Glenn D. Paige (1989: 57)

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Like the blind men describing the elephant, scholars prescribing methods to unify Korea each advise conditions best seen from their perspective. While all may be wrong in describing the entirety, they each are at least partially correct.

Choi, Ho-Joong (1990) was the ROK's Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1988, the year the Olympics were held in Seoul. He believes that the ROK should nurture the bud of cultural and sports exchanges with the DPRK. He believes that the ROK does not want to isolate the DPRK, and so it encourages the normalization of relations with Japan and the US. He is cautious, however, about attempts to unify the country without adequately addressing other DPRK goals of economic prosperity and democratization.

Johan Galtung (1989), whose publications include the multi-volume Essays in Peace Research, believes that unification would be achieved more quickly if Koreans agreed to form a neutral state. This neutral Korea would then play the same role in Asia that Switzerland, Austria and Sweden play in Europe. Galtung believes this is possible in Korea because neither state is currently operating under an indigenous ideology. By taking progressive steps in economic spheres, Galtung believes that the Koreas can begin the dialogue necessary to formulate this unifying philosophy.

Thomas Becker (1989), whose research is currently in electronic democracy and methods of conflict resolution, believes that a third party mediator may help the Koreas reach unification. He sees favorable conditions in the Koreas common language, the high-technology in communications available from the ROK, the democratization of the ROK, and the two countries' well developed defenses. His advice to the ROK is to be ready to engage in dialogue with the DPRK when that country proposes talks, and not to follow Taiwan's example when it rebuffed the PRC.

Iuli Bantchev (1991), who is a Russian social scientist, predicts a three phase scenario. First, juche will be adjusted over the next couple of years to support urgent integration of the DPRK into the world economy. Then, external forces will expect democratization of the DPRK regardless of its internal policies. Finally, in tandem with the unification of Taiwan with China, the two Koreas will create a commonwealth. A unified Korea is then expected to build a democratic society on the whole peninsula.

Oran R. Young (1989) is Senior Fellow of the Dickey Endowment for International Understanding and his research concentrates on conflict resolution and the role of social institutions in international society. He is pessimistic about negotiations being successful in resolving the Korean unification question because both states exhibit marked tendencies to act on the basis of ideological formulae rather than on pragmatism. His prescription is to increase interaction between the two states, and he encourages the ROK to take unilateral steps in the hope of persuading the DPRK to begin discussions. These steps include recognizing the DPRK, stopping propaganda, encouraging cross-recognition, cooperating in joint ventures, an arms freeze, and reducing US troops.

Han, Sung-joo (1990), a political scientist, advises the ROK to prepare for the day when the North Koreans can decide for themselves what to do about unification. His advice includes to relax concern over public perceptions and avoid retaliatory responses to DPRK provocations. He also suggests that the ROK remove the legal, institutional, and policy contradictions that give the DPRK cause to denounce the south. Finally, he recommends strengthening democracy, stabilizing the economy, and promoting socioeconomic justice for all to provide an incentive for eventual unification.

Suh, Dae-Sook (1989), the director of Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii and the chronicler of Korean communism, recognizes the realities of domestic politics in the unification issue. Rather than a prescription, he terms his advice as hypotheses for change that would be conducive to unification. First, both North and South Korea should work toward genuine democratic governments and institutions that aggregate and articulate interests. Second, the two Koreas should strive for more balance between them in economic development and both should integrate into the world economy. Third, both should embrace pluralism in their political systems. Monastic ideology, be it anti-communism or juche, fails to allow for the study or discussion of the utility of other ideas for creation of the Korean state and the solution to economic, social, and political problems. Fourth, both the DPRK and the ROK should reduce their military forces. Large military expenditures in both states have not contributed to unification, but have increased tension and drained resources from economic development purposes. Disarmament should be verified by neutral countries. Finally, Suh suggests creation of a social environment that seeks unifying commonalities in each state's traditions and culture rather than emphasizing the past that divides them.

It is clear that the theorists concerned with the issue of Korean unification have many similar interests with those investigating the role of regimes in effecting international economic cooperation. Many of the prescriptions offered above echo the theoretical underpinnings of regional integration. Calls for the "Confederal Republic of Koryo" by Kim Il Sung and Lee, Hongkoo's (1987) suggestion to build what he calls a "condo", not a house, to allow side-by-side co-existence echo the federalist approach. Those who call for greater "people to people" contacts and for an increase in the number of transactions between the two states follow the communications approach. The neo-functionalist approach, which focuses on the elite in each state, has not been very effective to date because of the lack of openness in the DPRK. However, Kim Il Sung's invitation to the Roman Catholic Cardinal Kim Su Hwan, former presidential candidate Paek Ki-whan, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and the leaders of four political parties in the ROK should be considered in this light. Furthermore, Bazhanov and Bazhanov's (1991) report on the attitude of Russian social scientists' toward the DPRK is worth noting. Finally, the 1991 agreement between the Korea's calls for greater third-track diplomacy between academics.


In my opinion, Korean unification cannot be resolved until the DPRK transfers power from Kim Il Sung to another leader who is able to command, not through personality cults or repression, the respect of the North Korean people. Since there is so little known about Kim Jong Il, and that that is known is not very flattering, it is uncertain whether the younger Kim is such a leader. The long standing policies of the current leadership in the DPRK are too well-known and consistent to believe that there has been swift and meaningful change at this time. The North Korean government is too prone to "double-speak" to take its pronouncements at face value. Finally, Suh's reports about the North Korean media indicate that the DPRK is not yet ready to give its citizens the same message it broadcasts to the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, there are positive steps that the ROK and the rest of the family of nations can take to make it easier for the DPRK to improve its economy, to educate its people, and to open its society. Unlike social scientists who may debate endlessly about whether the federalist, communication, or neo-functionalist approach to integration takes precedence, politicians can make use of all three of those approaches at the same time. None are exclusive of the others.

First, the current attempts at third-track diplomacy between historians, anthropologists, economists, artists, and athletes should be encouraged. These kinds of interactions do no harm, and may do a great deal of good, in finding the "commonalities" of history and culture Suh (1989) alludes to. They provide avenues for understanding and for friendship which may lead to greater first- and second- track diplomacy in the future.

The DPRK should begin to be integrated into the world economy, perhaps initially only as an observer, but also through use of joint ventures and development loans when it demonstrates its willingness to take on such responsibilities. This process should be timed by external interests to coincide with domestic events in the DPRK. Haste when deliberation is called for will only increase frustration and distrust.

It is possible that several groups effective in influencing the DPRK have been overlooked by the world community. Overseas Koreans reside not only in Japan and the United States, but also in China, Mongolia, and Russia. There is even a Korean-language university in central Russia. Lee, Hy-Sang (1990) urged the ROK to look to Chochongnyon as a way to promote development in North Korea, noting that members of this organization carry as much of the pluralistic culture of modern society as any group trusted by the DPRK. Koreans from current and former socialist states may have their own stories to add to the debate, thereby adding to the fund of information available to the DPRK.

As a corollary to the neo-functionalist approach, the ROK should also participate with other market economies in helping the DPRK to develop its infrastructure and to diversify its economy. The ROK should especially concentrate on inter-Korean communications and transportation facilities. Whether or not German-style unification is the end product, it is clear that a more equal footing between the parties will enable discussions on unification to be held with mutual dignity and deliberation. Inequity in the distribution of development and of wealth is likely to lead to long term resentment and frustration. The ROK is already fraught with problems resulting from regional bias in decision-making and in politics. Extension of such problems into the DPRK are unlikely to do anything but make things even worse. In addition, West Germany is footing most of the bill for the financial problems of East Germany. This would be an overwhelming task for the ROK to undertake this on its own. Appealing to the foreign policy interests of the four major powers in Asia by pointing out the mutual benefits of stability in the region may help to encourage their support as well.

The ROK and the international academic community should study and analyze the experience of socialist and former-socialist states in opening their countries to market economies. There are several examples and methods for opening planned economies. The purpose here is to have data available for the inevitable debate that will take place in the DPRK regarding this question. Although the DPRK has not yet disclosed the existence of such debate, its half-hearted experiments with joint ventures and small factories for basic necessities indicate that there must be some tension between ideology and pragmatism. The global community can help with this debate by providing impartial data and analyses from a variety of viewpoints.

The ROK should continue its efforts at democratization. The presidential election expected in December, 1992 is a good time to begin debate on issues central to Korea's search for democratic forms. There are already indications that the debate will include the role of the private sector in development, the rights of labor, and the distribution of wealth. By looking to broader examples of solutions to these kinds of problems, especially to examples from Scandinavia and West Germany, the ROK may be able to start charting its own course towards a Korean-brand of democracy. Such a system would likely include provisions for better social welfare programs, for more equal distribution of wealth, and for the basic responsibilities of industry.

Debate of unification in the ROK may not be good for inter-Korean relations, as suggested by Suh (1989), but it may shape an excellent forum for the South Korean people to discuss and reach consensus about the kind of country they want to live in. The decline of socialism should be absolutely liberating for them because they should no longer need to cling to anti-communism as an ideology. Serious study of the positive attributes of socialism, such as sacrifice for the greater good, universal rights to health care, the basic dignity of labor, etc., can be studied and evaluated without fear that doing so will infect the researcher with an uncurable virus.

The federalist approach also has something to offer. Already the ROK is working with research institutes and businesses to project restructuring South and North Korean industries to be more complementary and to ease integration. (Korea Newsreview, 2/15/92) This is somewhat presumptuous when the other half of the peninsula is not present at the table, and when doing so can result in the same type of regionalism that marks politics in the ROK. However, the ROK should start to investigate legal forms and legislation which may suit a confederation as an interim step.

This is also an ideal time for both Koreas to seriously consider adopting neutrality as a political philosophy. Doing so at the present will not offend any power in Asia. Because ideology has been replaced by trade as the primary concern of the region, a declaration of neutrality and the tenacious adherence to it are the only ways either Korea or a unified Korea can begin to acquire more control over its political future.

The question of neutrality is particularly interesting given the size and importance of the armed forces in each Korea. Together the Koreas spend US $9.8 billion on defense each year, which matches the military expenditures of the ten most developed and industrialized nations in the world. (Suh, 1989) Although Korea has little historic record as an aggressor, putting a military machine of this size under a single government would definitely affect the balance of power in east Asia. Thus, gradual, verified disarmament of the Korean peninsula should begin immediately. This course of action would also allow for the gradual absorption of the armed forces into the labor force of each state.

Although a gradual process toward unification of the Koreas is recommended, events could be accelerated by domestic problems in the DPRK. For instance, in the south, the military has had and continues to have important roles in modernization and in politics. The same may not be true in the north, where the Korean Workers Party has been primary. However, nationalism is almost always a major concern of the military, and military organizations tend to be pragmatic. It is possible, even likely, that military officers from the DPRK (some of whom may enjoy personal relationships with colleagues in other socialist or former socialist states) may be disgruntled with Kim Jong Il's leadership capability and may be appalled by widespread famine in the DPRK.. Such dissatisfaction may encourage them to find ready allies among the ex-military politicians in the south. Certainly, from what little we know of the DPRK's leadership, it is much more likely to find such sentiments in the armed forces than in the Korean Workers' Party. In this case unification could happen almost spontaneously, resulting in a number of serious issues for both Korea and the world.

In conclusion, these observations by Han, Sung-joo (1990), a political scientist, describe the paradox of the present stage of Korean unification. First, unification may best be achieved by not talking about it too much and by not making elaborate plans. Second, North Korea is now the divisionist party. It rejects the status quo in order to retain it. South Korea is the integrationist party. It accepts the status quo in order to change it. Finally, ideology is alive and well in both Koreas. The DPRK is one of the few places on earth where Marxism flourishes. The ROK remains vehemently anti-communist, extending its economic interests to socialist countries but only to convince them that their ways are wrong. Like the yin yang symbol at the beginning of this paper, the beginning of unification of the Koreas may lie in maintaining their division.


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