North Korea At The Winter Olympics: Will It Ease Or Heighten Tension On The Peninsula?


Maximilian Looft, Author

It’s been four years since the last Winter Olympics, hosted in Sochi, Russia. This year, the Winter Olympics will be taking place 4,456 miles away, in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics was 1988, exactly 30 years ago. But not even 30 years can settle the dispute between North and South Korea, which is causing fear and suspicion of what the North could do in this year’s Olympics.

North Korean athletes weren’t present at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, as they boycotted the games that year. This year, however, they will attend, and that has many people worried.

In 1987, North Korea was responsible for the terrorist bombing of a plane traveling from Baghdad to South Korea; all 115 people on board — South Korean passengers and crew — were killed.

In a 2013 BBC interview, Kim Hyun-hui, a woman now in her fifties, said she and her male partner, who killed himself shortly afterward to avoid capture, were directly ordered by a senior officer to bomb the plane. “He said it would create chaos and confusion in South Korea. The mission would strike a severe blow for the revolution,” she said. She was captured shortly after and was going to be executed, but was granted a pardon by the South Korean president.

Despite the North Korean attempts to cause chaos, the Olympics still went on.

This year, however, more precautions will be made to prevent attacks. The hosting country will have small security drones flying above on guard at the events with nets built in to drop and catch any smaller and potentially dangerous drones. There is a slight fear that the North could deploy bomb-rigged drones, which some say is unlikely due to the North being involved in the games, but no chances for disaster will be allowed this year.

Even with all the tension, there are still hopes that the games can ease the heat for a short time between the North and the South. The Olympics have always been a symbol of peace among nations as they challenge each other in competitive games. “There’s hope for some that the Koreas’ Olympic détente will result in actual peace talks,” an NBC spokesperson said, confirming the South’s hopes for peace.

The chances of North Korea going along with peace talks are slim, with nuclear policy experts such as Jeffrey Lewis predicting that the North will continue with its nuclear testing, as the leader Kim Jong-un relies on his nuclear weapons to hold power in the country.

There is, however, a small unification between the two countries. At the beginning of the games, the North and the South will walk side by side under a unified Korean banner, a blue symbol of the Korean peninsula. Not only that, but there will be a joint women’s hockey team, consisting of 23 South Korean players and 12 North Korean players. But whether the team will stick together and if the countries will stay under a banner is uncertain.

Danger is always around the corner at any Olympic event, but the presence of North Korea only increases the unease.