The impact of basketball diplomacy on U.S. / North Korean relations


Former pro basketball player Dennis Rodman is in North Korea today. His trip has US policy-makers and pundits concerned the visit may undermine the West's policy goals there. We debate whether on the basketball mad Korean Peninsula there's such a thing as basketball diplomacy. Or is Dennis Rodman just shoring up a regime with little regard for human rights?

Panel: Charles Armstrong / Lars Rensmann

There's no love lost between the United States and North Korea. The two have a history of rattling sabres and exchanging diplomatic blows. Lately, things have been especially tense.

Last month, North Korea conducted its third nuclear weapons test, prompting condemnation from the United States and others. North Korea fired back, threatening "miserable destruction" if the US and South Korea went ahead with a joint military exercise this month.

And now, into this delicate situation, enter... eccentric former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman. Dennis Rodman touched down in Pyongyang earlier this week, for a "basketball democracy" tour.

Yesterday, Rodman called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "a friend for life." The tour is organized by the Brooklyn-based media group Vice and it's being filmed for a potential HBO documentary.

It's not the first time sports teams have dared to tread where diplomats do not. Last summer, a North Korean travel company invited an American basketball team to North Korea to train and play with North Korean kids. According to the promotional video, it went well.

Both Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un say they hope this tour will help break the ice between their countries. The U.S. State Department hasn't commented directly on Rodman's visit. But in the past, it has voiced opposition to other trips ... including Google CEO Eric Schmidt's visit in January, which the department called "unhelpful."

For his thoughts on what effect Dennis Rodman will have on global diplomacy, we were joined by Charles Armstrong. He is the Director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. He was in New York City.

And Lars Rensmann teaches political science at John Cabot University. He's the author of Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture. He was in Rome.

This segment was produced by The Current's Jessica deMello, Pacinthe Mattar, Shannon Higgins and Farrah Richardson.

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