The Winter Olympics and the Games’ Position amid Tensions


With the Winter Olympics soon closing and the coming of military drills in South Korea, there are things that need to be kept on track. The importance of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea lies on what it offers to the tensions in the peninsula. The North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un fired a ballistic missile back in November 2017 following a harsh exchange of words with Donald Trump. The missile surprisingly had what it takes to get to the US, presenting a problem for the superpower country. The Winter Olympics serve a calmer space amid this tension.

And then there is the matter of what each country’s leader wants. Moon Jae-in, South Korean President, has tried to establish a line of communication with North Korea, which resulted in the latter country’s decision to join the Winter Olympics. Kim Jong-un, on the other hand, wants a near-term relief from global sanctions, a mid-term halting of spring allied military drills, and, in the long-term, to drive Seoul away from Washington. Donald Trump, meanwhile, perhaps wants the simplest thing of all: the denuclearization of North Korea.

During the Winter Olympics, the North Koreans refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence as Pence criticized the North Korean human rights record. The sister of Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, was sent as a representative to North Korea during the Games and has invited Moon to meet with her brother. There is a great chance that President Moon will likely accept the invitation. But this doesn’t put him in a comfortable position as he also needs to cater to what Washington and global community want: denuclearization, which North Korea persistently refuses.

The military drills between South Korea and the US will be held sometime after the Winter Olympics. The Games is expected to end on February 25. It would be soon followed by the Winter Paralympics on March 9, which is expected to end on March 18. Provided that there are no breakthroughs in diplomacy, the drills are expected to commence sometime between March 18 and early April. Neither the precise date nor what assets are to be deployed is clear. The drills can be halted or at least be scaled down, though. The Clinton administration showed that it is possible to cancel the drills altogether while undergoing negotiation with North Korea. For the time being, Seoul and Washington can only promise Pyongyang delays and scale-backs.