Canada Doubling Down on Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula

Canada Doubling Down on Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula
Kim Jong Un and retired NBA star Dennis Rodman enjoy a basketball game together.Business Insider

By John Gruetzner

Canada has announced that it is co-hosting a 16-nation summit with the United States early next year to explore options to engage North Korea. Prime Minister Trudeau is also likely to meet this month with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss North Korea.

These developments and the recent statement by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland that Canada is doubling down on its diplomatic efforts to deliver a solution for the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula are positive. The risk of a second Korean War is one of the largest existential threats to global peace and prosperity imaginable.

All the diplomats in this process in advance of the proposed summit in Canada should recall the words in the preamble to the armistice signed on 27 July 1953 that depicts the first Korean War as a period with a “great toll of suffering and bloodshed on both sides.”

A detailed blueprint for peace based on coexistence must be agreed upon and the implementation of it must start immediately after the proposed summit that Canada is co-hosting with the United States. This summit presents a real opportunity for a lasting peace; but without an aggressive and concerted action plan, the effort will be reduced to diplomatic ashes and historically recorded as only moving words around the deck of this nuclear Titanic.

Global Affairs Canada must co-ordinate with its counterparts in key countries to deliver a detailed agenda that orchestrates solid commitments at the summit that the key players and the majority of participants can adhere to. Equally important to the preparation work is that all the participating countries at this summit arrive with flexible minds.

The first step — ideally before but alternatively after the summit — should be to send a senior delegation coordinated by or led by Canada with other neutral countries in attendance to North Korea to pose two simple questions: What does your government need to sign a peace treaty? What does your government need to agree to start a reduction of military spending? The rationale of a multi-party exploratory mission is to underscore to the North Korean leadership that time for a diplomatic solution is running out.

Prior to this summit being convened — in consultation with the United Nations, the US State Department, China, Russia, North and South Korea, and Japan — to demonstrate its commitment, Canada should agree to establish a liaison office in North Korea that will be upgraded to an Embassy if and when a peace treaty is signed. North Korea should also be permitted to establish an Embassy in Canada at an appropriate point in the process.

A key outcome of the summit must be to recognize that it is the details and viability and benefits of peace plan that will bring the DPRK out of its isolation. The media and possibly diplomats currently worry too much about influence and access to North Korea. Ultimately it will be the merits of the peace proposal and the associated economic benefits that resolve this crisis. There is no lack of direct and indirect channels available to reach out to North Korea. The onus is on the international community to make the mature decision and offer peace rather than war as the humane face of globalization.

Canada’s commitment to double down on diplomacy will require that it lead by example and replace megaphone diplomacy with a well-executed media and public relations strategy to convince the DPRK’s leadership to shift its position. The traditional rigid but often counterproductive protocol of summits must be replaced with a creative and friendly but sleeves-rolled-up process that might take some lessons from a Google Whiteboard session. All the parties at the summit must seek to replace the antiquated legacy of 1950s nationalism that was left to fester on the Korean Peninsula in 1953 with a more modern vision of a successful nation.

Given President Kim Jong Un’s love of the sport, let the era of basketball diplomacy begin. It will ideally be as valuable as ping-pong diplomacy was with China. Fortunately, as an inspiration to what will be a difficult process to obtain peace, Canada’s diplomatic team should be comforted by the fact that it was a Canadian who invented basketball. Basketball is also a fluid, dynamic, and creative sport based on patterns but also breakouts by individuals. These will also be the traits required to overcome the fears underlying the tension on both sides of the DMZ.

John Gruetzner is the Managing Director of Intercedent Limited. He is part of a team of 24 founders forming The China Policy Centre to be based in Ottawa.

See part 2 of this blog, “Mapping Out a North Korean Peace Process.”

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