International diplomacy is known for its shadowy, parallel-world of smoke and mirrors in which the likes of a certain Mr Bond make a living. The fact that spy films, whether of the somewhat depressing but realistic John le Carré-genre or the purely escapist 007-type, have remained such a popular theme is that they seem to touch a cord in all of us that wants to believe in a larger world out there, however mythical or far-fetched.
Enter Trump and Kim – and we have the makings of a new genre of diplomatic novella. It is a cross between the tale of the Emperor’s Clothes, a magic show, and a Brian Rix farce (for those old enough to remember). Sadly, the Trump-Kim show is possibly stretching our credulity just a bit too far, so it seems possible that this new literary and theatrical initiative will not take off that quickly. Besides, the “real thing” is going to be a hard act to beat in terms of twists, turns and tales of the unexpected.
As is often case these days, social media has been quite merciless on the actors, and the playing-out in public of a major international disagreement between these two leaders is being portrayed by increasingly incredulous commentators around the world as little more than a childish spat. Perhaps it is because international onlookers simply cannot understand how two countries, both apparently equipped with nuclear weapons, can be sparring in such a fundamentally juvenile manner.
We can perhaps understand how the North Korean side is where it is today – but could anyone have imagined that the US would have allowed itself to be dragged into such an unseemly brawl, with threats of nuclear immolation being bandied about between bouts of schoolboy name-calling? There is a danger that the world will start to get used to such behaviour – in this case familiarity breeding complacency (we probably passed the “contempt” milestone a while back), and a new “norm” will have been established in such matters.
The real danger here is that, amongst all the bluff and play-acting, with tweets etc. being fired from the hip, there will be insufficient scrutiny of messages being sent and we could well have a war on our hands. That said, after receiving assurances that North Korea would like to meet the US after all on the 12th June, Mr Trump has issued a statement indicating that there is still a chance the meeting could go ahead, adding: “everybody plays games”.
Perhaps we do all like to play games, but the vast majority of us would not call nuclear war a game. The prospect of such a conflict does not merely strike a cord – it strikes fear into a large swathe of the world’s people.
There is an old saying in Africa: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. Perhaps these two leaders should bear this in mind as they play-out their not-so-funny farce for there is no scripted “happy ending ” that anyone seems aware of.