by The Daily Signal | 3.27.18
Harry J. Kazianis serves as director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest and the executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He formerly served as a foreign policy communications manager for the Heritage Foundation and editor-in-chief of The Diplomat.
On Friday night, millions of Americans will unknowingly witness what can only be described as the greatest image rebranding attempt the world has ever seen.
Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with some down on its luck automobile or tech company’s latest TV spot. Oh no, this has everything to do with one of the most tyrannical regimes on the planet and its clever ploy to hijack and exploit the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for its own sinister scheme.
You guessed right: North Korea is crashing the Olympics. Literally.
That’s right. A nation that has the worst human rights record on the planet that almost took Northeast Asia to the brink of war last year will walk into the opening ceremonies with its brethren from the south under a joint flag.
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Why this happening is a complicated story of two parties casting aside their differences for what can best be described as a short-term détente. But know this: Come springtime, the stage could very well be set for a conflict on the Korean peninsula that could cost countless lives.
Thankfully, the Trump administration seems ready for what may come.
First, for South Korea, besides the fact that the Moon administration has consistently sought better ties with the North, they have 10 billion reasons—the money they have spent on the games—why they would want to get North Korea involved in some capacity rather than causing trouble.
All it would take is one North Korean long-range missile to fly high into the sky days before the Olympics, or some other military provocation, to damage the games’ economic viability.
The South, to be fair, simply had no choice but to act on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s Day proposal to participate in the games. Imagine if they had said no?
As for North Korea, they have two goals when it comes to the games.
First, they needed to lower the temperature on the Korean peninsula.
With new articles being published every day speculating about war with North Korea, a bloody nose attack, or a preemptive or preventative attack by the Trump administration, Kim probably knew he had to do something to shift the narrative away from war toward the prospect of easing tensions.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this gives North Korea the ability to soften its image.
Walking into the Olympic stadium, possibly hand in hand with their brethren from the South with hundreds of millions of people watching is a great way to show the world you don’t belong in the old Axis of Evil.
They hope this—along with photogenic North Korean figure skaters—will humanize what really is a regime that is unhumanizable.
It’s what happens after the Olympics, however, that is most key. Tensions are set to come to a head in late March as North Korea will demand the cancellation of the U.S.-South Korean joint-military exercises set for the end of April that were originally set for this month—something Pyongyang has already declared in its propaganda outlets.
More than likely, Seoul and Washington will refuse, considering the fact that such exercises are routine and are something Pyongyang does all winter long.
When that occurs, look for the Kim regime to lash out, pull out of any ongoing talks, and to test new missile platforms and perhaps another nuclear weapon in early April.
North Korea, at that point, will try and point back to the good will of the Olympic games, claiming that it is Washington that is driving a wedge between the two Koreas, and that its missile and nuclear tests are only aimed at the Trump administration—a slick divide-and-conquer strategy.
The good news—if there is any when it comes to North Korea—is that the Trump administration is ready for North Korea’s ruse and later provocations.
Vice President Mike Pence has pushed back hard against North Korea’s Olympic strategy. Pence is bringing with him the father of Otto Warmbier, the college student who was tortured by the North Koreans only to be returned to U.S. soil after his condition was terminal.
Team Trump, building on the powerful imagery at the State of the Union of a North Korean defector who defiantly raised his crutches after losing an arm and leg while attempting to steal coal to buy food, clearly is matching North Korea’s propaganda with its own narrative: making sure the world never forgets the Kim regime’s human rights record.
As for what may come in April, Pentagon sources I have spoken with continue to prepare and refine options for the administration if North Korea were to cross the line and launch some sort of military provocation.
And with talk that Team Trump could be preparing a new round of sanctions to ensure North Korea won’t have the resources to advance its nuclear or missile programs any further, Pyongyang knows Washington’s maximum pressure campaign will move forward until Kim comes to his senses and begins to dismantle his atomic terror weapons.
My advice: Enjoy the Winter Games, America. Come springtime, we may very well be back on the brink of war in Northeast Asia.
Written by The Daily Signal
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