the political establishment has always had on those it governs is the ability to classify its information. In doing so, it is able to convince a majority of the populace that it is always pursuing the most appropriate course with only their best interests in mind. Strangely, this strategy has effectively gone largely unquestioned through the years.
"Diplomatic relations are so complex," say you and I — not actually knowing anything at all about what kind of diplomacy is even taking place on the global stage — "that those peaceniks on the corner, pleading for some kind of simple, ambiguous harmony, must be the most naíve people on the planet." Maybe, though, it's us believers in our honest establishment who have been duped.
Considering the aforementioned, recent nuclear skirmish in North Korea, you might recall the "diplomatic" approach taken by the United States as the situation developed. While our European counterparts scrambled to develop some sort of dialogue with the renegade country in Eastern Asia, the know-alls in Washington simply decided they would pout until Kim Jong Il finally came to and decided to hand over his arsenal.
Seriously though, the Bush administration, if you can believe it, actually abstained from dialogue with North Korea as the country built up its nuclear program into Monday's climax. The U.S. president was not even willing to answer a phone call from Pyongyang! As I recall, North Korea is part of his own axis of evil, not to mention the fact that this administration — you would think — has learned a lesson or two about employing diplomacy until such an approach has been exhausted.
People want so badly to believe that, in our modern age, the relationships between nation-states are ones of open dialogue and sensibility, shielded from us by our leaders only because of their sophistication. But it's hard to maintain this faith when, from the perspective of someone who reads a daily newspaper, countries and their leaders are barely distinguishable from children on a playground. Consider various irrational military conflicts of the last century:
World War I was little more than a bunch of countries grudgingly entering into a conflict for no other reason than to assist another country with which a truce had been made — the latter country having recently entered the war for the same reason.
The two atomic bombs dropped by President Truman were spaced apart by only three days. Even if the first bomb had actually been necessary to force Japan's surrender, didn't the U.S. have enough diplomatic leverage after its deployment to attain said surrender without hastily deciding to eliminate Nagasaki, too?
It was well into the Cold War before an emergency telephone line between Washington and Moscow was even established. Think; these two superpowers had the ability to destroy the world many times over as a result of their grudge match, yet weren't even in touch with each other.
More recently, we have witnessed the clash between Israel and Lebanon. However you might feel about its initial instigation, there seems to have been something of a consensus from the outset that the conflict would inevitably end in a cease-fire with no territory gained by either party. Why, then, did it take negotiators so long to simply get a few forms signed before all of Lebanon was demolished?
And these are only a few of many, many such instances.
Given that nobody outside the political establishment really knows anything about what kind of diplomacy is currently taking place, it would be nice, for once, to ask those faithful believers in the status quo — people who are always putting peace advocates on trial — how military blunders such as the ones mentioned above are repeatedly allowed to happen.
One wonders why the man on the street, hoping for peace, is always the one considered a fool, when, in actuality, it seems like real life diplomatic relations are hardly more complicated than their portrayal in "Dr. Strangelove."
Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.