Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reunification of Koreas may not be inevitable

Mr. Hoare provides an interesting historical perspective.  However, while reunification will no doubt be difficult and fraught with conflict, I still believe that while not inevitable it is the best way to ensure long term stability in Northeast Asia.  I do not sense the ROK sense of "conquest" that Mr. Hoare describes but I will defer to his expertise.  Defeat of the north is always discussed in terms of the north resuming hostilities and we should expect nothing less from the military in war.  If the regime collapses it will be a different story and I have confidence in the professionalism of the ROK military to conduct operations in a way that will work towards reunification.  We should also recall that both northland South have put forward confederal plans for reunification and some of the concepts contained in them will be useful during the process.  And for the Korean people (all of them) reunification is the right thing to do. Lastly we should not forget that both current Presidents of the ROK and US have stated that (peaceful) reunification is the end state to be sought by the alliance.

Reunification of Koreas may not be inevitable

South Korean focus on ‘conquest’ in post-unification peninsula deters hopes
The prospect of a Korean reunification in the short rather than the long term has recently been raised again, this time in a paper prepared by Bruce Bennett for the RAND Corporation. As usual, and despite dressing arguments up in scholarly fashion, what we are given is a hope that perhaps one day what people see as the problem of North Korea will just go away. Alas! I suspect it is all more complicated than that.
On the surface, the idea of a reunified Korea becoming a reality seems to be almost a no-brainer. Here is a peninsula that was more or less one political entity from the 10th to the 20th century. It would be hard to think of another state that had a continuous political existence from 930 to 1905 A.D., with one ruling dynasty from 1382 until the end. Indeed, one can argue that even under Japanese colonialism, Korea continued to exist, since the Japanese never implemented fully the professed aim of uniting Japan and Korea as one.
In addition, apart from the tradition of political continuity, Koreans share the same language and cultural traditions relating to food, social behaviour, housing and a whole range of other things. The geography of the peninsula encourages unity. It is surrounded by sea on three sides, with rivers on the fourth side marking a clear physical and linguistic division between Korea and north east China. The existence of a huge state to the north and west, whose rulers regularly indicated an ambition to add the peninsula to their territories, fostered a fierce since of separateness, reinforced from the later 18th century as new big powers emerged in the region. There are, of course, a few caveats. Koreans, like most people before the 19th century, knew they were different from other groups but they did not necessarily think of themselves as Korean. People thought in terms of their clan or their location. Over the length of the Korean Peninsula, language varied. They might all have spoken Korean, but they did not necessarily speak the same Korean. But overall, Korea seems destined for unification.
Or does it? Developments since 1945 have so altered the picture that I now find it hard to see reunification happening anytime soon. Division in 1945 and even more war between 1950 and 1953 have reinforced some of the elements mentioned above. Now there are not one but two fiercely independent states on the peninsula, each drawing on Korea’s historic past but each unwilling to concede that past to the other. In the war, each of the states nearly achieved reunification on its terms but with outside intervention, which both deplored as far as the other side was concerned, each survived.
Thereafter, while still formally committed to reunification, both Koreas did precisely nothing to bring it about. Instead, each concentrated on developing its own take on Korean independence. War-engendered bitterness reinforced this and, although the Korean War generation is now largely off the scene both sides of the Demilitarized Zone, succeeding generations North and South have had the memory of the war and hostility drilled into them by education and indoctrination. Whatever the arguments about whether the Korean War was a civil war or an international war, there can be no doubt that it had a large element of an intra-nation conflict. And as the experience of the United States, Spain and Ireland and many other countries bears testimony, the divisions of such conflicts take a long time to heal.
That is one of the many differences between the Korean and the German experience. While there may have been hostility between the two German states, they did not fight each other. And despite the Berlin wall, they never became as separated from each other as the two Koreas have been. Another major difference is that, as its end showed, the East German state, whatever its trappings of independence, in the event was dependent on the Soviet Union and the Red Army. When the Soviet Union refused to step in, the East German political structure collapsed. North Korea is not in the same position. The last foreign troops left in 1958 and since then it has relied on its own forces.
The German approach seemed to avoid the sense of conquest. That is not to say that things happened that made it sometimes appear that the West was conquering the East, but that does not seem to have been the intention. I fear that the two Koreas are likely to approach the issue in a very different manner. For years, I have been having conversations with South Koreans who talk of defeating the North, of revenging past wrongs, of getting back what is rightfully theirs. I heard recently of a conference where the theme was “transitional justice” after the takeover of the North. In other words, revenge.
(Continued at the link below)

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