Next month begins the 23rd Winter Olympiad held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It will be an event observed by billions with athletes representing 90 nations ranging from Andorra to New Zealand. And, also, North Korea. The games have provided the opportunity for diplomats from both the North and South to negotiate for the first time in roughly two years. The issues are multifarious including logistics surrounding the games themselves–but also reestablishing of military communication. For many, this progress seems nothing short of miraculous.
The fact that the talks come before (and directly concern) the games hearkens back to the original Olympic truce. In Ancient Greece, war would be suspended so that athletes and fans could travel safely. To a certain extent, these talks continue that tradition and serve as a testament to the timeless power of sport.
We should not overstate that power, however. For one, as South Korean President Moon Jae-in has publicly stated, the presence of the Olympics were not a sufficient condition for the talks. Indeed, he has stated that President Trump’s rhetoric was instrumental in the North’s decision to come to the table. And while many are optimistic about the talks, no one knowledgeable is holding their breath. The United States and South Korea are jointly uncompromising in their vision for a denuclearized North Korea. North Korea is equally uncompromising in maintaining their arsenal. The furniture may have been shifted about but the elephant remains in the room.
We must balance the idealism with reality. This isn’t North Korea’s first appearance at an Olympic games. Shoot, it’s not even the nation’s first appearance in a major sporting event in South Korea. Talks have emerged before and experts argue that they’ve tended to award things to the North without adequate concessions. That is a status quo which cannot stand forever.
However, as I’ve written about previously, these are frigid times. The games may or may not have been what truly inspired these talks, but they certainly provided the opportunity. And for that, there is another reason to celebrate their arrival. After all, any thawing of hostilities, however moderate, is a welcomed sight.