South Korean President Moon Jae-in faces mounting domestic criticism for inviting North Korea to participate in the Winter Olympics. Although Kim Jong Un is reaping favorable press while apparently pressing ahead with a military parade on the eve of the Pyeongchang Games, opening this international athletic competition to one of the most isolated countries is a savvy use of sports diplomacy. This savvy use of sports diplomacy momentarily lowers tensions, tests North Korea’s willingness to negotiate, and all without sacrificing national security.
First, the Moon administration’s efforts to bring North Koreans to Pyeongchang offers a momentary pause and, possibly, a chance for a more prolonged respite from escalating tensions. The spirit of Pyeongchang probably will be short-lived, but there are too few opportunities to initiate a diplomatic framework in which to place this longstanding cold war with North Korea. If Pyongyang were to indicate a genuine interest in temporarily freezing nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests, Washington would at a minimum be keen to have that discussion. It might quickly break down, in which case the maximum pressure strategy remains unchanged. But if a modest opening is gleaned, then another small step might be possible, and from there who knows.
Read the full commentary in CSIS PacNet.