Regime Must Be Included in Unification Research

North and South Korea
could be unified by 2040-2050, a report released on
June 16th by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Korea National Diplomatic Academy
. The report was the first by a government-run agency to look
seriously at a possible “blueprint for unification” since President Park Geun
Hye made her “unification as jackpot” comment at the beginning of the year.

However, the report didn’t discuss why and upon
what conditions unification is or can be a “jackpot,” or the possible conflicts
that could, and probably would, arise in the process.
This was no better than rambling. Not
one paragraph explained what it means to actualize unification. The hypotheses
and presumptions in the report were unsupported by evidence. It was a blueprint
for the most splendid building imaginable, but did not demonstrate the
ability to construct it.

The report argued that if North Korea shows
the sincere will to denuclearize, the Vision Korea Project could be used to
revitalize the North Korean economy and establish an economic community on the
Korean Peninsula. Accordingly, per capital income in North Korea would jump to
$10,000 and peaceful unification could begin by 2030. North Korean incomes
could reach 70% of those in the South by 2040~2050.

But again, the means by which to attain this goal were not discussed. The report doesn’t
contain an analysis of the core issues: how to achieve North Korean
denuclearization when North Korea is wedded strongly to nuclear arms; how the
North’s possession of nuclear weapons can coexist with economic development;
whether economic development is even feasible without reform; how to
incentivize the North to reform; and what economic development strategy is to
be used to develop the North Korean economy.

The report
also claimed that a joint economic community, if achievable, would naturally
lead to political unification. While these two outcomes are connected
to political conditions in North Korea, regime variables were not taken into
account, making the claim sound inane. With the present Kim Jong Eun regime,
many consider both the creation of an economic community and political
unification to be impossible. Unification discussions should always involve discussion
of the North Korean regime.

The same applies to societal and cultural
integration. The cultural integration of South and North Korea is bound to be
one of the most difficult assignments in the unification process. Professor Park
Seong Jo of the Free University of Berlin has pointed out that antagonism between
the citizens of West and East Germany was one of the most serious problems
faced in the process of German unification. The peoples of both sides had thought
they were one ethnic group, but when unified they realized that they were
totally different people. East Germans
criticized West German people for being
arrogant, greedy and wealthy, while West Germans looked upon the East Germans as poor
and lazy. These kinds of societal conflict are likely to be more serious in a
future unified Korea, which would have undergone a longer division and has already experienced military conflict. However, the report didn’t pay any attention to how
to solve such important matters.

In sum, the report opened the road to further debate over unification by suggesting a vision of Korean unification. Now research institutes and experts need to verify the claims in the
report and fill the logical void by starting to research, in detail, the
problems that are sure to arise in the
process of unification.

Unification research must place the problem of the North Korean regime at front and center. Research that does
not do so cannot produce usable unification policy options, because wrong hy
potheses about the regime are sure to result
in wrong conclusions. Political concerns that this type of research might antagonize the North Korean regime is for the government that has to implement policy to consider. It is not the work of scholars.

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