You In Their Shoes: North/South Korea Talks

North Korea will send athletes (and a cheering squad!) to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea, under an agreement just reached in the first high level talks between the countries in two years.


Anything to ease tensions on the peninsula is good news — especially considering that that the last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, in 1988, the North not only boycotted the event, but bombed a South Korean airliner ahead of the games.

That said, easing tensions during the Olympics is one thing — addressing the underlying crisis surrounding North Korea’s defiant development of nuclear weapons is another. How does it look from each of the key participants’ perspective?

You’re Kim Jong-un — more than anything you want an ICBM that can hit the US. If you have refrigerator magnets, surely two of them are of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, as reminders. But with sanctions hurting your cash flow, you’re in the mood for a temporary thaw, some international goodwill, and more time to develop that ICBM. You know South Korean president Moon Jae-in wants to ease tensions and have a peaceful Olympic games. So you sent him an olive branch on New Year’s Day.. And here you are.

You’re Moon Jae-in — you’ve already agreed to postpone regular US-South Korea military drills to avoid provoking Kim during the Games. North Korean participation is a nice little win, but there’s not much more you can do with the North without violating the sanctions approach or diverging from the hardline policy of the US, your main security partner. Don’t forget, Trump is also in a state about the trade deficit with your country, and is currently trying to renegotiate your most important free trade deal as a result. Tough spot. How good a geopolitical slalom skier are you?

You’re Donald Trump — you’ve threatened to destroy North Korea, though you must know that would also risk the lives of tens of thousands of South Koreans and US troops too. And yet beneath the bluster, your administration has helped cobble together a decent sanctions regime. The trouble is that Kim’s fundamental determination to get nuclear weapons that can hit you is undeterred — it’s an existential security question for him. So after the goodwill of the games, you’ll resume military drills with South Korea, Little Rocket Man will test a Big Rocket, man, and… then what?

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