It’s 2018 now, and that means it’s Winter Olympics time, people! The one time every four years Canada gets to come out and say “We are the supreme rulers of hockey, curling and ice dance. Hear us roar!” You may have heard that the competition got a little easier this year with Russia being banned from the Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their elaborate state-run doping scheme during the Sochi and London Olympics (from which Canada got a retroactive medal).
While Russia is out, it looks like North Korea — yes, that North Korea — might be in. The games are being held just 80 kilometres south of them in PyeongChang, South Korea, but with global tensions the way they are (thank you, Donald Trump) coupled with the NK qualifying athletes not accepting their invitations, we didn’t really expect to see them at the 2018 games. The country was also one of the nations that boycotted the 1988 games held in Seoul, SK so it was within the realm of possibility that Kim Jong Un would keep his distance. Apparently not. In his annual New Year’s address, Kim said, “I sincerely hope for a peaceful Winter Olympics” and “I really do wish the best for both North and South Korea.” He also made a call for peace on the Korean Peninsula and asked that the two countries start talks “as soon as possible” to arrange for North Korea’s Olympic participation next month.
On Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed the offer of peaceful negotiations and called on his government to move quickly to set up North Korea’s participation. The Unification Minister said the same day that peace talks between the two nations could begin as soon as January 9 in a border village in the Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Two North Korean athletes (a figure skating pair) have qualified for the games, but the country failed to accept their spot before the October 30 deadline. Al Jazeera reports that the IOC could “still give the pair a wild card to participate” and that the games may be safer overall if there is North Korean involvement. Some countries, including France, have expressed concerns about sending their athletes to a location with such high nuclear tension.
While this looks like a positive development in global relations with North Korea, in the same speech, Kim also gravely threatened the United States and reminded them that he could order a nuclear strike at any time.
“The entire U.S. territories are within our firing range,” the North Korean leader said, “And the nuclear missile button is right there on my desk.” We hope he’s just using the desk-button as a figure of speech, but it’s terrifyingly possible he’s not.
Robert Litwak, a scholar who specializes in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and their ramifications, theorizes that the North’s sudden interest in peace with the South could be a tactic to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea. Litwak told the New York Times, “The timing of the overture, combined with his newly declared capability to strike the United States, is shifting the calculus. Kim sees a rare chance here to take the side of the South Koreans, against President Trump.” The fiery war of words between Trump and Kim has put South Korea in a difficult position: as an ally of the U.S., they would be stuck on the front lines of any war that might erupt and would likely suffer thousands of casualties with only a narrow Demilitarized Zone between them and the highly-militarized North.
Donald Trump is not helping with his running Twitter commentary. He once again called Kim “rocket man” and said “sanctions and ‘other’ pressures are beginning to have a big impact.” It’s unclear what his use of quotations on “other” means (because he rarely uses them correctly) but he likely means his own threats of a preemptive strike if NK looks like they may be moving to attack the U.S.
Sanctions and “other” pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
So early reviews would say that 2018 will either be the year everybody has a great time at the Winter Olympics and we all walk away friends or nuclear annihilation. Cool.