Korea – a book by Michael Pembroke

I’d like to recommend Michael Pembroke’s Korea: Where the American Century Began (Richmond, Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, 2018). Despite the title, it is less of a book about Korea than the United States and the evolution of its policies vis-à-vis North and South Korea and China and East Asia more generally. Pembroke is at his best in recounting pivotal moments of the Korean War, focusing on strategic failures of the U.S.-led United Nation’s forces, but also of the Koreans and Chinese that led to such huge military and civilian loses and the present stalemate around the 38th parallel. As some of the endorsements note, it truly is a page turner, but also one of the clearest critical accounts of American decisions leading into and out of the Korean War.

The book underscored my sense that many Americans do not learn as much about the Korean conflict as compared to the World Wars, Vietnam and more recent wars, such as Desert Storm and the Iraq War. I completely agree with Pembroke’s point in a postscript that “Few people, and even fewer Americans, know the true story of the Korean War; few understand the reasons for North Korean hostility toward the United States; and few acknowledge any historical responsibility for the current impasse” (p.253). Pembroke’s perspective might not be viewed by all as ‘the truth’, but it is a well-documented and very convincing account that certainly provided me with a better basis for asking more informed questions about the way forward in Korea.

Pembroke’s father was the commander of an Australian platoon fighting with UN forces in Korea. This does not necessarily give him an independent perspective, but one from which his critical perspectives gain more credibility. I learned less about Korea than I expected, but far more about the US and the Korean War. It is so clear, succinct and timely – an extremely relevant book for anyone with a serious interest in US policy in relation to North Korea, that it is must reading.


Twitter Foreign Policy and the Rise of Digital Diplomacy

Recent Chinese concerns over ‘Twitter Foreign Policy” are just the tip of the iceberg on the ways in which the Internet has been enabling diplomacy to be reconfigured, for better or worse. Over a decade ago, Richard Grant, a diplomat from New Zealand, addressed these issues in a paper I helped him with at the OII.[1] Drawing from Richard’s paper, there are at least five ways in which the Internet and social media are reconfiguring diplomacy:

  1. Changing who participates in diplomacy, creating a degree of openness and transparency, for example through leaks and whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, that puts diplomacy in the public eye, establishing an entire field of “public diplomacy”;
  2. Creating new sources of information for diplomacy, such as when mobile Internet videos become key to what is known about an event of international significance;
  3. Speeding up diplomatic processes in response to the immediacy of news about events in the online world that require more rapid responses in order to be more effective, such as in challenging misinformation;
  4. Pushing diplomacy to be more event-led, when the world knows about events that diplomats cannot ignore; and
  5. Eroding borders, such as enabling diplomats to communicate locally or globally from anywhere at any time.  th-1

These transformations do not diminish the need for diplomats to serve a critical role as intermediaries. If anything, the Internet makes it possible for diplomats to be where they need to be to facilitate face-to-face interpersonal communication, making the geography of diplomacy more, rather than less, important. However, it poses serious challenges for adapting diplomacy to a globally digital village, such as how to adapt hierarchical bureaucracies of diplomacy to respond to more agile networks, and how to best ‘join the conversation’ on social media.

[1] Richard Grant (2004), “The Democratization of Diplomacy: Negotiating with the Internet,” OII Research Report No. 5. Oxford, UK: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1325241  Also discussed in a talk I gave last year on Mexico in the New Internet World, see: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2788392