By Mark Boullie
The opening ceremony of the 2018 winter Olympics heavily symbolized a greater peace between the divided Korean nations. While we must remain skeptical of the impacts of this act of unity, we must also appreciate the timing of this peace-based spectacle. Amidst a barrage of insults and threats from arguably the most aggressive U.S. administration to date, the two sides still emanated peace. Pyeongchang, the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics, lies a mere 40 miles from the world’s most heavily militarized border. In addition, North Korea recently conducted their most powerful nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests to date, in which Trump responded with a threat to “rain down fire and fury” on North Korea.
The tensions between the two sides have been flaring recently, however, it seemed, for just a little while, that both sides had put the conflict on hold. South Korea’s President, Moon Jae in, worked hard to allow the Olympics to serve as an opportunity to open peace negotiations between the two sides. A senior North Korean official, Kim Yong-Chol, said that the North was willing to open dialogue with the United States. The two sides had their own agendas of course, “The South was desperate to ease tensions, The North wanted to soften its image and weaken international sanctions. Now comes the hard part for moon, after the Olympics” (Yoo Dong-Ryul, director of the Korea Institute for Liberal Democracy in Seoul).
President Moon seeks to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula which technically remains at war. Moon faces immense challenges in two regards: turning this sign of unity into greater peace, and not rupturing with the hard-line Trump administration.
This challenge is near insurmountable as the two sides seek opposite ends. Analysts say North Korea seeks acceptance as a Nuclear power and economic concessions in return for ceasing the advancement of its nuclear programs. The U.S., under the Trump administration, insists it will never enter any serious negotiations until North Korea commits itself to nuclear disarmament.
In addition, Trump recently announced harsh sanctions against North Korea to pressure Kim to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Moon’s cross-cutting actions have caused many to worry he will blur the lines between which side he’s truly on. As a result, many analysts say this has a better chance of harming the relations rather than offering a peaceful resolution. As evidence shows we must assume that nuclear strength comes immense stubbornness.
South Korea’s youth seem to be just as displeased as the U.S. administration with President Moon’s actions. The youth is more concerned with economic stability and social prosperity rather than national unity.
Despite the skepticism, the immediate results of the peaceful unity at the Olympics seemed to bring a halt to the war for a moment and served as a platform for the two sides to open face to face negotiations.
Some U.S. officials aren’t entirely opposed to the idea of South Korea taking on more of a mediator role, however, they will likely be but an agent that the U.S. uses to negotiate its will.
President Trump must consider what to do about the upcoming joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. This exercise causes conflict consistently and North Korea has said they will continue testing missiles if the exercise is conducted.
President Moon’s pushes for unity may appear noble, but the hurdles he must overcome are arguably insurmountable.