These are tense times on the world stage. Drip-drips of classified information strain already dicey relations between the U.S. and its allies. Russian spies are caught red-handed and swapped for others. Iranians negotiating with anyone bent on the destruction of Israel. And yet, the current conflict and on-again, off-again talks with North Korea make one long for the simpler days of Cold War era diplomacy.
A pattern is clearly forming with the North Koreans, and it does not favor peace-loving nations around the world, most notably the United States and South Korea.
Last month's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was just the latest in a string of actions by the Communist regime that signals either the country's desperation, or desire to provoke its enemies, or both.
The artillery barrage comes on the heels of a shocking discovery by an American scientist who was practically handed the keys to a new, advanced uranium-enrichment facility no one knew or thought could exist inside the dark Korean border. That follows the unprovoked sinking of a South Korean warship in March, leaving 46 sailors and crew dead.
But wait, there's more!
Reports are coming out of the peninsula that the North is poised to conduct its third (yes, third) nuclear test before year's end. And yet the world has no way of monitoring the North's actions, because IAEA inspectors haven't set foot there in years.
Clearly, the time for "strategic patience" has come to an end. Six-way negotiations are proving fruitless, because there is no incentive for the North Koreans to see and appreciate the value of talks over brutality.
Former President Jimmy Carter is more optimistic on the matter, yet even he is becoming a voice of one. Writing in The Washington Post recently, Mr. Carter feebly tried to explain the North's actions following the shelling of its neighbors. He argued that now is the time to listen to the North, because the government's actions were "designed to remind the world they deserve respect in negotiations."
How does Pyongyang claim to deserve respect when it won't even begin to respect parties in the talks? If it wants to be taken seriously, then that means North Korea should begin taking seriously its own role and responsibility in these negotiations, not its shoot, ready, aim policies of the past.
Think of the precedent such behavior potentially establishes. If we succumb to the North's demands, then what do we do with the Taliban?Iran? Let them attack anything and everyone because we don't "respect" their right to negotiate better deals for their people, then we sheepishly come to the bargaining table? Such logic is rooted in naïve foreign relations.
The cycle of talks - followed by eerie silence, then naked acts of aggression, followed by the world's psychoanalysis of Kim Jong Il, then pleas for more talks - must end.
The nation suffers from punishing sanctions. And yet seemingly before its final moment of collapse, the regime flails violently with military might, crying like a baby that it is being mistreated and misunderstood, only to signal a willingness to talk like adults?
Permitting that behavior only tees up another 50 year reign of a tyrant, justifying to its people that's how they will survive in a geopolitical world where they are pariahs and the Kims are its only saviors. Such actions are brainwashing of continental proportions, and we contribute to it.
Even Mr. Carter acknowledged that "no one can completely understand the motivations of the North Koreans."
Well, if the world's diplomats can't possibly know what the North is thinking, then perhaps it's time to help them understand that actions have consequences.
Diplomacy only works with unstable regimes when there's a stick behind the carrot. Don't misunderstand, talks and compromise are the ultimate prescription for what ails the North. Yet it's increasingly clear that military retaliation through a multi-national force could help frame this debate in ways no diplomatic ping-pong has been able to achieve heretofore.
China, North Korea's greatest ally, even seems unwilling to help. When asked earlier this month for its views on what to do next, Beijing indicated that "calm and restraint are now needed to cool down the situation."
I'm sorry, but who was "hot" in this instance? Wasn't it only the North?
Conflict may well bring the Chinese to the table, since they virtually ignore the region now. In truth, China has no vested interest other than to prevent North Korean refugees from flooding its borders should the government collapse.
This is not a choice between diplomatic relations and escalated conflict. We need both. One will beget the other.
Time and again, North Korea says one thing while secretly doing what it said it wasn't. How's that diplomacy in good faith? The world can't keep living in fear of a half-cocked nuclear nation that only grows more potent - and unstable - by the month.