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Can South Korea Save Itself?

Using an Olympic Peace to Avert Nuclear Confrontation

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Gangneung, South Korea, February 5, 2018. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

For much of its recent history, Korea has been caught in conflicts between powerful neighbors—an experience that provides sobering lessons for South Korean leaders grappling with their country’s vulnerabilities today. Since its independence following World War II, South Korea has recovered from war, overcome poverty, democratized, and developed into the 11th-largest economy in the world. Yet sitting astride Northeast Asia’s major geopolitical fault lines, it remains existentially vulnerable: the North Korean nuclear threat continues to grow, and the war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un continues to escalate. There is no ready historical template to help South Korean leaders sidestep tragedy should words turn into military action.

It is no wonder, then, that South Korean President Moon Jae-in so eagerly grasped Kim’s New Year’s olive branch and invited North Korean athletes to participate in the

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