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Steps Leading to Korean Unification

KOREAN unification is a hot button issue for the Korean people, who wonder why others do now share their ardor for that agenda. Today the possibility of confrontation over possible North Korean nuclear weapons and the prospect that North Korea might unravel like the former Warsaw Pact states provide new impetus for broader efforts to reconcile the two Koreas. Three specific problem areas cry out for greater international attention: socioeconomic disparities between the two Koreas, concern about post-Kim Il Sung leadership in Pyongyang, and fear that a precipitous "German solution" might devastate Korea.

Despite the facade of egalitarian prosperity it presents to the world, North Korea is obviously replete with economic problems. The socioeconomic disparities between eastern and western Germany are dwarfed by the dissimilarities between the two Koreas. Integrating the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) with the Republic of Korea (ROK) would be a tremendously difficult task because the DPRK lags behind the ROK. Consequently, one priority for South Korea, and all those countries sympathetic to it s cause (notably the United States and Japan), should be to narrow that gap by helping the DPRK move toward the West.

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Steps are being taken in that regard in the name of tension-reduction and confidence-building. They deserve credit. However, such efforts should be reconfigured in ways that explicitly make them incremental steps toward Korean unification. For example, the north's fledgling "special economic zones" should be treated like China's successful coastal development zones. For Beijing, these zones serve as positive signals regarding the future of Hong Kong and Taiwan within a greater China. With appropriate US and Japanese backing, Seoul and Pyongyang could envision parallel phenomena for Korea, as the northern zones create pockets of prosperity bridging the gap between the two Koreas. Similarly, one can conceive of an equivalent of Mexico's maquilladora plants north of the present DMZ that would ease the way for economic integration.

For any of this to occur, Seoul and its friends must develop a minimal level of confidence regarding future leadership in Pyongyang. Enormous anxiety exists regarding the uncertainties that might follow the departure of Kim Il Sung, particularly the chance that the North Korean military may grab power and pursue rash policies. While no guarantees can be provided in a situation with such obvious dangers, Seoul (along with Washington and Tokyo) should consider the positive aspects of Pyongyang falling into

military hands.

Despite all their negative characteristics, the North Korean armed forces have proven themselves capable of military efficiency. In these terms they have the potential to do for North Korea what the South Korean military did for the ROK in the 1960s, namely, inject order and discipline into an economic growth plan. As North Korea copes with adjusting to the post-cold-war era and runs the risks of societal implosion, the DPRK military may prove susceptible to capitalist economic overtures to transform the ir half of Korea.

Each of the previous suggestions assumes enough time for adjustments to take place. Both Seoul and Pyongyang today fervently hope that gradualism will prevail. Pyongyang fears that Seoul is trying to set the stage for some variation of a "German solution" in which the south would enfold the north. Although prevailing over North Korea was South Korea's goal throughout the cold war, the advent of the post-cold-war era and the trauma of Germany's experiences have altered Seoul's hopes. South Korea is steeli ng itself for the possibility of a "German solution," but it clearly does not seek it.

Consequently, it is worth considering the creation of an international consortium capable of easing the way for Korean unification. Such a consortium could underwrite the economic costs, political risks, and strategic stability of a gradualist solution for Korea. Each current Korean state would have much to gain. Pyongyang would avoid the all too real dangers that the DPRK could go the way of some of its "socialist" brethren. It would have greater assurance of a genuine voice in the shape of a united Kor ea. Seoul's voice would be somewhat diminished in comparison to a prospective "German solution" for Korea, but any such loss would be more than offset by the greatly reduced risks.

Leaving the divided Korean nation as a permanent remnant of the cold war is an unacceptable alternative because of the risks of instability it poses for the region. Nonetheless, progress has been halting at best. Therefore, it is essential that more efforts be made to devise creative approaches to reuniting Korea.

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