North Korea crisis needs low-profile mediation

Pope Francis
Pope Francis could be well-placed to help with unofficial, low-profile negotiations between the United States and North Korea to defuse the current crisis (source: dpa)

The situation around North Korea is heating up. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, has increased his provocations, threatening another nuclear weapons test, carrying out artillery drills and using harsh rhetoric. United States President Donald Trump has reacted by redirecting an aircraft carrier group to an area off the Korean Peninsula and says military strikes are possible.

Certainly, Kim Jong-un’s behavior requires a response, as the United Nations is unable to keep him in check. China is the key to any solution, and Beijing will probably set the conditions for an intervention.

There is a risk that an American strike on North Korean military installations could trigger a nuclear response by the country’s cornered leader. This could cost millions of lives in South Korea and Japan before Mr. Kim is killed. It appears unlikely that this scenario will play out – the mutual deterrence is strong and risks of collateral damage high.

But unfortunately, escalation is not out of the question. Mediated talks between North Korea and its adversaries are therefore necessary. Attempts by the UN have been unsuccessful, as have all other high-profile “official” negotiations with additional “neutral” partners. In these conferences, all participants feel compelled to show strength and take a hard stance.

It is very likely that the Holy See will be held in high regard, even by a communist, atheist dictator

Pope Francis appears extremely concerned and has appealed for negotiations, pointing to Norway as a potential mediator. This is important, as the Vatican is one of the world’s best-informed institutions. Lord David Alton, member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, wrote in a GIS report: “The Holy See is one of the world’s most reliable ‘listening posts,’ with its worldwide presence of nuncios and links to Catholic ecclesiastical and lay organizations it has eyes and ears everywhere – also in dark and dangerous places.”

Even if a U.S.-North Korea conflict is unlikely, the resulting loss of life would be the worst since World War II. A diplomatic solution must be found. Certainly Norway, and also Switzerland, are good mediators. But one of the most successful mediators in the past – though it usually keeps a low profile and brings sides to the table unofficially – has been the Vatican. The Pope has enormous respect around the world. He is also clearly neutral – his interest is preserving the principles of human dignity and love thy neighbor.

It is very likely that the Holy See will be held in high regard – higher than any country or international institution – even by a communist, atheist dictator. So it is conceivable that the Vatican could play an unofficial role in the process, despite Mr. Kim’s god-like status in his country’s weird ideology. Although President Trump was severely criticized by Pope Francis for his Mexican border wall proposal, he seems to have a lot of respect for the Pope and to be pragmatic enough to see this opportunity. The Vatican would therefore probably be the best go-between, especially for unofficial, low-profile mediation.

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