Academic journal article Military Review

North Korean Collapse or Korean Reunification: The Importance of Preparation over Prediction

Academic journal article Military Review

North Korean Collapse or Korean Reunification: The Importance of Preparation over Prediction

Article excerpt

Korea is of tremendous importance to U.S. national security and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, most Americans do not closely follow developments in Korea despite the high stakes involved-stakes that include the safety of over one hundred thousand Americans in South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK), hundreds of thousands of American jobs tied to exports to the ROK, and tens of billions of dollars invested there. Americans likely would lose their lives, jobs, or property in the earliest hours of a conflict in Korea. Further, a conflict would alter the regional balance of power and have strategic implications for the United States. The manner in which the United States participated in a potential conflict, particularly related to Korean reunification, would affect whether the United States was able to sustain the leading role it plays in northeast Asia and to continue reaping the many associated economic and security benefits. The effects of a collapse of the North Korean government or of reunification of the two Koreas would be so profound that they demand strategies, policies, plans, decisions, and actions to prepare the United States and the ROK to secure their interests and shape the strategic environment that would follow. (1)

North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) presents a severe and growing threat to American interests. It directly threatens the lives of Americans and the citizens of our allies, develops and proliferates weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and commits extensive human rights abuses. Most Americans are aware of the DPRKs efforts to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and they often hear of its "strange" leaders. However, few understand the DPRKs enduring conventional military threat and the destruction it could inflict on the ROK and, to a growing extent, the WMD threat it presents to the United States. It is even more difficult to grasp the consequences of the collapse of the DPRKs government. While the prospects of a large loss of American lives is less in a collapse scenario, a collapse would nonetheless alter the strategic landscape of northeast Asia and significantly affect U.S. interests.

Preparing for collapse or reunification is more important than predicting it. However, to be clear, I am not advocating a deliberate effort to overthrow the North Korean regime; rather, my focus is on preparing for a collapse or reunification, assuming that at some point we will face this situation without any direct effort to bring it about. Preparation is critical due to the strategic importance of these potential developments. Without predicting the timing or circumstances of a collapse or reunification, there are many dimensions of these situations that we can identify, enabling efforts now to prepare to resolve an instability crisis.

Although the U.S. and ROK forces maintain a high state of readiness, produce detailed operational plans, and conduct rigorous training, they can do more to plan for and prepare to handle collapse or reunification. With millions of lives, trillions of dollars, and vital national interests at stake, it is imperative that the United States and the ROK continue to develop a common understanding that enables the design and implementation of strategies, policies, and plans for handling collapse that places active preparation at their core. The objectives are clear: enable stabilization of North Korea, enable the Korean people to decide when and how to reunify, and position the United States and a unified Korea to sustain one of history's most successful alliances and, by extension, enable the United States to continue to contribute to regional stability as well as sustain its influence and interests in northeast Asia.

It is unlikely that, in terms of personnel and quantity of materiel, the ROK and U.S. militaries will have sufficient capabilities on hand and pre-positioned to deal with a North Korean collapse or reunification. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.