Late last month, Dennis Rodman traveled to North Korea to try his hand at unsanctioned “Basketball Diplomacy.” More famous for his antics off the court, Rodman was a power forward for, among several other teams, the 1995 – 1998 championship winning Chicago Bulls. Modeled after the ping pong diplomacy that the United States and China engaged in during the 1970s, Rodman and several other basketball players traveled to North Korea for an exhibition basketball game. Rodman watched the game court side with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Thought to be North Korea’s first leader to support the United States, Rodman and Kim Jong-un shared laughs during the game and also at a party afterwards. Despite not being designated an official envoy by the United States, Rodman was able to bring back a message for United States President, Barack Obama: “Kim Jong-un wants [you] to call him.”
Despite his efforts, Rodman was not able to quell the ongoing tensions between the United States and Korea. Days after the basketball match in Pyongyang, the United States and South Korea engaged in annual joint military exercises. In response, North Korea cut communications with South Korea and rescinded its cease-fire agreement with the United States and South Korea, signed in 1953. Adding fuel to the fire, the UN has increased sanctions to North Korea, effectively keeping North Korea’s rich from buying yachts and sports cars, a move North Korea has vowed to retaliate against with nuclear weapons.
Although hostilities have thankfully not re-started following North Korea’s withdraw from the cease-fire agreement, tensions are on the rise. North Korea has finally had a successful test of a long-range missile and has renewed threats to use nuclear weapons against South Korea. In response, the United States has pledged to upgrade their missile defense system, effectively negating North Korea’s new-found capabilities. Whether or not one or both sides are posturing remains to be seen, since China has yet to weigh in on the issue in its current state.
That outlines the current stalemate. Dennis Rodman flew to North Korea to sit with Kim Jong-un and watch basketball. Rodman’s suave diplomacy skills uncovered Kim Jong-un’s deep seeded desire to just have a seat at the table with a personal invitation from President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, the world waits with bated breath to see whether China will permit the United States to increase missile defense, rendering not only North Koreans missiles ineffective, but Chinese missiles as well.
Tom Dunlop is a 2L at Denver University Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.