Next week's ministerial meeting in Vancouver on North Korea is turning into a curious affair. Several countries with vital interests in the peninsula are not participating. The agenda of the meeting is unclear. And recent events have overtaken whatever that agenda might be.
Still, with the threat of nuclear war higher than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis, any day spent talking is a good day. And there will be plenty to talk about on Jan. 16.
The event is co-hosted by the United States and Canada. Widespread rumour has it Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland if Canada would agree to provide the venue, to make the event appear more coalition-based than American-directed.
But while Canada is providing the meeting rooms and coffee, "the initiative for the Vancouver meeting is from Mr. Tillerson," said Brian Job, director of the Centre of International Relations at the Liu Institute at University of British Columbia. "He is clearly attempting to delay, forestall, whatever word you wish to use, efforts by more hawkish elements in the White House who continue to argue for the prospect of a military attack."
Since Canada is always happy to facilitate, and since the Trudeau government wants to be particularly co-operative while the NAFTA renegotiations are under way, Ms. Freeland readily agreed.
But it's an odd crew that will be gathering in Vancouver. The core invitees consists of countries that fought under the United Nations banner in the Korean War, plus a few additions such as India and Sweden.
But North Korea will not be attending, nor will China.
The agenda is rather opaque. A Canadian government official, speaking on background, said the main purpose is to survey the sanctions in place against North Korea, with a view to examining what gaps may exist and how best to close them.
Beyond that, the official said, the gathering would serve as a reminder that the Korean crisis is a global affair, not limited to the United States, North Korea and regional actors.
With nothing specific on the agenda, one wonders what is to be gained by reassembling the coalition of nations that fought against North Korea, other than to antagonize North Korea.
"It's difficult to see what can be accomplished," Prof. Job said.
The final communiqué may have been superseded even before it is written. North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has begun a dialogue with the South Korean government that will see the North take part in next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. A variety of talks aimed at defusing tensions and improving relations are also under way, and the hotline between the two capitals has been restored.
On the American side, many observers are surprised to find Mr. Tillerson still in his job. The Secretary of State has been undermined by a President who dismisses diplomacy as weakness, who brags on Twitter about the size of his nuclear button and who is impatient with a Secretary of State who prefers dialogue to confrontation.
For all that, a day devoted to looking, one more time, at how North Korea might be diverted from its nuclear course and how war might be averted, with foreign ministers or their representatives from many countries in attendance, is hardly a waste of time.
There will be quiet bilateral discussions, perhaps some proposals for preventing some actors from doing end runs around the sanctions, and a general show of solidarity by the international community in support of convincing or coercing the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear-weapons program.
And perhaps hosting this summit will help reverse Canada's chronic neglect of its Pacific duties. Politicians and policy wonks love to talk about how shifting geopolitical and economic forces, coupled with decades of Asian immigration, have turned Canada from an Atlantic to a Pacific country.
But what Queen's University professor Kim Richard Nossal calls the "Atlantic anchor" always seems to drag Ottawa back to its traditional orientation with Europe and the American northeast.
From the Trans Pacific Partnership to trade talks with China to a commitment to collective security in the Pacific, Canada is nothing but hesitation.
But at least we're hosting a meeting on North Korea. Who knows – maybe one day it will lead to something.