Sanctions on North Korea and Kim’s ‘Sports Diplomacy: Is Kim acting Smart?

Opinion: Is sports diplomacy a new game plan of North Korea?

Sharing my opinion published on WION News on 18 Jan 18 as                                 “Opinion: Is sports diplomacy a new game plan of North Korea?”

Two contradictory events set an uneven tone for Korean Crisis. China condemns the 20 nation call for tougher sanctions against North Korea, held this week in Canada, attempting to pressurise North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, without participation of China and Russia. At the same time the two Koreas decide to march together at Olympics opening ceremony under a white “unification flag” showing the Korean peninsula, and agree to field united ice hockey team in February 2018. The two Koreas also agreed to field a united women’s ice hockey team, and have joint participation in Para-Olympics in March 2018. At the face value gives an indication that the ‘Sports Diplomacy’ of Koreans may be step one to some face saving settlement of North Korean Issue, but it is not as simple as it appears to be.

During Vancouver meeting the United States continues to threaten North Korea with the option of military response in case North Korea decides not to talk as per the conditions laid down by US. US  has reasons to say so because nuclearisation and weaponisation of North Korea is no more a local issue between the North and South Korea, but its dimension has grown beyond the region up to the mainland of US now. North Korea indicates willingness to talk, but without precondition.

China may feel that these talks are an extension of erstwhile cold war isolating China, Russia and North Korea and an attempt of US to convince the world community about exhaustion of all peaceful options, before actually going for a possible military option. Although the world community will like China to do more, but it has no moral standpoint to convince North Korea, because the North can turn back  to tell China, that it is going nuclear exactly for the same reason, because of which China went nuclear, that being to ensure its survival against US. The use of nuclear capability as insurance for its defence, was cited as the main reason by almost every country, which added nuclear weapons to its arsenal. When Israel went nuclear, it developed a survival capability to dissuade all hostile neighboring Arab countries. North Korea has been and will continue to use this logic for its missiles/nuclear tests/ misadventures so far, which revolves around its own security concerns and survival of regime of Kim. It justifies it as a defensive measures against the US threat of past regime changes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other countries not following its dictate, as they happened to be Non nuclear/Incapable of threatening some part/ally of US.

The unfortunate part is that this threat is a bye product of selective leakage of nuclear and missile technology by some irresponsible countries, despite signing NPT. This has led to a dangerous situation where global community is suffering from a threat of nuclear blackmailing by states like North Korea and Pakistan today, and may be by  militants in future , if they can lay their hand on dirty bomb or tactical nukes accidentally or deliberately.  It may therefore prudent to think that China and Russia may not have that strong a leverage over North Korea as it is made out to be. It is also a matter of concern and suspicion that Kim cannot become so nice and reasonable suddenly. What seems to be on is a crisis avoidance exercise by North Korea to prevent a nuclear war for the time being by “Sports Diplomacy”. The danger is that it gives adequate time to North Korea to complete his nuclear ambitions, and it may reach a state where the reversal may not be possible (if it has not reached there already).

The threat from US regional allies has also been given as an excuse. The Korean War is also an unforgettable historical event when US might was used against them. The blackmailing part is that their leadership is ready to endanger lives of its own people, by continuing with nuclear tests, (despite the tunnel housing it collapsing), to save the current autocratic regime, using ‘Hate America’ theme as rallying point.  By doing so they expect that the world should behave on their terms to save lives of people of other countries, despite risk of suicidal destruction of their own country, like in case of fidayeen attacks.

The reality therefore is that by getting missile and nuclear technology from some country/countries who would have obviously violated NPT. North Korea has been able to create a capability which dissuades the strongest military power US to take any military action.  It is also using its nuclear capability claims, to threaten Japan and South Korea and blackmail US to talk without preconditions. Sanctions had little effect to the extent that North Korea is now signaling to be ready to talk to US, but without preconditions.


The fact that US decided to postpone military exercises beyond the winter Olympics indicates that a tacit understanding exists between US and South Korea in such peaceful ‘Sports diplomacy’. However South Korea continues to be the weakest link of the chain in preventing nuclear blackmailing by Kim – The North Korean dictator. South Korean President’s ideas of sending humanitarian aid and having talks with China earlier do not show his strength. It is not the time to ease pressure on sanctions, or applaud North Korea, as its actions may be a deception or a logistics pause before the next test.

It appears that world community at large seems to be settling down with status quo approach, with some statements and posturing. Is the world finding itself helpless against danger of nuclear blackmail? The positive part is that there is some beginning to resolve this crisis, without loss of face to either side, hence it is best practical beginning in the given circumstances, which will have to be pursued. The options in any case are shrinking. The reality is that It is too late to convince North Korea to give away its nuclear program. A nuclear tipped, missile capable North Korea is a reality, even if US does not declare it as such; Additional strict sanctions need to be applied to restrict North Korean future dangerous ambitions and the leakage has to be checked, to prevent bigger crisis.

Korean Peninsula will have to be accepted as a flashpoint. No one will deliberately like to initiate war, but it will continue to be prone to accidental triggers. The need to provide protective hardware, technology, and improve their fighting capability to its allies is a must for US to provide credibility to its Military alliance. US technological capability to make nuclear arsenal of adversary malfunction or possibility destroying it, and prevent its penetration into its own air space will be under test. The status quo ante is not an option because if no action is taken against North Korea, the world will have live with the problem of nuclear blackmailing, and the other countries like Pakistan working on similar philosophy may also be encouraged. Moreover it will have cascading effect, as Japan, and Iran may go nuclear and South Korea may ask for tactical nukes.

Major General S B Asthana

(The views are of the author and do not represent views of any organization. The author can be reached as Shashi Asthana on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ and on website

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