The New Year has begun without a bang, at least of the nuclear weapons variety. We can all be thankful the apocalyptic bluster from the leader of North Korea has continued to be just that, with no indication of using this fearsome new weapons capability.
Two resolutions for 2018 on the part of Washington would be welcome. First would be commitment to sustained, disciplined diplomacy. Adult behavior is always particularly welcome — and important — in the uncertain and dangerous world of international relations.
The end of the Cold War has actually increased dangers of instability and war, thanks to greater political and military uncertainty. Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago made this profound point with remarkable insight and prescience as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe bloc of satellite states were disintegrating, nearly three decades ago.
Second, we must keep alliance relations at the forefront in the Pacific, concerning not only North Korea but also China and other centers of tension and trouble. In the Atlantic region, emphasis on working together with other nations now comes naturally, indeed is second nature to us.
Shortly after World War II, the Truman administration made courageous decisions and had historic impact in fostering economic and military collaboration. General and Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced a comprehensive European economic recovery program in an address at Harvard University in June 1947.
The following year, Congress passed the unprecedented economic aid package, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, working together in a bipartisan manner with the White House and other administration representatives. The Democratic Truman administration worked assiduously to develop Republican allies in Congress, notably the formerly isolationist Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan.
Beginning in early 1953, the new Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower continued by then established trends in both domestic and foreign policies. The White House confirmed basic elements of the New Deal, and expanded Social Security.
In foreign policy, Eisenhower reinforced the internationalist wing of the Republican Party, in part through bipartisan cooperation, while isolating isolationists. Working behind the scenes, he effectively destroyed the anti-Communist demagogue, Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.
Such cooperation was not magically easier in that earlier time, but collectively Americans were more realistic, and more mature. Tremendous hardships during the Great Depression, followed by the life-and-death struggle of World War II, rendered today’s self-indulgence unacceptable to the American people, and in consequence to the leaders we then elected.
Eisenhower did not like dealing with Congress. Nonetheless, he worked with Congressional leaders of both parties. For six of Ike’s eight years in office, the Democrats had Congressional majorities.
Powerful incentives today encourage especially close collaboration with South Korea, a dedicated long-term U.S. ally. That country has steadily expanding economic influence in Asia, and increasingly also in global terms.
President Moon Jae-in has impressive experience for current challenges. He has been a human rights activist and lawyer. Moon also served as a Special Forces soldier.
The Korean War made the Cold War a global conflict. President Truman courageously decided to defend South Korea against invasion from the North. President Eisenhower achieved the armistice in that war.
Despite constant tension and sporadic violence between North and South Korea, the armistice has held. Pyongyang’s current effort to deal directly with South Korea is encouraging. Current disarray in Washington provides further reason to let Seoul lead.
After all, the Korean peninsula is their home, not ours.
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact at email@example.com.