Thursday, November 17, 2005

Re: Is a Unified Korea Really in Our Best Interest?

Peaceful Korean reunification has been a subject of well-thought debate within North & South Korea for a lot longer than we here in America realize. Since the early 1980s, when North Korean leader Kim Il Sung renounced violence as a method of reuniting with the South, baby steps have been made between the two nations toward that goal. With the death of the elder Kim in 1994, reunification efforts have been a bit topsy-turvy thanks to his son and successor Kim Jung Il, who is by all accounts at least two beers short of a six pack in the leadership department.

While any political move that involves North Korea should be viewed quite closely with a skeptical eye by the United States, I don’t believe we have as much to fear as Nick indicates in his previous entry. Recall if you will the predictions of how a reunited Germany would become an economic powerhouse after East & West came together in 1990. Well, here we are in 2005, and Germany continues to suffer from double-digit unemployment and an economy so stagnant that the German people literally cannot decide who best to lead them out of the doldrums.

Why were those predictions so off base? Because few accounted for the purely wretched conditions that existed in East Germany. Reunification in Germany, and on the Korean peninsula, means inheriting the bad with the good. And North Korea is so, so very bad. Famine is rampant, and we won’t know the full extent of the damage it has caused to the population until the walls come tumbling down, but we can expect the repercussions to the population as a whole to be devastating. Their infrastructure is based on 1960s-era public works projects that weren’t even that good in the 1960s. The North Korean military consumes rations on a rotating basis, which means that not even all of their soldiers eat every day.

When and if the two Koreas reunite, I wouldn’t count on the new Korea to continue its upward mobility in Asia the way that South Korea has on its own these past several years. What is likely to happen is a drag on the South’s economy that will force both the poor North and the moderately successful South to level out somewhere around mediocrity at least for the time being.

As far as the bomb is concerned, I’m not sure of the full context of Huntington’s quote as Nick lays it out but, as it sits here, frankly, I disagree. South Korea, which owes its military prowess and national security almost wholly to the United States, renounced nuclear weapons in their territory years ago. I find it hard to believe that they would accept their northern brethren to continue to possess the bomb on their behalf should reunification occur. And reunification is very unlikely to take place at all until North Korea straightens out its act on the world stage, and that will only happen once they also renounce the bomb.

Let us also not forget that the South would like reunification to ease the burden upon their northern brothers and sisters, but the North needs reunification if it is survive. With that sentiment in mind, I think we are more likely to see a more peaceful, more democratic Korean peninsula than a more militaristic one.

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