Olympics Pyongyang-style: invective hurling, et al.

THE International Olympics Committee has been engaged in sporadic negotiations with North Korea over the 1988 Games. For some time Pyongyang has been incensed by the prospect that South Korea will accrue all the center-stage glory as host to the Seoul Olympiad while North Korea observes from the wings. Pyongyang's desires to share the limelight are palpable. North Korea has, of course, done nothing to warrant such a role. On the contrary, Pyongyang from the outset tried to obstruct Seoul's efforts to bring the Olympics to Korea. Failing to block that endeavor, Pyongyang sought to derail the Olympics by provoking a boycott. So far international support for another round of political abstention from sports has been puny. Only Cuba and Ethiopia display any ardor for that notion. In the face of such setbacks, the Kim regime took a new tack. Despite the fact that South Korea tenaciously earned the privilege of hosting the Games and is diligently preparing its bustling capital as their venue, the Kim Il Sung regime is pursuing what it alleges is its ``fair share.'' Pyongyang wants half the action.

This preposterous demand has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee on its lack of merit. Instead, with Seoul's support, the IOC has offered North Korea the opportunity to have a handful of events in Pyongyang. The nominal premise of this offer is to mollify the often dangerously erratic Kim regime by giving it a stake in a successful Olympics. Accordingly, by stretching past precedents of diverse venues in previous Olympics, some events (i.e., archery) could be held in North Korea. By giving Pyongyang a chance to secure a piece of the Olympic action, Seoul and the IOC hope to minimize the risks that North Korea will disrupt the Games, as so many have feared since Seoul was designated the 1988 site.

This limited carrot on a stick will be dangled before Pyongyang at least through next fall. The whole exercise can be seen in two basic ways. It has a certain credibility as a generous measure by South Koreans. That aspect of the proposed arrangement, however, is less believable than the proposition that it is all a calculated and prudent ploy. There is ample reason to believe that the rigidly controlled North Korean state could not readily tolerate an invasion of freewheeling athletes, journalists, and sports fans. The images that prospect must raise within the Kim dictatorship are truly mind boggling. Against that hypothetical context, it is easy to see why Seoul would sanction ``magnanimously'' an IOC offer to expand the venues. Seoul has plenty of reason to think Pyongyang cannot afford to respond and probably never expected to receive any serious offer, albeit limited. Hence, Seoul could make apparently generous offers with considerable confidence that nothing would ever come of them.

In keeping with that theme, and since much of the diplomatic maneuvering around these Games has a tongue-in-cheek quality, one can readily imagine some innovative ``national sporting events'' that are particularly (and facetiously) apropros for an expanded North Korean venue. Foremost might be an indoor track and field event at which North Koreans are uniquely qualified, namely invective hurling. Another possible event might be a North Korean version of the pentathlon, which would be composed of team tunnel digging, nighttime sky diving, long-distance scuba diving, obstacle course hurdling, and shooting imperialistic clay pigeons. Clearly Seoul's negotiators would have to insist that these hypothetical events be restricted to areas entirely within North Korean territory, lest Kim's minions get carried away by their hubris. There is one other facetiously conceivable North Korean sporting event for which South Koreans might well display enthusiasm: an open-class marathon in which all North Koreans could enter. Naturally, the course would be laid out from Pyongyang to Seoul.

Unfortunately, such an event cannot occur. Even more unfortunately, North Korea's uniformed armed teams do not treat their versions of the ``national sporting events'' with such levity. They are deadly earnest about them and seem ready to field ``teams'' in South Korea in a far more serious competition. It is this frustrated armed competition which looms ominously behind the next Olympics. The Clausewitzian dictum about war being diplomacy by other means is being paraphrased by the two Koreas so that the Olympics will become a surrogate for the stalemated war neither can easily afford to reopen. At the moment, all signs point to a massive South Korean victory in this proxy-for-war. That is the rub, however. A preemptive response by Pyongyang could be terribly dangerous. To forestall that possibility Seoul and its friends in the IOC ought to step their efforts to co-opt North Korea into the process. Though Pyongyang does not deserve better treatment, it should be proferred nonetheless to simultaneously ensure a peaceful Olympics and to help expose North Korea to the wider world and vice versa. Those benefits seem worth the costs.

Edward A. Olsen is associate professor of national-security affairs and coordinator of Asian studies at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif. -30-{et

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