The Yoon Administration's "Audacious Initiative"

The “Audacious Initiative” - South Korea’s key policy platform to address the plethora of problems that is North Korea. You can now pick up your booklet on the Audacious Initiative at South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (Korean) and read about it at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) (English).

The booklet details the initiative’s genesis in Yoon Suk Yeol’s 15 August 2022 Liberation Day speech. It details the initiative’s key features, including the aim to:

The policies and the plans do benefit from around twenty-five years of similar approaches — essentially leading to the greatest criticism. There’s nothing really audacious about it at all. Indeed, Kim, Roh, and Moon were probably even more audacious — but that depends on your political point of view.

The booklet also includes other aspects of the initiative. Including one (p.25) that does not translate well into English as South Korea seeks to promote its multicultural credentials. Whatever happened to diversity?

For me however, the booklet was missing one more thing that seemed rather important. Something that cannot be overlooked.

What the booklet and the entire policy initiative does not cover, is why anyone decided to label it the “Audacious Initiative”. What on earth were they thinking???

The Audacious Initiative. It sounds just as strange in Korean (담대한 구상) as it does in English. In its English form, it’s pretty close to a catch phrase from Wayne’s World or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s easy to imagine a young Mike Meyers or Keanu Reeves in comedic drug-induced stupor, nodding their heads towards Kim Jong-un and letting out a graveled “whoa — audacious initiative, dude”.

The Audacious Initiative. It almost seems as if it’s an in-joke — a humorous jab at the ridiculousness of North Korea policy shared amongst those in the highest policy circles. Roh Tae-woo’s “Nordpolitik”, Kim Dae-Jung’s “Sunshine Policy”, and even Park Geun-hye’s “North Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI)” all hold up on the sensible terminology measurement scale. Regardless of their political ideology or degree of success, they all at least sounded sensible when discussed at diplomatic conferences and academic seminars.

The Audacious Initiative. It sounds like the policymakers all gave up. It’s as if they knew that carrots and sticks were getting them absolutely nowhere. The policymakers realized that diplomacy had been a lost cause for a quarter of a century, and that the last real opportunity for change was when those north of the border were suffering hunger and stripping bark of the trees for soup. Now, in recognition of the Camusian absurdity, they’ve decided to at least smile as they push the boulder of North Korea policy back up the hill. The North Korea policymakers have settled into their Sisyphean fate.

The Audacious Initiative. Is it just the simplicity of hyperbole and spectacle that the public now craves? Trump, Morrison (if you’re Australian) and now Yoon — they all simplify the complexity of politics and policy into showmanship and catchphrases. Easy, meaningless, repeated talking points — rule of law, human rights, democracy, freedom, sustainable peace, denuclearization — rhetorical simplicity, regardless of the policy’s effectiveness, if the ideological keywords are repeated enough times, it becomes meaningful and purposive. We’ve all entered the postmodern phase of North Korea policy.

Orwell, Arendt, Camus, and Baudrillard, all warned us. But anyway… Yay! Excellent. Schwing North Korea! Let’s go Audacious Initiative!