According to its writers, the hit 1990s television show Seinfeld was guided by the notion that, unlike other sitcoms, it was going to be a show about nothing and where there would be “no hugging and no learning.”
To that end, episodes of Seinfeld would not end with any false sentimental reconciliation improbably tying up that week’s show’s loose ends (no hugging), and the show’s main characters were who they were, show after show, episode after episode (no learning). In fact, the main characters on the show found themselves in situation after situation precisely because they were who they were, behaving as they behaved, learning nothing from their previous experiences and thus repeating, over and over again, the same patterns that got them into trouble, often with comic effect, to begin with.
Take away the comic effect and “no hugging and no learning” is likely as good a summation as any of the diplomacy surrounding North Korea’s nuclear programs, including not just 2008 but the past 15 years as well, ever since the DPRK’s refusal in February 1993 to permit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) special inspections set off the crisis that has been unfolding ever since.
But, given the events of 2008, at least where we are as this is written, some three- quarters of the way through the year, where does the situation stand today?
• The diplomacy of the six-party process appears stalled because of disputes about verification issues, sequencing, and different interpretations of performance and payoffs for “action for action”;
• There are signs of stress and disagreement among and between the other five nations engaged with the DPRK in the six-party diplomacy, with different concerns, interests, and goals creating misalignments and miscommunication;
• There are reports that the DPRK has engaged in a static test of a new long- range missile engine and is nearing completion of another missile base;
• There are reports that the DPRK is apparently reversing Yongbyon disablement and signaling moves to restart its nuclear program; and
• There are new uncertainties and questions about the sustainability and stability of North Korea’s regime.
Sound familiar? Although the details may differ, it’s an eerily familiar litany of issues, concerns, and challenges that could have served as a situation report and summary at any number of times in the past decade or so—the latest episode of a long-running and never changing Northeast Asian peace and security television show.