In ancient Greece, any and all warfare would pause ahead of the Olympic Games so that athletes and spectators could travel safely to the big event.
That’s not too far from what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula. After a year of mounting tension, North and South Korea have stumbled into a period of self-imposed calm. It’s not just that in the lead-up to the Pyeongchang games, which start on February 9, the two neighbors have agreed to field a unified women’s hockey team and parade together at the opening ceremony under a single flag. It’s that they’ve quietly entered into a de facto Olympic truce. Until the games conclude, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears likely to refrain from nuclear and missile tests, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump have postponed joint military exercises. To plan the joint Olympics competition, Pyongyang even reconnected an interKorean military phone line that had been dead for almost two years. Is there reason for hope?
Maybe so, but the Trump administration appears to be doing little to encourage it. In his State of the Union address, Trump spent more time on this crisis than on any other foreign issue, and laid down this gauntlet: Pyongyang will not be allowed to develop the capacity to reach the U.S. homeland with nuclear-tipped missiles. He warned that he would not tread the path of his predecessors, by which he meant mutual concessions. His senior officials raise the improbable prospect of a“bloody nose” attack—a targeted strike powerful enough to set Kim’s program back, yet somehow finely calibrated enough to avoid provoking his retaliation. And, while Vice President Mike Pence, who will be leading the U.S. delegation at the Pyeongchang games, left open the prospect of meeting North Korean officials, his lead-up was anything but conciliatory: Speaking in Tokyo, he dismissed Pyongyang’s Olympic goodwill gestures, described its regime as the “most tyrannical and oppressive … on the planet”, announced the imminent imposition of the “toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever” and, for good measure, stated that “all options are on the table,” a broad hint at the possibility of preventive military action.
The full article can be read at Politico.
Robert Malley and Stephen Pomper.
Originally published in Politico