Hope for a Unified Korea
February 14th, 2018
The Korean Peninsula, engaged in a state of hostile relations since 1943, took its first step towards the diffusion of its generational conflict last Friday at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Following rising tensions due to its rapidly evolving nuclear arsenal, North Korea extended an olive branch to the South last month, proposing North Korean participation in the Winter Games. This proposition was soon accepted by the South Korean government, rapidly culminating in the bilateral unification of the North and South Korean Olympic teams, who have marched and will be competing as teammates under the flag of a united Korea (pictured above). Despite seeming like an event that will affect nothing more than the composition of a particular sports team, this was in actuality a great stride towards peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula.
To comprehend the significance of this act, one must understand the history of Korean intra- and international relations. After the second World War, Korea was split in half by former allies Russia and the United States, each attempting to seize dominance as the regional hegemon. This split was, in effect, a proxy war: rather than engage each other directly, Russia and the U.S. would compete through their nations’ offspring: North and South Korea. While the North would have the support of Soviet Russia under a communist regime, the South would be governed by the U.S.’ capitalist principles.
This air of competition fostered by Russia and the U.S. soon bled into the Korean nationalist agenda, and in 1950, North Korean troops crossed the border and invaded the South, sparking a war that has still not officially ended. Although no North Korean troops currently occupy South Korea (and vice versa), both groups have artillery aimed at each other across the demilitarized zone in the case of conflict. The animosity that has resulted has been only increased due to the North’s recent strides to attain nuclear arms.
Considering the great enmity between the two, this Olympic unification speaks considerably to the intentions of both countries. It would certainly not be implausible for the Koreas to use the Olympics as a global stage to showcase a potential merger between the two. This unification could be beneficial to the world at large: currently, one of the most pressing threats internationally is nuclear disarmament. Many have theorized that North Korea is using the development of nuclear weapons as leverage to be accepted into the global community and to secure its ability to enact mutually assured destruction should any attack against them occur; by uniting with South Korea, neither of these issues would be in play. South Korea is already accepted on an international scale, so a presumptive Unified Korea would be by default, resolving any need for international acceptance through nuclear arms. In addition, due to South Korea’s worldwide allegiances, the implementation of mutually assured destruction by North Korea’s nuclear arms is no longer necessary because it would be replaced by the threat of retaliation by United Korea’s allies. By removing the incentives for Kim Jong Un to produce weapons, they will likely stop being produced, taking nuclear power out of his hands; this is surely beneficial on a global scale.
However, this is likely wishful thinking. Perhaps this unified march was merely that: a march. Perhaps it signified nothing whatsoever about the future of the political relations within the Korean Peninsula.
But even if this unification was nothing more than a temporary alliance to appease the international community, if tensions rise just as they had before, or if the North and South are never unified, we have at least learned that cooperation is possible. If 75 years of strife can be bridged over an activity as trivial as sports, then North and South Korea can undoubtedly access their inherent synergy in accomplishing goals more momentous.