Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Strength Of Soft Power

I am not enough of a wonk on foreign policy to opine with any certainty on what North Korea's nuclear tests and short range missle tests from last weak mean for our national security. But I think the story coming out since the tests have overlooked a critical issue, the fruits of a new era of diplomacy ushered in by President Obama are starting to be revealed.

Forbes magazine ran an article entitled "Is Obama Another Jimmy Carter".

The Boston Globe ran a story that included this quote.

The Obama administration "came into office hopeful that an outreached hand would yield better results," said Michael J. Green, former senior Asia adviser to President George W. Bush. "They are now in a much more sober and realist mood. [North Korea's leaders] mean it when they say they want to establish themselves as a nuclear weapons state."

Peter Wehner, NeoCon supreme had this to say in Commentary:

President Obama now has an opportunity to put his vaunted diplomatic skills to work. We have “turned the page” on the past. President Obama can now negotiate to his heart’s content. He can now meet individually and without precondition with Kim Jong Il and other dictators, as he promised he would. He can do all the careful preparation he needs and let North Korea know exactly where America stands. After all, they will no longer have the excuse of American intransigence. And then we will see if the North Korean leader will bend to Obama’s will and personal charm. The early returns aren’t terribly encouraging.

They just don't seem to get it.

Diplomacy is about the people you are negotiating with, no doubt. But its also about the people on the outside looking in and taking note of how you handle different countries in different situations.

When America is seen as a fair dealer we gain the support of all of our traditional allies and pick up the support of strategic alliances , when America is seen as a bully we lose that major advantage. Reaching out to North Korea and Iran is as much about convincing China and Russia to get on board as it is about pushing those actors to change their ways. And in the situation with North Korea it would seem that the early returns show that this reemergence of soft power through diplomacy is starting to work.

Here is an excerpt of an article from "The Hill" which quotes National Security Advisor Jim Jones extensively:

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, in his first speech on the administration’s approach to national security, said that the “imminent threat” posed by North Korea is that of the proliferation of nuclear technologies to other countries and terrorist organizations.

North Korea still has “a long way” to “weaponize” and work on the delivery of its nuclear missiles before they pose a threat to U.S. security, Jones said in a discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council.

“Nothing that the North Koreans did surprised us,” Jones said. “We knew that they were going to do this, they said so, so no reason not to believe them.”

But the Obama administration is in a tough position with regards to North Korea and in the coming weeks administration officials will try to reach a “global consensus” on how to handle North Korea, Jones indicated. Two key players on the issue, Russia and China, both showed a much harder line against North Korea’s most recent nuclear tests.

One of the crucial conclusions drawn after North Korea’s tests early this week is that there is a growing consensus that states such as North Korea “should not be permitted” to have those nuclear capabilities, Jones said. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will be on the list of discussion for Obama’s visit to Russia in July, Jones said.

Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry this week said the country “resolutely opposes” North Korea’s nuclear test. China agreed with the U.S., Japan and Russia to work toward a U.N. resolution censuring North Korea for its nuclear test and missile launches.

As far as I can discern there are no good or easy options when it comes to dealing with North Korea. However having China starting to pressure Kim Jong Il to step back in line is a great step in the right direction. With our military committed to wars in two foreign lands we are stretched pretty thin as it is. What we do not need right now is another major military engagement where we end up bearing the overwhelming majority of the load. By showing the willingness to reach out to North Korea in good faith, the Obama Administration has made that a lot less likely. Now you see not only China but also Russia willing to seriously condemn North Korea for their actions as well as also having a willingness to put some actions behind those words. When the UN Security Council passes a resolution laying down sanctions against North Korea that have real teeth, thats when you will see the true power of President Obama's plan to use diplomacy.

As strong as our military is, we can't handle every problem all on our own. We are going to need some help going forward not only in the war on terror but also to contain rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. That is going to be one of the keys to our having a strong national defense and protecting the homeland. So far I would have to say that the approach the Obama administration is taking is moving us in the right direction.

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