Most attendees greeted the unified Korean Olympic team with applause as they entered the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
One notable exception to this was the Vice President of the U.S., Mike Pence, who remained seated.
Pence’s actions, and the backlash that followed, wasn’t only a North Korean propaganda victory, but the latest in a series of incidents that suggest a strained relationship between South Korea and United States.
Recent actions by the Trump administration have drastically increased tensions on the Korean peninsula, and in doing so, have pushed away South Korea.
President Trump’s bluster, from his infamous threat of raining fire and fury on North Korea, to name-calling contests with Kim Jong Un, have been a problem.
However, a bigger concern is the disregard the United States appears to have for the safety of South Korea.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said, “This administration is prepared to do what it takes to ensure that people in Los Angeles,Denver and New York aren’t held at risk from Kim Jong-un having a nuclear weapon,” in an interview with Fox News last month.
Note that no concern is made for South Koreans, or the people of another U.S. ally in the region, Japan. Both have also been threatened by the presence of North Korean nuclear weapons.
But this goes deeper than the exclusion of South Korean and Japanese cities from Pompeo’s quote. Proposed actions are also unsettling.
There has been discussion by the Trump administration of a “bloody nose” strategy, which entails responding to a North Korean nuclear test with a limited strike against North Korea, in order to dissuade North Korea from further development of missile and nuclear technology, and draw a proverbial line in the sand.
Such a strategy is risky and insane. It risks North Korea responding with unleashing the full force of their nuclear arsenal in response.
And an immediate nuclear response is possible. According to a Vox panel that included a retired South Korean general, as well as former members of the CIA and United States military, most respondents believed that North Korea would use nuclear weapons in the initial stages of a war, rather than as a desperation attack when cornered.
The U.S. is risking global thermonuclear war with the strategies it’s considering, and the effects are obvious.
South Korea has entered separate diplomatic talks with North Korea. While peace on the Korean Peninsula would be beneficial, a separate peace between the two Koreas would do nothing to cool the nuclear tensions between North Korea and the U.S.
South Korea — and any other nations involved in an agreement — would likely roll back sanctions on the North Korean regime as part of a peace deal.
Such sanctions are the best chance that the U.S. has of encouraging North Korea to make concessions, similar to what occurred in the Iran deal a few years ago.
In order to avoid losing the help of one of its staunchest allies, and to curtail the North Korean nuclear program, the United States must embrace diplomatic talks between the two Koreas, however distasteful the regime may be.