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Korean Unification

Koreans have dreamed of reunification since Korea was broken into two in 1948. Due to the deep-rooted sense of connection and historical backgrounds, both Koreas focus on re-unification. Seoul even runs a government branch dedicated for that purpose, the Ministry of Unification. Article 4 of the ROK Constitution says the country "seeks unification" and makes the important point that the approach and end result must be "peaceful" and based on the "principles of freedom and democracy."

The North Korean economy was 53 times smaller than South Korea's in 2018. TheROK Statistics Korea said 13 December 2019 that the North's GDP amounted to 30.4 billion U.S. dollars last year, which makes the economic gap between the two Koreas greater than in the previous year, when the North's economy was 43 times smaller than the South's. The North's GDP per capita last year was about 12-hundred dollars - less than four percent of that of South Korea's. The growing gap is largely attributed to international sanctions that cut the trade volume in half in 2018 to 2.8 billion dollars, the lowest volume since 2003. The Bank of Korea had previously said the North's economy is shrinking at the fastest pace since the peak of the so-called 'Great Famine' in 1997.

The DPRK was created by Moscow and Beijing as a friendly sovereign state, which served the role of a buffer state against the geopolitics ambitions of the U.S. in this region. The DPRK's unification formula which calls for creation of a neutral non-aligned state on the peninsula looks, from the point of view of Russian and Chinse security interests, more attractive than South Korean commitment to the U.S. military presence after re-unification of Korea.

China seemingly fears advancement of the U.S. troops to almost 1400 km-long Korean-Chinese border in the context of unresolved Taiwan problem, the United States - prospects to be compelled to put an end to the their military presence in Korea, and Japanese - emergence of a strong competitor overwhelmed with aspiration to get a historical revenge for humiliations of the colonial past.

Russia hardly can welcome as a new neighbour a state with 70-million population which is under prevailing influence of the U.S. and the more so with the American troops on its territory. It would be equivalent to emergence on the near east borders of an Asian clone of NATO. Some prominent Russian experts consider that the U.S. troops' stationing in South Korea is anachronism of the "Cold War" period.

Many different future re-unification scenarios for North Korea can be envisioned, and indeed have been in some detail by researchers and policymakers: these include the possibility of a regime collapse, an internal upheaval and “implosion”, or an end to regime resulting from an attack against the South (“explosion”). these conditions look to be the very most convenient from the standpoint of South Korean policymakers. At the same time, however, they all look to be exceedingly unlikely to concord with reality in the event of an actual re-unification of the peninsula.

Of the many scenarios of Korea’s unification, under the “compromising scenario” the two countries achieve political unification through governmental negotiations but have not yet begun full-fledged economic integration. Economic integration in this case will be a gradual process. This scenario involves one political and economic system (market capitalism), but will have two separate economic units (North and South) which eventually is expected to reach full integration. Initially there will be integration of the commodities market and capital market (1ststage) then there will be labor market integration (2nd stage), then adaptation of a common currency (3rd stage), which will gradually reach full integration into a single market.

The re-unification of the two Koreas is a potential solution to the aging problem and low fertility, along with the increase in the old population structure of the Republic of Korea. Population structure is an indicator of national competitiveness or growth, but little is known officially about the populations of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Legally, North and South Korea remained in a state of war. Peace had been maintained on the Korean peninsula under an Armistice for over 60 years. The reunification of the two Koreas was seen as a difficult goal by both the North and South. Although P’yongyang and Seoul agreed in principle in 1972 that unification should be achieved peacefully and without foreign interference, they continued to differ substantially on the practical methods of attaining reunification; this area of disagreement had not narrowed in subsequent years.

Historically, the goal of the North Korean unification formula had been not to unite the two Koreas but to liberate the South through revolution in accordance with the theory of "one Korea." It had been proposing a confederation of one people, one nation and two systems, two governments. It insists on leaving the question of uniting the two systems to future generations to resolve.

The ROK formula uses gradual and progressive steps toward unification to reach the ultimate goal of one people and one nation. The phases envision a process from reconciliation and cooperation to a commonwealth and then a unified nation-state. The basic principles that have been consistently maintain in the past are that unification (1) must be achieved through general elections in the South and North in accordance with democratic processes and (2) must guarantee freedom and human rights for all Koreans as well as their right to enjoy prosperity.

North Korea’s goal of unification remained constant, but tactics have changed depending on the perception of opportunities and limitations implicit in shifting domestic and external currents and events. From the beginning, North Korea had insisted that an inter-Korean political formula should be based on parity or equality, rather than population. Because South Korea had more than twice the population of North Korea, a supreme Korean council set up according to a one-person, one-vote formula would give South Korea a commanding position. Another constant is P’yongyang’s insistence that the Korean question be settled as an internal Korean affair without foreign interference.

P’yongyang’s position that unification should be achieved by peaceful means was belied by circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and by subsequent infiltrations, the digging of invasion tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and other incidents. North Korea’s contention that the conflict was started by South Korea and the United States failed to impress South Korea’s population and had been proven false by Soviet archives. The war, in effect, reinforced the obvious ideological and systemic incompatibilities that were in place at the time of the division of the peninsula in 1945.

The Nordpolitik blueprint - Roh's declaration of July 7, 1988 - opened a new chapter in inter-Korean dialogue. Calling for the building of a single "national commonwealth," Roh solicited the assistance of Washington and Tokyo to improve Seoul's relations with Moscow and Beijing. At the same time, he encouraged Washington and Tokyo to improve relations with P'yongyang and expanded inter-Korean exchanges. Roh urged a positive response from P'yongyang, but North Korea's reaction was not positive.

P'yongyang issued an immediate and detailed statement on July 11, 1988. The CPRF dismissed Roh's proposal as old wine in a new bottle, claiming that only the 1972 three basic principles for Korean reunification - reunification by peaceful means, by transcending ideological differences (nationalism), and without external interference (self-determination)--could be the basis to improve inter-Korean dialogue. Seen from P'yongyang's perspective, Roh's July 7 proposal was nothing more than a political ploy to cope with increasing radical student agitation that opposed Seoul's hosting of the Olympics without P'yongyang's participation. Consequently, Roh's statement angered rather than mollified P'yongyang's posture, which was based on Kim Il Song's proposal to establish a Democratic Confederal Republic of Korea.

In the late 1990s the frozen inter-Korean relations slowly began to thaw. President Kim Dae-jung, who took office in 1998, pushed for what he called the “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with North Korea. Kim sought to end the era of confrontation between the two countries.

The Roh Tae-woo government and the Kim Young-sam government presented a three-stage unification plan. The first stage was to seek reconciliation and cooperation, and the second step involved the integration of Korea. Once these two steps are completed, peaceful unification would be fully achieved in the third stage.

President Lee Myung-bak proposed drafting new measures to prepare for a future reunification of Korea during his address marking the 65th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule on 15 August 2010. In his Liberation Day speech, entitled “Marching Together toward a Greater Republic of Korea,” President Lee said that the current inter-Korean relationship demands a new paradigm. He also put forward a three-stage unification formula, which would start with a “peace community” that requires North Korea’s denuclearization, followed by the creation of an “economic community,” and finally a “community of a unified Korean nation.” This is the current government’s first officially announced unification plan.

President Lee’s three-stage unification formula divides the reconciliation and cooperation stages into two phases. In the newly-proposed first phase, a “peace community” would be set up to settle peace on the Korean Peninsula and ensure the mutual security of both Koreas. When North Korea shows its commitment to denuclearization, South and North would proceed to the second step to build an “economic community.” Here, President Lee’s North Korea policy, dubbed “Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness,” is presented once again. It calls for Seoul to assist North Korea in raising its per capita income to 3,000 dollars in a decade.

Unification had been President Park's vision since her inauguration but on the condition of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. In the 01 March 2016 ceremony marking Korea's ninety-seventh Independence Movement Day, President Park Geun-hye invited North Korea back for talks -- under the condition that North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program. She brought back her vision for unification after an extended stern stance against Pyongyang following its fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch.

The 2018 White Paper on Korean Unification, published 13 April 2018, expounded on the Moon Jae-in administration’s policy on the Korean Peninsula, which is intended to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula; sustain the development of inter-Korean relations; and realize a new economic community on the Korean Peninsula. It also introduces the government’s diverse efforts to achieve these goals.

Attention is also being paid to the potential cost of unification. Specifically, it refers to money to be invested until South and North Korea are merged into one society. West Germany spent a staggering 2 trillion Euros over the 20 years following unification. Estimates of the cost of Korea’s unification vary among research institutions, but they all agree that it will be astronomical. For example, the U.S.-based Rand Corporation calculated that it would cost up to 1.7 trillion dollars to raise the income level of North Koreans to that of their South Korean counterparts. The Samsung Economic Research Institute estimates that South Koreans would have to pour 33 billion dollars annually to subsidize North Korean people in order for them to meet the current minimum cost of living set by the South Korean government. Experts predict the cost could vary widely, depending on when it occurs.

According to the “Unification Bonanza” initiative by President Park in early 2014, expectations towards unification are rising alongside the realization that unification requires preparation. Discussions that focus on the benefits of unification may be desirable for eliciting passion for unification and seeking better strategies. However, the problem is with creating arguments for overall comprehension of costs and benefits. Recent trends tend to stress economic costs and benefits of unification too radically. Unification not only represents the emergence of a large-scale community which is a unified Korea, but will also mean fundamental shifts in the geopolitical configuration of Northeast Asia (hereafter NEA).

A May 2018 report estimated that the potential cost of Korean unification could be around two-trillion dollars over ten years. Britain-based SLJ Asset Management attempted to calculate the sum, based on the cost of Germany's unification. The report said financial transfers from West Germany to the East in 1989 worked out at around two trillion US dollars in today's money, over 60 percent of the West's current GDP. The paper noted that the economic gap between the two Koreas is much larger than the two Germanys before unification. It also suggested Seoul, Washington, Beijing and Tokyo splitting the costs evenly, at about five-hundred-billion dollars over a decade per country.

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Page last modified: 23-12-2019 18:07:45 ZULU