Last spring, several experts on Asian countries came together at IU to talk about “Engaging Enemies.” The issue on the table was how to keep countries out of conflict now and in the future, and the test cases were North Korea, Iran, and Burma.
The word of the day was engagement. Mel Gurtov laid the foundation of the discussion. Paraphrasing his definition:
- reaching out
- establishing cooperation and reciprocity
- exercising persistence, patience, and ingenuity
- maintaining credibility flexibility, and a tough skin
- reducing tensions
- resetting relationships
- finding common ground
- inculcating habit of dialog and mutual respect
- achieving incremental agreements
- creating honorable path to peaceable relations
Engagement is not
- selling out national interests
- tolerating genocide or other heinous crimes
- exercising coercive diplomacy
- postponing the inevitable
- performing an act of charity
The positive aspects of engagement so apparently outweigh the negatives that it is hard to imagine that countries have not pursued it. Miroslav Nincic explained some of the reasons why. Most have to do with resistance of citizens to reaching out to an enemy. US politics honors a “tough line” and “retributive justice.” Efforts to engage are seen as “appeasement.” The popular perception is that “conciliatory gestures encourage bad behavior by rewarding offenders.” Strategic matters related to unequal power relations and political instability can also disarm positive engagement.
The experts generally agreed that “sticks” have not worked. Sanctions and coercive policies have not made North Korea or Iran back down from their determination to develop nuclear arms. In place of sticks, Nincic proposes “catalytic carrots.” Efforts to engage adversaries might be more successful if the objective were not to see a regime overthrown, but to see it alter its “more objectionable policies.”
Walter Clemens echoed this perspective. He focuses on the hubris of both the U.S. and North Korea. The politics of “tit-for-tat” and “an eye for an eye” have dominated. “Arrogance and disdain” have nullified any hope of positive engagement. He would like to see an abandonment of hubris for GRIT—“graduated reciprocity in tension-reduction”—which involves each side making a “limited series of unilateral concessions.” But who will make the first step? Will the initial gesture be trusted or gestures at any stage be betrayed? Domestic hostility to concessions and bureaucratic inertia may make any GRIT momentum hard to sustain.
As difficult a problem as this may seem, there was some agreement on a solution. Interactions should be driven less by the abstract—policies and principles—and more by the concrete. “Getting to Know You” was the theme proposed by Andrei Lankov. He proposes academic exchanges as a starting point and offered the example of two Russian individuals who came to the U.S. to study and then returned to the USSR to become spies or propagandists. The suspicion that a country would use exchanges for nefarious purposes was thus affirmed until the beginning of perestroika—when both these individuals contributed to the collapse of the Soviet regime. Exposure to a different world will promote change in the long run by building up internal pressures for reform and by preparing leaders to deal with a different future.
Stuart Thorson offered an example of successful exchange with North Korea in the area of scientific research. Science abhors politics (even if it is involved politically), and the ever more global environment requires the relatively transparent movement of data over digital networks among scientific collaborators around the world. His personal example was the successful collaboration and exchange between Syracuse University and the North Korea State Academy of Sciences.
Other experts echoed this focus on the concrete—people to people rather than policy to policy. The U.S. needs to assert policies and principles less and to learn more about its enemies. Humanitarian assistance, such as food aid, should be given for humanitarian, not political, reasons, Karin Lee asserted. In Iran, the “Obama administration’s sanctions-only policy is both failing to achieve its objective on the nuclear front and adding to the regime’s repression,” said Trita Parsi. Kun a. Namkung proposed that the U.S. needs to know more about Korean history—to understand that it might make more sense to see a West and East Korea than to see and North and South Korea, for example. And while the U.S. may see changes in Myanmar as very positive, an understanding of the internal culture would prevent us from being surprised by setbacks there, observed Nicholas Farrelly.
The workshop was sponsored by the East Asia Foundation with assistance from several IU units, including the ANU-IU Pan Asia Institute, and the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs. The proceedings have just been published in Global Asia: A Journal of the East Asia Foundation (Summer 2013).Mel Gurtov, professor emeritus of political science, Portland State University; editor in chief, Asian Perspective. Miroslav Nincic, professor of political science, University of California-Davis. Walter Clemens, professor of political science, Boston University. Andrei Lankov, professor of history, Kookmin University, Seoul; adjunct research fellow, Australian National University. Stuart Thorson, professor of political science and international relations, Syracuse University. Karin Lee, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea. Kim A. Namkung, scholar and consultant on Asian affairs. Trita Parsi, president, National Iranian American Council. Nicholas Farrelly, research fellow of international, political and strategic studies, Australian National University. Kate Gould, lead lobbyist for Middle East policy, Friends Committee on National Legislation. Mark Valencia, maritime policy analyst and consultant on Asia issues. Keith Luse, former East Asia foreign policy advisor to Senator Richard Lugar. Gil Latz, associate vice president of IU International Affairs.