The rapid unification of East and West Germany has given scholars concerned about Korean unification a ready model. The similarities between the two countries lie in the circumstances of their division. Both were divided at the end of World War II and that each half of the divided country claimed either a socialist or a capitalist patron. However, several authors, particularly Han, Sung-joo (1990); Lee, Hongkoo (1990); and Joffe (1990), have differentiated the two systems. It is useful to examine the differences which could affect the applicability of the German experience to Korean unification before examining the model itself.
Korea has never experienced a unified modern government based on law. The Korean monarchy was only marginally capable of ruling the country at the end of the last century and Japan's annexation gave the Korean people little experience in self rule. While the ROK has been experimenting with democratic forms for over forty years (the initial tutelage period proposed by the US before Korean independence), the DPRK has had no experience with anything other than single party, single leader government. This is not true of the Germanies, which had a united parliament in 1848.
The DPRK is also much more independent and more closed than East Germany. It does not rely on its patrons for existence, and has, in fact, successfully threaded its independent course during the Sino-Soviet conflict in the 1960s. East Germany was more pluralistic, allowing some religious freedom and expression of personal views.
The ROK is a young democracy. Its first peaceful transfer of power was only 4 1/2 years ago. Its welfare system is not well-developed. Labor and management have not yet sorted out their respective interests and models for competition and for cooperation.
The Germanies were divided as a punitive and preventative measure to protect the peace in Europe. The Germanies have not been at war with each other. Both Koreas have been concerned about their very existence as a state, and that challenge to their national security came from their rival.
Kee, Woo Sik (1990), the chair of the Lucky Goldstar Group, studied the unification of the Germanies and developed five lessons for the Koreas to consider before unification. His advice closely tracks the model proposed by the World Bank (1991). The first is to mutually establish legal and institutional frameworks for the unified state as quickly as possible. Eliminate uncertainty about the private ownership of property. Improve social overhead systems to be able to absorb, or at least to dampen, the surge effect of large numbers of people needing and expecting social assistance.
Second, it is necessary to recognize that all citizens do not have the same sense of urgency for unification. East Germans were much more interested than West Germans. Older people are much more interested in unification than younger people who have grown up under divided nations. In West Germany, older people believed it was worth the sacrifice of economic impact and political uncertainty to unify the nation. It is important to recognize that as time goes on, enthusiasm for rapid unification declines.
Third, in East Germany, transition to the market economy has been slow. It has been stalled by managers uncertain and afraid of a system they do not understand. Thus, it is important to install managers who are knowledgeable about capitalist systems. Although small enterprises could be privatized quickly, evaluation of large industries showed that many of them are not economically justifiable. About half of the 8,000 government enterprises in East Germany are expected to go bankrupt. The question of currency conversion was complex in Germany. Conversion at full parity would have made East German wages equal to fifty percent of West German wages, considered unfair by West Germans because the productivity of socialist enterprises was low. However, conversion based on productivity would have meant a large migration of East Germans to West Germany, and the resulting impact on social overhead. Investment in East Germany has been slow because there is inadequate infrastructure, such as communications, roads, and waste disposal facilities, and the shortage of skilled and motivated workers. About eighty percent of the East German work force needs retraining. Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism because East Germany also has land for expansion and is regarded as a door to Eastern European markets.
Fourth, the total cost of unification of the Germanies has been staggering. It was necessary to take responsibility for East Germany's foreign debt of US $20 billion, and another US $10 billion over the next two years to support Russian troops and to train them in vocational skills upon their release. Financing East German budget deficits, unemployment benefits, and infrastructure improvements will take about 100 billion marks, or about four percent of Gross National Product. Woo expects the cost of Korean unification to be even greater because the disparity between the two divided states is greater.
Finally, there are increasing social conflicts between the two groups. West Germans object to the increased competition for housing, jobs, education, and goods. East Germans are repulsed by what they see as blatant materialism of the West. There are also remnants of social and psychological trauma. Kee states that thoughtful Germans regret unification taking place in such a way that the dignity of the East Germans has been attacked. They believe it should have been on a more equal footing so that important German qualities lost in the West, but preserved in the East, could be maintained These qualities included thrift, social concerns, and respect for authority.
Han Sung-joo (1990), a professor of political science at Korea University, speculates that the German model may have set back the cause of Korean unification. The North Koreans object to a model where the capitalist state absorbs the socialist state. They see that the only way to preserve autonomy is to keep the two systems separate. Thus, the DPRK calls for symbolic unity such as joint athletic teams and the Confederation of Koryo.
Lee, Hongkoo (1990), former unification minister of the ROK, believes that the German model is based on a different climate of cooperation, both political and economic, in Europe compared to East Asia. German reunification is not surprising when there are plans for the economic unification of the entire area. Asia is much less settled. Moreover, Germany enjoyed a national community before building a unified state. German unification was a natural byproduct of the dissolution of East Germany's patron, the USSR. unification of the Koreas is dependent on internal situations in each state as well as externalities.