For months, the world has wondered whether North Korea might try to cause trouble for South Korea during next month’s Winter Olympics. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s behavior in 2017 and his continued missile and nuclear tests gave observers in South Korea and the United States every reason to expect the worst. Then, in his New Year’s speech, Kim announced a proposal to renew dialogue with Seoul, initially focusing on the North’s participation in the games. South Korea responded positively, agreeing to the first North-South talks in two years, slated for January 9th.
While many pundits have portrayed Kim’s initiative as an effort to drive a wedge between a United States intent on pressuring North Korea and a South Korea convinced that dialogue will lower tensions, it’s also possible to view Kim’s recent opening as an opportunity. While President Trump’s remarks on Saturday, in which he supported inter-Korean dialogue and expressed his own willingness to talk to Kim, may indicate recognition of this emerging reality, the administration would do well to follow Ronald Reagan’s example.
In November 1987, two North Korean agents blew up a South Korean airliner, killing all 115 aboard. Yet only a year later, in December 1988, the United States and North Korea began official talks in China. How did a Cold-War hawk like Reagan pull off such a feat? Careful diplomacy, and a particularly savvy use of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
While the circumstances of 1988 and 2018 are by no means exactly alike, there are striking similarities. Ahead of this year’s games, there is an opportunity for Washington and Seoul to coordinate their strategy and move from confrontation to dialogue. That strategy could consist of small confidence-building measures, ultimately intended to lead to talks that address each side’s concerns—particularly the North Korean nuclear threat.
Read more at the Atlantic.