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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In Total Agreement, Well, Sorta . . .

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit ended last night and the Big O and most of the other Big Talking Heads have departed the peninsula after making fresh commitments toward building a safer world without nuclear terrorism. (The full text of the "Seoul Communique" can be found here, if you need to be underwhelmed.) Ukraine has completed the removal of its last highly enriched uranium, sending it back to Russia where it will be totally safe - but hold on, then what's with the "unusual and extraordinary threat" Big O cited when he extended the national emergency over Russian atomic material last year.

Fat Boy, our next-door-neighbor some 30 miles North of Seoul, did his best to spoil the party by announcing a planned rocket launch next month as part of the Norks' "peaceful space program." The Big Talking Heads at the adults' table all chastised the Norks firmly, with even China openly displeased with this latest toddler tantrum. CNN ran the Norks' announcement it would go ahead with the launch as "Breaking News," while those of us who've spent more time than a two-day summit in Korea know it's simply Same Shit, Different Kim. As one journalist friend wrote on Facebook, "the DPRK regime has threatened to make Seoul 'a sea of fire' more times than I can remember." Obama warned the Norks there would be "no rewards for bad behavior" but it's not surprising Fat Boy and Co. don't believe them as Daddy Dearest, Kim Jong-no-longer-ill, was constantly rewarded for such bad behavior.

Here's how it works: The Norks behave badly and threaten or provoke, even going as far as to blow up a South Korean corvette or bomb a border island. Leaders of other countries sit and cajole the Norks into agreeing to accept food aid in turn for suspending nuclear and ballistic missile development, the Norks seek to up the ante and possibly get a better deal by throwing a toddler tantrum. It's unfortunately a lose-lose situation for the South as, although the North would be annihilated in any full-out war, there is enough conventional artillery aimed directly at Seoul (the suburb my office is in has been included in the promised list of first strikes) to blast it back to post-Korean war scorched-earth status. SSDK.

To add some humor to their tired old act, the Norks did provide a superb example of the circularity of their thinking. The Nork's foreign ministry, when announcing they planned to go ahead with the launch, claimed the deal reached with the U.S. just two weeks earlier "specified a moratorium on long-range missile launch, not 'launch of long-range missile including satellite launch' or 'launch with the use of ballistic missile technology.'"

I'm tempted to compare the Nork's tantrum-throwing and unique reading of contracts with the South seeking to change the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement after they'd asked for and agreed to it (including riots and a tear-gas canister release by lawmakers during the pact's passage) but that could be misinterpreted as on-line criticism, which is frowned upon by those in power.

I will point out, however, that contracts are often viewed in Korea as a step in the negotiating process, not a terminus. That's a concept many Westerners don't understand, which can lead to all sorts of cultural misunderstandings. I've lost count of the number of teachers of English here who've felt gyped when asked to do something not specifically noted in their contract, while to their Korean counterparts, that contract is a broad outline only.

Perhaps someone needs to explain that to the Big O . . .

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