Genuine surprise is one of the rarest reactions to today’s current news cycle, but it was the only way to describe my response when I heard about the newly agreed-upon peace talks between North and South Korea late last month. As the first inter-Korean summit in 11 years, this groundbreaking meeting of the President Moon Jae-in and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un offered a glimpse of hope and an idealistic, albeit precarious, vision of international relations. Rather than tend toward force and violence as solutions to the world’s most glaring conflicts, we must move to embrace a new mode of thinking with regards to the world — one that upholds communication, discourse, and shared humanity between opposing sides in the quest for peace.
Both countries agreed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and decided to officially bring an end to the Korean War, 65 years since the end of fighting. They produced the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula, which outlined their comprehensive steps toward cooperation and coexistence through denuclearization, the reuniting of families separated by the partition, an end to propaganda broadcasts by both sides, and regular communications between North and South. In the most symbolic moment of the summit, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un planted a tree together on the Korean border.
Such an achievement came not through threats of nuclear annihilation, preventative war, or forceful intervention, but rather as a result of a genuine dedicated communication and diplomacy between adversaries. Problems were solved at the negotiating table, rather than on the battlefield, and this monumental achievement should serve as a shining example for the rest of the world.
We — as a collective global community — must resist the urges toward forceful intervention and violence as means of solving international problems. The United States should rethink foreign policy in a way that prioritizes discourse with other countries rather than shows of force and violent threats.
As we have seen in recent times within our own country, the reliance on force and violent rhetoric has become an all too familiar aspect of our outlook on the world. When presented with the same international dilemma against North Korea, President Donald Trump turns toward the “fire and fury” and continuous references to the nuclear strength of the United States over North Korea in order to attempt to solve the situation. It is through this rhetoric of aggression and implied violence that Trump carries out U.S. foreign policy.
With regard to China and the mounting tensions surrounding our economic and trade relationship, Trump does not turn to negotiation or peaceful communication of ideas. Instead, the author of “The Art of the Deal” tries immediately to force the hand and get his way unilaterally. He makes threats of a trade war carried out by the United States against China. And even with the United States’s increasingly tenuous relationship with Iran given the unstable future of the 2015 JCPA nuclear deal, Trump deals explicitly in the way of forceful rhetoric, strong-arming, and rejection of all means of more peaceful, more diplomatic communications.
Trump is not the root of this problem but rather an extreme symbol of the way that the United States views foreign policy and intervention. Force is held above discourse. Shows of strength on the world stage and against those countries with whom we conflict stand as the primary and ultimate tools of conflict resolution in our U.S. worldview.
Rather than humanize the opposing side and attempt some form of empathy to understand and rationalize their perspective, we tend to hold them at an unworkable distance — a separation that rejects entirely the possibility of talking and exchanging ideas in the way of solution rather than fighting or shouting over the other side. Those in power in Washington largely reject institutions and established means of acting, such as the United Nations.
The inter-Korean Summit is the most recent example of a means of international relations that must become more universal on the world stage. Through simply participating in a day-long summit together and seeing, talking, and realizing the other side as equally human and respectable, North and South Korea achieved tangible progress. While the agreed-upon peace is precarious and can only be confirmed by time and compliance, it is the potential seed of peace and cooperation that stands as a historic testament of humanity.
In his recent visit to campus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish president Lech Wałęsa characterized this time in human history as the “age of the Word.” Although Wałęsa’s reference is overtly Christian, in line with his devout Catholic faith, it can be interpreted to have a double meaning. Through a more secular, universal interpretation, the “age of the word” stands as one in which ideas and discourse have the ultimate power to influence and inspire change on the grand scale. Wałęsa’s Solidarity movement — the people’s labor union in Poland that eventually led to the democratization of Poland against the grasp of the U.S.S.R. in 1989 — shines as a testament to this simple notion.
It is through this understanding of humanity that we must move toward a new way of thinking about international relations in this country. Instead of conceptualizing force and military action as the most effective means of solving a problem, we must give credence to the power of the idea, the word, and the fundamental principle of communication. We must remember the common humanity that exists within all members of the world, a sense of humanity that should steer us away from the outbreak of violence or war and inspire us to universal diplomacy and discourse as solutions to global conflict.
In Thucydides’s Melian Dialogue of “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” one of the greatest books ever written about international relations, the Athenians respond to the plea of the weaker Melians with the fateful adage, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” In today’s world, we must reject Thucydides’s fifth-century B.C.E. account of power. We must emphatically embrace a world where — out of desires for peace and cooperation — the strong do what they should.
Kaveh Badrei is a sophomore from Houston, Tex. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.