• 폰트크기작게
  • 폰트크기크게
  • TTS
  • 단어장
  • 기사스크립
  • SNS
2017-12-04 16:37
By Doug Bandow



On his recent trip to Asia President Donald Trump asked his South Korean hosts an impolitic question: “Do you have to reunify?” They said yes, but the right answer is no.

The head of the ruling Democratic Party observed that “people who come to South Korea almost never ask it. The fact that he posed this question, frankly speaking, gave us the opportunity to explain the need for reunification.”

But there is no need. In fact, reunification is unlikely, absent a catastrophic collapse of North Korea. And no one should wish for that, given the possibility of civil war, factional conflict, loose nuclear weapons, and mass refugee flows.

After Japan’s surrender in World War II the U.S. and Soviet Union divided the peninsula into two occupation zones. Korea’s division was cemented after the Korean War. That left a common desire for reunification.

But the older generation is dying off. Younger South Koreans have no connection with the North. For them the appeal of reunification is purely abstract.

Moreover, German reunification caused even many fans of a united peninsula to hesitate. Germany’s process cost as much as 2.5 trillion Euros, or $3 trillion. The latter is about twice the ROK’s annual GDP.

Reunification was a significant burden for West Germany, which was wealthier than South Korea. And East Germany was richer than North Korea. (The per capita income ratios were 3-1 for West/East Germany, and 20 or more to 1 for the South/North Korea.)

South Koreans hoped the subsequent “Sunshine Policy,” which channeled money and aid to Pyongyang, would promote more rapid economic development, encouraging economic convergence between the two Koreas before reunification.

The likely political consequences of reunification also raised concerns. Some conservative South Koreans worry about adding millions of voters raised as socialists. The latter might reject communism, but still vote left.

Moreover, it is hard to imagine how reunification could occur voluntarily. In 1972 the two Koreas agreed to principles for reunification, but, as expected, nothing came of it. Although Koreans North and South share a common heritage, their cultures, economies, and political systems differ dramatically.

Most important is the question of power. When I first visited the North 25 years ago, North Korean officials told me that they did not want to be “swallowed.” They understood that in any genuine reunification the DPRK would simply disappear. And with it their privileged positions.

Indeed, most would have no useful role in a new united Korea. South Koreans would flood in with money as newly empowered North Koreans defenestrated their former overlords. The latter have no incentive to consent to their demise.

An equally important, though usually ignored, factor is China. The common assumption is that Korean reunification is inevitable. But Beijing does not want the Koreas to reunite.

The result would be a larger, stronger, more populous competitor, one offering a powerful draw to the ethnic Koreans who populate China’s border provinces. A reunited Korea allied with America hosting U.S. bases and forces would be an even more undesirable development.

While Beijing would hesitate to block a voluntary reunion, that, as noted earlier, seems extremely unlikely. In contrast, if the Kim regime lost control, or if the North Korean state suffered a serious loss of authority, China might find an opportunity to intervene, perhaps on behalf of internal forces friendly to the PRC. Beijing might create an independent but more pliant neighbor, one willing to conform to China’s foreign policy objectives in return for security guarantees.

This result might disappoint some South Koreans, but others might be relieved to avoid the manifold uncertainties, difficulties, and costs of reunification. Moreover, a willingness to accept Chinese intervention could be used as a bargaining chip to encourage Beijing to toughen its stance toward Pyongyang.

While the desire for Korean reunification looks Quixotic, the objective of denuclearization deserves priority. Ending or at least limiting the security crisis in Northeast Asia would open possibilities for peaceful transformation of the Korean peninsula.

President Trump asked an important question: is reunification necessary? It is not, even from South Korea's perspective.

It isn’t even obviously desirable, at least absent an unlikely transformation of the North. The ROK has come far; it does not want to sacrifice its success in a vain attempt to incorporate the North.

Maybe everything will work out. But maybe not. And the allies should be prepared. They have no higher duty than maintaining the peace. Reunification would be too dearly bought if it followed another Korean War.


Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


  • 폰트크기작게
  • 폰트크기크게
  • TTS
  • 단어장
  • 기사스크립
  • SNS