The Future Possible

12 Dec

Robert E. Kelly at Asian Security Blog lays out the odds for a German-style unification of the Koreas (.pdf available here).

This paper’s central claim is that Korean unification will be more expensive, more politically challenging to South Korea’s institutions, and more internationally contested than Germany’s experience. North Korea is much worse off than was the German Democratic Republic (GDR), while South Korea is less wealthy and, more importantly, less politically capable of handling unification than the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was. And the regional balance of forces is more punishing this time through as well. The GDR’s patron, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was collapsing in the late 1980s, while the People’s Republic of China (PRC), North Korea’s patron, is rising today. Conversely the American patron of West Germany was rising to its postwar power peak in the late 1980s, while today the United States is widely perceived as declining.9 Nor is there any local dynamic of anti-communist revolution or supportive neighbors in East Asia to spur the process along, as there existed in Europe in 1989/90. North Korea has no neighbors whose own revolutions might catalyze and normatively situate a North Korea collapse, while Japan is less reconciled to a South Korean-led unification than the FRG’s neighbors were to German unification.

In short, the balance of local forces favors a harder slog to build a unified Republic of Korea, with the PRC particularly likely to push its preferences hard. China will almost certainly demand constraints on U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) in a unified ROK, such as no USFK north of the current demilitarized zone (DMZ)—just as the USSR sought to keep NATO forces out of the former GDR—or perhaps even the removal of USFK altogether from a unified ROK. The latter possibility, a “Finlandization” of a unified ROK, represents a painful choice ROK elites have sought to avoid for decades: regionally demanded neutralization in exchange for unity.

I can’t believe anyone would give this a second’s thought, with a recession in full force, and massive economic uncertainty about the future. Oh well, whatever gets you through the crisis!

If it helps…


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