Editorial: Rodman, North Korea a grand test in diplomacy
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 22:03
The de facto head of the U.S. diplomatic delegation to North Korea at the moment is, unexpectedly and to the great chagrin of the White House, former NBA star Dennis Rodman. He, along with several members of the Harlem Globetrotters, have travelled to the reclusive nation to film episodes of a new HBO series and play some basketball. His professed aim is to initiate “basketball diplomacy”, supposedly introducing North Koreans to a bit of American culture and opening up a cultural dialogue between the two nations which is, at present, nonexistent. In a week marked by North Korea’s unilateral nullification of the 1953 cease-fire which effectively ended the Korean War and escalation of bellicose rhetoric to levels unprecedented in recent memory, such an envoy may unwittingly endanger the fragile peace currently enjoyed on the Korean Peninsula. But we also agree with Dennis Rodman in principle, if not in practice. We cannot expect a mutual ignorance between us and the North Koreans to keep the peace.
It is right that our foreign policy opposes the North Korean regime, a massively repressive and unstable totalitarian potentate which has kept its people in poverty and servitude for more than half a century. A nuclear-armed North Korea would indeed pose a grave threat to the well-being of the world’s people. But too often our governments talk past each other, one dealing in abstract threats and the other in the calculated language of realpolitik. Diplomacy through cultural intercourse, we believe, promises shared understandings between otherwise very different, even antagonistic, peoples that quietly undermines the justifications for war against a stylized enemy.
In 2008, for instance, the New York Philharmonic visited and performed in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in what remains to this day a remarkable display of relative openness on the part of the North Korean government. The concert, which included Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), was broadcast in its entirety live on North Korean state TV. It contained messages and ideas which the North Korean government could not censor. While that sort of interaction may not be accomplished in all its richness by Dennis Rodman and his basketball-playing entourage, we should still hold out hope that North Korea will accept offers of olive branches if they are not delivered by the fist of American state power.