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- Pyeongchang Winter Olympics pass without major incident.
- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un makes surprise offer to meet with Donald Trump to discuss an easing of tensions on Korean Peninsula.
- Despite overtures of peace, North Korea remains an unpredictable threat, particularly in cyberspace.
The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games took place in South Korea between 9-25 February and 9-18 March respectively, with more than 8000 athletes competing from over 100 countries.
Korean Peninsula: Overview
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have escalated rapidly over the last 12 months, as North Korea continued to conduct ever more powerful intercontinental missile tests and pursue its goal of nuclearisation.
However, Kim Jong-un surprised many with his calls for improved relations with the South in his New Year’s speech, and the first talks in two years occurred on 9 January. Following this meeting, it was announced that the North would be sending a delegation to take part in the Pyeongchang Games.
This development was not without precedent as Pyongyang has a history of carrying out provocations before pursuing dialogue with Seoul and Washington in an attempt to win concessions or ease sanctions. There was also speculation that Kim’s overture to the South was an attempt to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
During the Games, the two Koreas marched together during the opening and closing ceremonies and also fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team.
Winter Olympic Risk Assessment
Prior to the games, Drum Cussac identified cyber-attacks as most likely to be the main threat from a security perspective, especially given that international events typically see an increase in such incidents
As the country with the greatest internet connectivity in the world, South Korea is particularly susceptible to a range of cyber-crimes, from surveillance, hacking, denial-of-service attacks to economic espionage.
And despite Pyongyang’s regular denials, North Korean defectors have reported that the country spent a significant chunk of its military budget on cyber operations and had an army of several thousand trained hackers.
Due to the North’s growing technical sophistication, government-backed hackers have been blamed for an increasing number of cyber-attacks, including the “WannaCry” ransomware attacks in May 2017 that affected computers in more than 150 countries.
Despite this, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics passed without major security or risk incidents occurring.
Overtures from the North
The major shock of the Games came from President Trump’s immediate acceptance of an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un on 8 March. If talks go ahead, Trump will become the first serving US President to meet a North Korean leader.
In the first hours after hearing that North Korea’s leader wanted to meet with me to talk denuclearization and that missile launches will end, the press was startled & amazed.They couldn’t believe it. But by the following morning the news became FAKE.They said so what, who cares!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 10 March 2018
A lot rides on such potential talks, with concessions likely to be hard-fought on both sides. The most likely sticking point will centre around a potential deal to freeze the North’s nuclearisation in exchange for a minimized US presence on the peninsula, as mentioned by former chief strategist Steve Bannon last year.
But who has more to lose and more to gain from this summit?
The talks will almost certainly occur due to the legitimacy that meeting a powerful global leader will bestow upon Kim Jong-un.
Getting Trump to come to the table is certainly a coup for North Korea, with the state desperate for the potential easing of sanctions, although they may have to sacrifice their one trump card to achieve this. However, with With North Korea’s increasing capability of creating an ICBM capable of reaching mainland North America, Kim won’t forsake this lightly.
Despite its isolationist policy, North Korea remains a threat to be wary of due to both its cyber and nuclear arsenal.
An official summit with the United States could be a positive step forward and pave the way for a de-escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula and surrounding area, with China also seemingly content to see the situation eased.
Yet patience will be key. The North has shown a previous willingness to do as it pleases, especially with missile launches, and it is important to remember that while Kim has said he is willing to talk, there has been no mention of actually getting rid of his nuclear weapons – and this may take time.
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