If the International Olympic Committee ever decides to add Totalitarian Cruelty and Nuclear Extortion to its roster of Olympic sports, it might make sense for the IOC to bend over backwards to include North Korea — which would be a shoo-in for the gold. But the Olympics are supposed to involve healthier forms of activity. So I'd strongly urge a sober rethink of the applause we're now hearing for North Korea's last-minute enrollment in the Winter Olympic Games, to be held Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
And there sure has been plenty of applause, from many quarters, for Tuesday's Inter-Korean talks at Panmunjom and the resulting joint North-South Korean announcement that North Korea would send a delegation to the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee hailed this development as "a great step forward in the Olympic spirit." United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the decision in hopes that it will help "foster an atmosphere of peace, tolerance and understanding among nations…particularly relevant on the Korean peninsula and beyond." President Trump, who made a stellar case last November for trusting nothing that North Korea's totalitarian regime says or does, took credit in a Tweet for being "strong" enough with North Korea to bring them to the table with the South, for the talks that led to these plans for Olympic commingling. Assorted major news outlets have been enthusing about the easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the vision of North and South Korean athletes marching together in the opening parade — presumably en route via the Olympic ice-skating rink to some lustrous future in which North and South can reconcile without Pyongyang surrendering its totalitarian ideology or Seoul sacrificing its democratic freedoms.
At a White House press briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, "The North Korean participation is an opportunity for the regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearizing."
Sorry, but this is wishful thinking, translated into diplomatic nonsense. We've heard it too many times before. If North Korea's Kim regime is likely to draw any conclusion from this warm welcome to the Winter Games, it is that Kim's threats, gross abuses of human rights and illicit nuclear missile ventures are no serious bar to rejoining the "international community." Hey, that last hydrogen bomb test was way back in September 2017, a whole four months ago. Now it's 2018. Welcome to the Olympics!
Consider how we got to this moment. For decades, following the 1950-53 Korean War that began with North Korea's invasion of South Korea, the North has held the South hostage to its guns, threatening a renewed hot war, "seas of fire" and so forth; threats buttressed by a growing arsenal of devastating weapons, and periodic attacks, such as North Korea's 2010 sinking of a South Korean frigate.
And over the decades, to deflect international pressure, North Korea has mastered the art of bait-and-switch, engaging in talks and deals as one more means of enabling — not ending — its development of illicit weapons. The pattern is that North Korea every so often comes to the table, and in exchange for its promises of better behavior extracts concessions from the Free World — such as free food and fuel, diplomatic favors, the easing of whatever sanctions are in place — then cheats, walks away, and carries on building ever more powerful weapons of mass destruction. The accurate term for this is not diplomacy. It is extortion.
Thus has North Korea over the years punctuated its advancing nuclear and missile programs with such episodes as President Bill Clinton, in 2000, welcoming a top-ranking North Korean military official for a 45-minute face-to-face presidential sitdown in the White House; a trip by former Secretary 0f State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang that same year; or, in 2007, Chris Hill, President Bush's chief negotiator for the Six-Party talks with North Korea, wining and dining North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. And who can forget the festivities in 2008, when the U.S. forked over millions of dollars to North Korea for the basically irrelevant demolition of a cooling tower at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex? As you might have noticed, none of this glad-handing served to stop North Korea's pursuit of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, with which it is now threatening to target the United States.
That's the context in which North Korea for the past two years spurned openings to talk with Seoul. During that time, North Korea missed the deadlines to register for the Olympics in South Korea.
And during those past two years alone, while democratic South Korea was preparing to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, what was North Korea's tyranny busy with? On top of its nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and in violation of a growing stack of UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea carried out three more nuclear tests– in January and September of 2016, and again in September 2017 — claiming that it had progressed from building and testing the atom bomb to the far more powerful hydrogen bomb. Then there were the many ballistic missile tests — the delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads — including three ICBM tests, and ballistic missiles launched over Japan.
Let us also recall that this was the interval in which North Korea — just before carrying out its Jan., 2016 nuclear test — arrested an American tourist in Pyongyang, Otto Warmbier, accusing him of removing a political slogan from a hotel wall. Pyongyang's regime then inflicted on Warmbier some unknown abuse that reduced him to a vegetative state, held him that way for more than a year with no word to his family, and finally released him in June 2017, to be flown home to die. The list of atrocities goes on and on, including the assassination with VX nerve agent — a chemical weapon of mass destruction — of Kim Jong Un's half brother, Kim Jong Nam, in a Malaysian commercial airport. North Korea's regime found time for many things these past two years, but never got around to registering for the Olympics.
Then, just last week, Kim Jong Un delivered a New Year's speech in which he wished success to the Olympic games in South Korea, and suggested that as "compatriots of the same blood as south Koreans," North Korea wished to share their pleasure and "help them." Part of this profferred "help" entailed an offer "to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures."
In that same speech, Kim talked about a lot more than the Olympics. He celebrated North Korea's nuclear advances, threatened that the entire U.S. mainland was now within North Korea's nuclear reach, and claimed "the nuclear button is on my office desk all the time." In that vein, he exhorted his "nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry" to "mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles… to give a spur to the efforts for deploying them for action." Kim also reminded his countrymen that the Workers' Party, which rules (or, in Pyongyang's parlance, "guides") every aspect of their lives, "should never tolerate all shades of heterogeneous ideas," but should subordinate all undertakings to "single-hearted unity" — by which he was referring to the monolithic ideology that is the monstrous lie at the core of Kim's rule.
Did South Korea respond by saying: Are you kidding? You want to "help" with the Olympics? Sorry, Kim, but while you were celebrating your warheads and missiles, you missed the Olympic registration deadline. You are a totalitarian dictator exhorting your repressed people to dedicate themselves body and soul, whatever the attendant deprivations, to mass-producing nuclear warheads, and you have just threatened our strongest ally, the U.S., with nuclear strikes. It would send a very bad signal to you, and to the entire world, if we and the International Olympic Committee now hustle and make exceptions just to include your delegation (including, no doubt, the party minders whose job is to ensure no defections, no deviation from your "single-hearted unity").
Nope. Dream on. South Korea said nothing of the kind.
As this really played out, South Korea rushed to talk with the North, and emerged, to the cheers of the "international community," with the agreement that North Korea would send a delegation to the Olympics. The Olympic Committee is now hustling to make last minute arrangements, and for the convenience of Kim Jong Un is making exceptions to its deadlines. According to the New York Times, the committee is also promising to help cover the expenses of North Korea's athletes at the games. (That's nice for Kim — less money spent on athletes means more money for such priorities as nuclear and rocket programs.)
As for any hopes within the White House that North Korea's chance to rub shoulders at the Olympics with the international community will encourage Kim to denuclearize and join the civilized world, perhaps it's time to recall the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. That's where North Korea's old friend and patron, Russia, not only took part in the Olympics, but with great fanfare hosted them. On the evidence, all that fraternizing with the international sports community did nothing to deter Russia's President Vladimir Putin from inviting a certain degree of isolation, just a month later, by grabbing Crimea from neighboring Ukraine.
It may be understandable — though hardly admirable — that South Korea, like a target of the mob, paying off the godfather, would try to appease North Korea in hope of reducing the threat that Kim, with his arsenal of everything from nuclear warheads to guns to VX nerve agent and beyond, might endanger next month's Olympics. But doing backflips in response to Kim's last-minute overture is not a step toward peace. It is a concession to a malign North Korean regime that harbors predatory intentions toward the South, traffics in weapons with the likes of Syria and Iran, and is becoming an ever more serious danger to the United States. That, not the Olympics, is Kim's real game here, and he's just scored.