Can the old Olympic spirit bring the two Korean nations closer to unification, or is the recent thaw in the frosty relationship just tactics from the young ruler of the North?
The severe conflict between North and South Korea has its roots in the Cold War of the 1950s. The Korean War ended in 1953 in an armistice which means that the two countries are technically still at war.1 The United States, fearful of the spreading of communism entered the war on South Korea’s side. This relatively short but very bloody war resulted in 40 000 American casualties and nearly five million deaths altogether.
Kim Jong Un, the leader of the North, stated in his New Years speech that he wished his ”compatriots of the same blood” success in the upcoming Olympic Games and that he hoped to send a delegation of participants to the games.2 Shortly thereafter, the military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang was reopened after two years of being closed, igniting further hope of reconciliation. A deal was also struck that will allow Pyongyang to compete, in what Seoul calls the Peace Games.
North and South Korea peace talks/ Image courtesy of Fortune
There are however great concerns on whether North Korea has a sincere intention to participate in any peace talks with an open mind. On the contrary, it can give the North an opportunity to showcase its military capacity and tempt the South with the possibility for unifying families, divided after the war. Negotiations can also open up a divide between Seoul and Washington, where Pyongyang quite possibly will exploit different agendas of the two nations. This might weaken the link and make the North’s bargaining position stronger. On the other hand, the initiated talks between the two nations are very important. Nuclear tension on the Korean peninsula is a global concern. The stakes are therefore extremely high and even a faint light at the end of the tunnel might be worth pursuing.
There were no immediate breakthroughs at the high level talks on 9 January between delegations from North and South in the demilitarized zone. The North all but closed the door to a dialogue concerning its nuclear arsenal. The argument being that it is not a threat to South-Korea or China, but to deter US from aggression.
Yet, with another top-level meeting in the cards, one can easily be tempted to say:
Let us give peace a chance!
2)Fifield, Anna ”North Korea agrees to send athletes to Winter Olympics, South says”Washington Post, 9 January. 2018.
Written by William Johansson (Pre-IB)