Tuesday, March 27, 2012

He Shoots! He Scores! But Nobody Cares!

In the days since North Korea announced it is to launch a “satellite” in April to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, the 4th Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference and the 5th session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly, the regime has been publishing a daily diet of commentary affirming and reaffirming the fact that it has no intention of cancelling the launch irrespective of international entreaties urging the opposing course of action.

The most assertive and clear of these many affirmations came today, when a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told KCNA the following;

1. “The launching of a working satellite to welcome the 100th anniversary of the birth of comrade Kim Il Sung is both part of General Kim Jong Il’s last instructions and a normal activity that has been in the planning for quite some time;”

2. “[The U.S.] should leave behind the idea of obstructing our way forward and have the bravery to accept that we, like everyone else, have the right to launch satellites;”

3. “We did not include the peaceful launching of satellites in the temporary cessation of long range missile launches at the Chosun-U.S. high-level talks. In the results of the 2.29 Chosun-U.S. agreement it did not say ‘long-range missile launches including those of satellites’ or ‘launches using ICBM technology’; it specified a ‘temporary halt to long-range missile launches’;”

4. “The U.S. says it has no hostile intent towards us, but since it can never step away from this confrontational approach, it sees peaceful satellite launches as long range missile launches;” and...

5. “By even inviting NASA to send experts, they will be able to confirm the peaceful character of our satellite launch with their very own eyes.”

Is the launch a flagrant violation of UN Resolution 1874? Yes, I agree that it is. Is it a slap in the face for the U.S. so soon after the conclusion of what English speakers know as the ‘Leap Day Deal’? Yes, it is most certainly that, too. But is getting all angry about it, preparing missiles to shoot it down and, perhaps most bizarrely of all, putting on hold plans to search for the remains of U.S. war dead inside North Korea because “North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and... it's important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for” going to help? No, no it really is not.

Note that not only is North Korea advertizing the launch domestically, it is even calling it part of Kim Jong Il’s last instructions! These things don’t brook going back on, to put it mildly, so we can be sure the launch will happen and, as I previously noted here, really need to get used to it.

Of course, it goes without saying that if the launch is an absolute, nailed down certainty, actually responding to it by sending an envoy to Pyongyang, as advocated here by two Yonsei University professors, Moon Chung In and John Delury, would be no better.

I am assuming that the crux of the Moon-Delury hypothesis is that an envoy might be able to stop the launch. Obviously, the crux of my opposing hypothesis is that he/she can do no such thing. As such, any envoy would be left with egg on his/her face (as would those who sent him or her), returning empty-handed to an international community no better off for the entire debacle but with an even smaller range of options going forward once all the other high political drama set to engulf Pyongyang this spring, has, in at least one case literally, gone off.

Therefore, I suspect that the best option is and will remain to do… nothing. It sounds untenable I know, but fortunately there is an instructive soccer analogy we can look to that can help us rationalize.

Every time a penalty is awarded, the game of football becomes really very, very simple. There is a goalkeeper, and there is a striker. The striker can hit the ball anywhere he or she chooses, and the goalkeeper has similar freedom of movement. Simply, it is a guessing game.

As such, the goalkeeper also has the right to stand still and do, essentially, nothing. And yet, goalkeepers almost never do that, despite the fact that statistics suggest it is among the very best courses of action. The simple reason for this determination to dive, or so it is said, is that doing nothing looks bad.

In other words, it is important to be seen to be doing something, no matter how ludicrous, ill-advised, statistically insignificant or potentially unhelpful that chosen course of action may be, only because it leads to less blame if things go wrong. Soccer fans expect a penalty to be scored, and as such they don’t ordinarily blame the goalkeeper for failing to save it, no matter how badly he or she may end up flailing off theatrically in the wrong direction, but what they do expect is for the goalkeeper they have turned up to cheer to put in some kind of visible effort.

It goes without saying that this tendency is no more useful in international relations than it is in soccer.

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