The Dangers of Korean Unification
Image Credit: UNC - CFC - USFK

The Dangers of Korean Unification


While the popular uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East are unlikely to infect North Korea, they are still a reminder that sudden change is always possible. With this in mind, it’s clear that uncertainties surrounding the transition from Kim Jong-il to his untested son, Kim Jong-un, could precipitate a cascading set of events that ends with swift and unexpected unification.

Rapid unification would almost certainly rule out the soft-landing scenario so devoutly wished for by most South Koreans. That kind of happy reunion would likely require a gradual rapprochement based on increasing economic ties, security confidence-building measures and regular people-to-people contacts. A much more rapid transition would leave no time for such incremental steps, which could come about as part of a long process of confederation.

To be sure, abrupt unification would be intoxicating. Divided in 1945, when the northern and southern Koreas were both desperately poor, the pair would be reuniting with at least one of the two parts having achieved G-20 world-leader status. The streets of Seoul would be filled with euphoric nationalism. In addition, a historical accident would be rectified: namely, the fact that US and Soviet forces ending Japanese occupation in 1945 drew a line across the 38th Parallel as an operational expedient in order to divide responsibility for disarming combatants.

But ecstasy would soon give way to reality. The international community would be left with a stabilization and state-building nightmare bigger than Afghanistan and Iraq and much more dangerous than German reunification 20 years ago. Indeed, if unification were to come about this hastily, the cataclysmic event could well go down in history as one of the biggest missed opportunities of our century.

The problem is that Korea would be unified but not united, and there could well be a resurgence of long-dormant, historical inter-Korean turmoil. Few remember that in the post-1945 aftermath of liberation, deep social fragmentation and political polarization produced an orgy of mayhem and murder. The clandestine political societies that had evolved during Japanese occupation, many of which had been nurtured by outsiders, had free rein to vie for power. When one considers the massive economic disparities that would also be in play because of a South Korean economy more than twenty-fold that of North Korea’s, the technical end of the Korean War could well mark the beginning of another.

May 17, 2013 at 22:52

China doesn’t want a pro-US country on her border, it has nothing to do with trading partners. It’s that simple.

May 17, 2013 at 22:50

If SK wants US presence and unification, she can only choose one, and not the other. You can’t have your cake and eat it. that is the lesson of the first Korean War.

January 31, 2013 at 00:06

What are you smoking? When a Chinese sees a country, first question they ask, how do we do business with them? Yes, not ideologically elegant, but straight-up pragmatism could do a lot more good in piecing the fragments back together.

January 31, 2013 at 00:02

@Kezo Americans who are not chained to the Xbox, TV and Malls should take back their country. It used to be great before it succumbed to the plutocracy- kleptocracy.

January 11, 2013 at 01:59

Wow, this is  a quite an old post. But I came across it and I'll reply. First, my fellow Korean above their is being quite hateful on the US, and I can see you're national ego hurt. I don't blame you. But let me give you some more details. It's true that as South Korea developed while our lagging neighbor at the north fell back further, and the younger generation and even the existing ones have lost interest in the prospect of a reunification. But we view North Koreans as the same people and race. Where on earth did you get those views from, from Korean Americans? Heck, they barely represent us ethnic Koreans living in Korea. We speak the same language, and we have the same culture for the most part. There may be regional differences (e.g south and north) but this is also present between East and West regions of Korea (Jeolla and Gyeongsang, both in South Korea). For both language and culture, the differences come almost solely from modernization of the South. South Korea, as it developed, developed many new words and accepted many English words such as "Computers, Radio, Goal keepers" and on which are obviously from western origins. North Korea, although I prefer their ways, adopted natural-Korean words for these nouns and terms and so on, much like China. The other language differences come from dialects, but this is not much of a problem as people will eventually got used to, as in the case of Jeolla and Gyeongsang. They were never a different language to start of with, and only minor verbs or nouns sound different by a bit or just different. We speak to North Koreans like Americans would speak to the British or the Aussies, perhaps with just a few more difference in a few vocabs. It's not like an American can't understand a conversation of Brits' at all. We understand each other.
And yes, foreign powers are to blame for this diversion in the first place. Maybe not for the inter-Korean disharmony going on right now which is due to the stupid government (in my opinion, anyway). But way, way back in the roots, it could be traced back to all the western powers trying to open up East Asia. America took advantages of Japan when Japan was still a fledgling– which the Japanese learned to be like other western powers and forcefully gained control of Taiwan followed by Korea for brutal colonization. Then they waged war against the US, and USSR entered the war on the Pacific (I'm going very briefly on the history part here) and ended up USSR and US competeing for a better place in NE Asia against each other, which turned out to be Korea. Now, you say Korea was freed by the US/ and USSR for that matter– which is undeniable fact. I guess we should be grateful, but it kinda pisses me off that America is some hero for Korea against the Japanese (But do keep in mind, I don't have the same views for Korean War). What US did was to make Japan surrendar with the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese mainland. At the time, however, the temporary government of Korea that was based in Manchuria led by later-the-first-president Syungman Lee and national leader Gu, Kim, was soon to launch a full scale attack against the Japanese to drive them out, when Japan was near its last straw against the US and other western nations. This was a big force that planned to completely take out the Japanese when they were busy, and was planned around October~December of 1945. But as you would know, Japan surrendered in August. The two world powers, US and USSR, eager to take control of Japanese colonies and its lands (much like Germany, although USSR participated too late in the war to account for control of Japan) stepped in and each set up two different governments in Korea. We, did not create the cold war and the fight for the frontier after Japan surrendered. It was you Americans and Russians responsible for the initial result of this separation, and ultimately the Japanese and Chinese included.
Now, you talk about why we don't blame Russians or China. Well, we do, and all of other nations deserve the same crap for this separation (Okay, leave China out on that. No Korean says China was not the as*hole responsible for the biggest share of this failure to unify back in Korean war, if they ever took a history class) Now, not to condemn and Korean-Americans, but I advise you not to take any Korean Americans perspective on history and such matters. They're indifferent, they don't care, and most of them are too young– so they don't care (sorry for the exceptions) 
I don't know why we should blame Russia, they're no longer USSR, no longer communist, barely supporting NK as they used to. We have good economical ties with them. No one really has hard feelings towards Russians. America is simply blamed more than Russia because you guys are still here, and time to time there's always something on the news about American soldiers doing some bad shit. 2002 there was a massive anti-American movements when American soldiers killed two south Korean girls and got away with. Even last year, I can remember at the top of my head an American Soldier raped a single women living by herself by breaking into her house, group of American soldiers arrested a Korean national outside the Military Camp in non-military grounds and dragged him back to base(they were fighting in front of a clothes shop about parking, apparently). I don't blame the entire American commnity, but there's always bound to be as*holes in every country. Russia was never a military presence in South Korea, and we were never reminded of them.
As for China, that's a whole different story. They're probably the biggest reason why we coulnd't reunite. I don't know what kind of Koreans you were talking to that didn't blame China but only the US. Now that would be weird. The general rule is that China is more responsible for this separation, period.

September 4, 2012 at 06:14

Korea became victim to the big 2 superpowers abusing the country as a strategic foothold against eachother. The ONLY WAY to reunify korea is for allied forces to leave the peninsula.(like the soviets did along time ago) U.S can move over and expand military bases in japan and allow the 12th largest economy with g20 status (south) work with the north. Truth is north has untapped amount of resources that the south can develop minus the existing u.n sanctions Korea as one would be scary to all neighbours. If the Korean brothers work together then very quickly u have the 4th largest army in the world who hold nukes (north) and the 7th largest army in the world with a big navy (south) combined. Finally career can no longer b dictated 2 by foreigners and they can deciede their own course. THE ONLY WAR KOREANS HAVE EVER FOUGHT IS THE ONE WE STARTED! costs would b long lasting but with the capital deployed correctly whilst springing up many economic zones in the north, Korea as one can have a good economy and stability

March 29, 2012 at 17:41

Interesting, I lived closely to and often met Koreans while living in Los Angeles. Koreans may “all want…reunification” but South Koreans don’t even view North Koreans as the same people or race. Rather, lapdogs who all support the Communist Regime speak a different language and have a different culture. This quite honestly baffles me when racial purity is such an important topic in Korean society and how quick the Korean tongue is to blame foreign powers for its division. No, Korea has had a long history of internally preventing itself from advancing by practicing isolationism in fear of foreign influence. However Korea was freed from Japanese Imperialism by a foreign power, the US and Russia, in 1945. South Korea only exists because the U.S. stepped into the Korean War and defended it from Communist expansion. SK otherwise would have went the way of South Vietnam and good luck even knowing your relatives in the Democratic Republic of Korea, a Stalinist, suffering nation that is too backward to know its torturing people for ill defined reasons.

Why doesn’t South Korea have a more strident opinion of Russia, China or other countries that physically stepped into the defense and continued support of North Korea? I’ve never heard a South Korean have such a passionate, negative opinion of “Deceitful Russians” or “Meddling Chinese” who are the only reason the Korean Peninsula remains divided as far as I am concerned.

December 6, 2011 at 15:14

Nonsense. Washington IS a puppet master. Who are you trying to protect?

Smiley G
December 6, 2011 at 15:12

Duke, your ignorance shows. You obviously haven’t read the CIA report released in the 1990s where Washington was dismayed to learn that China was least likely to distingerate unlike Indonesia and India. You obviously don’t understand that China is a continuous state and civilization for more than 4,000 years while Indonesia and India are relatively recent artifical constructs. Nations are not made by cobbling disparate states, tribes, islands, overnight.

December 6, 2011 at 15:04

I tend to agree with with KoreanUnificationist that the sinking of the Cheonan was by the Americans. They have the motives and they have the most to gain. I question the sinking was by North Korea. Washington did not like the sunshine policy of Seoul and Pyongyang, so that miserable creep Goerge Bush stopped it and supported LMB covertly to get into power. No, Washington is not interested in peace in North East Asia but seeked instead to keep tensions on the boil there to maintain it strateic interest. South Koreans and Japanese are all pawns in her murderous power game. Have no illusions about the evil intentions and motives of Washington for East Asia.

I look to the day when a united East Asia come together to fight and kick out the great American Pretender or Anti-Christ out of the Far East.

September 18, 2011 at 07:40

I give the U.S. ten years before it almost destroys itself, it’s one of the few Developed Nations that I know of in which it’s own citizens hate and would love to destroy each other over their differences. The US is the most selfish first world nation that I know of on the planet. Hell, our very culture is ruled by an almost savage drive for self gratification that it is the very model of a perverted form of social Darwinism, as idolized by the majority of our conservative population, while the liberal side believe in supporting policies that sounds pretty, but with absolutely no substance or real value, and would rather throw excuses at the problem rather than solve it like adults.

Ironically, if both political parties were to truly co-operate, rather than fight like the spoiled children that they are,then they could easily advance as a country and nation of it’s own, but as it stands, Our nation needs to invade and destroy other nations rather than fix and maintain our own.

So unfortunately due to our voracious appitite, our selfish hatred, and our own ignorance fueled by TV it looks like our nation is very close to being in it’s last throes because our leaders and ourselves are just like spoiled children, neither are emotionally mature enough to stand on their own, let alone together!

But then again, our leaders DO agree on one thing..Plutocracy, as they have shown with how they support corporations and themselves rater than the people that they serve, rather they pit we the people against each other to maintain their careers.

Further, our rapid decay is fueled by a desperate need to consume above all else, because we believe it to be our “God given” right, and guess what happens when a spoiled child whom believes they’re “entitled” loses their favorite toy? They will waste and destroy everyone in their way to get back what is “theirs”, particularly when it wasn’t even theirs to begin with..

Because of our nation’s leader’s (Who WE elect) short sighted mission to rapidly deplete our own resources to greedily achieve monetary and social dominance over it’s own countrymen our nation is doomed to fall by our own hand. So when “Duke” actually has the arrogance to criticize countries like China that have successfully maintained their nation many decades BEFORE the Roman empire and during the time when most of Europe was getting wiped out by disease from dumping their sewage and garbage in the streets of their cities, and in the very waterways in which they drank and bathed, just realize that like his grunting peers, “Duke’s” word holds as much weight as water being flushed down a toilet.

I don’t know if China will do the right thing or not, or even how and when North and South Korea can simply exist as “Korea” I do know that the rest of the world would certainly benefit from it, and I’m also sure that I’m not as ignorant as a man who steals from another, while leaving my own door unlocked!

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