Vice President Mike Pence walked right up to the “demarcation line” between North and South Korea, looked around, and then went back to Seoul to issue this stirring invitation to diplomacy and peace:
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.”
At which point the government of North Korea did not promise to give up its nuclear weapon testing or its nuclear development program. But the NY Times reports that Pence did offer a chance at “peaceable means”– that is, negotiations. About what, exactly, is not clear.
The last time the U.S. offered talks with North Korea the Obama administration wanted to make the North’s nuclear program part of the discussions toward a peace treaty with South Korea. North Korea refused, and the U.S. dropped the attempt at talks. This was a mistake, in my view, for any talks toward peace with the North would be better than none at all. Had a finalized peace treaty between North and South Korea been reached, relations would have improved and the nuclear issue could than have been broached anew. In other words, incremental steps were called for. It was an opportunity missed.
Now, with Trump in charge, hot-headedness, not patient discussion, is likely to rule. And Pence suggesting that the bombing of Syria and Afghanistan displays “strength” and “resolve” does not bode well. Had the U.S. not recently raised tensions with North Korea, all of that part of Asia might now be better off.
But it is never too late to choose diplomacy instead of war.