Changing the framework

Whenever I read an inspiring book or watch an interesting movie, I always think it is best to write about it in the few hours following them, in order to find the adequate words and phrasing that will still capture what I have felt and thought that time.

However, with politics, international issues, I find it is somehow important that I wait even more so that I can fully organize my ideas, listen to others, gather the necessary facts and opinions to actually come up with a sound judgement and evaluation, instead of being rash and blabber about something that is only founded on my emotions at that time. With time, I come to realize some things that I did not even know I had in my mind and it’s like seeing wine take its time to gain a new taste. It might be good wine, or it might be bad wine, that is, I guess, not my place to say, but at least, it did its job by taking its time to forment.

The recent attack by North Korea is something I feel I should write about – in respect to what I am doing now, spending hours preparing presentations and doing the readings; and today’s class with Prof. Lee Geun has made me realize some very interesting things.

But first of all, RIP and my sincere respect to the two -very young- soldiers who had to die as a consequence of something that the ‘people up there’ have been doing wrong. Once again, the victims are those that only had to follow their orders, without really knowing what was and what has been going on for many years in the government before this whole thing happened.

It is a regrettable thing that their lives had to be taken away, that their families had to be left without the joy to see them get older, have families and achieve their goals in life.

On another hand, it is another regrettable thing that their deaths will probably be a waste, something that the government will use to its fullest to trigger this rage and sense of insecurity that is about to explode in the South Korean society.

Let’s for a moment, take a step back. WHY the attack?

Before making the judgment that North Korea is definetely a non-rational actor, as I have myself was thinking at 2:30 pm yesterday, let us look at the broader system that is behind all this.

We may of course never know the true reason behind these attacks.

However, what we do know is that the broader framework of South Korea’s foreign policy that used to actually care about its relation with North Korea during the 김대중 and 노무현 era has come to a ‘no policy’ policy.

North Korea may indeed by a non rational actor. Maybe 김대중 and 노무현 were just two naive politicians who ‘spoiled’ and ‘cajoled’ North Korea too much to the point that North Korea saw fit to ‘step over the boundaries’.

But see, this is the problem.

Words such as ‘spoil’, ‘boundaries’, ‘rational actor’ are clear proofs that we are still in an immediate post Cold War era and that we haven’t been able to escape from that framework, where cooperation was seen as something impossible.

The Korean peninsula is still at war and although more than half a century has passed since the Korean war, the paradigm has not changed a bit. Those in power, who have lived through the war, in some way or the other, are still limited in their ways of thinking and therefore drawing policies based on that thinking, because for them, the most important thing is to ‘win’ the war.

How can we hope the two Koreas to actually engage in a fruitful and efficient dialogue if we are still stuck in that paradigm? Everybody seems to agree, or at least, most people seem to agree that re-unification has to come some way or another. Yet, nothing concrete is remotely being done to actually come even close to that objective. Why then set such objective in the first place?

Here are some basic facts that we all know about North Korea – it is an unstable state, the regime is having weaker and weaker support from China, the country is ravaged by famine, poverty and human rights abuses. And most importantly, the issue of succession is having the whole country shaken right now. Can it still be a rational actor in such circumstances? No one can have a proper answer to this question. However, can it still be possible for South Korea to take the courage and risk (since it has already risked the lives of so many innocent people) and take a step back and engage in further communication? North Korea has made concessions under other governments, can it be possible that it could do it again? WHY NOT.

Maybe I am still being naive, even after seeing the harsh reality that in matters of politics at least, Neo-liberalism has no place to stand. But what other better choices do we have?

Just because North Korea is not doing anything or not trying to take even baby steps doesn’t mean that South Korea should do the same. Doing nothing is NOT a policy.

When efforts should be made to come to a reconciliation, the two Koreas seem to be walking farther and farther away from any common grounds. Public opinion has learned to shift towards thinking ‘Why should we cooperate?’ when it seemed, merely a few years ago, that cooperation was the normal thing to do. Let me make it clear once more – cooperation, not helping as if cajoling a child, not spoiling a kid unaware of what is happening around him.

Due to the economic and financial crisis that has been ravaging the world, to which South Korea is of course not an exception, people are afraid and insecure. They feel that their future is not being guranteed and that their happiness, one of the core elements that may actually define the essence of our living, may just be a dream that is fading away farther and farther everyday. In such environment, the North Korean attack is like a flame to a barrel of gasoline and the current administration is well aware of that and using it quite adequately, I must admit, to just do that – put an uncontrollable fire to the whole thing. That’s easy, fueling the population, anyone can do it, the media is doing a fine job doing just that  – but isn’t it the responsibility of the government to calm this rage down, keep it to the minimum?

It is also quite ironic to notice that when Seoul hosted the G20 summit not even 3 weeks ago, the world didn’t seem to give a damn, but after the attack, NBC devoted a whole 13 minutes of their 20 minute News program to just this issue. The US might be thinking hard and pressing its role in this conflict, and it is true, the reunification is not an issue that concerns just the two Koreas, but in the end, isn’t it their problems to deal with?

South Korea claims that the actions of North Korea do not inspire faith, imagine what the current actions of South Korea must inspire to North Korea then.

I’m not saying that North Korea is an angel that is being misunderstood or that it is a poor victim. But let’s turn around and try to at least understand their logic. And let’s try to look back at the framework we have been so used so far and then maybe, we’ll realize, that this may not be the most adequate way to look at things if we indeed want ot find a solution.


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