Korean Reunification

By Shuja, Sharif M. | Contemporary Review, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Korean Reunification


Shuja, Sharif M., Contemporary Review


THE question of Korean unification is perhaps the one that has been discussed most in Korean politics in the last few decades without a plausible answer. Since the search for solutions and answers on various issues and questions involved in the unification problem has not been successful, one wonders whether the possibility of Korean unification is a reality or merely an unobtainable fantasy. Granting that Korean unification is indeed an enigmatical problem, why should scholars be so concerned with the problem of Korean unification? What is the meaning of Korean unification in terms of? global politics? The answers to these questions can only be ascertained by placing the problem of Korean unification in multiple perspectives.

First, Korean unification is deeply related to political stability in the international arena, being a key to the stability of Northeast Asia. A perusal of twentieth century history shows that the politics of the Korean Peninsula have caused or contributed to three major wars in recent history: viz., the Sino-Japanese, Russo-Japanese, and Korean conflicts. More than twenty countries have been involved in these three wars.

Second, the Korean Peninsula has always been a key, or at least a critical variable, to the stability of the Far East region. Particularly, Korea is of critical concern to Japan. Japan, therefore, desires a stable political situation in order to ensure her investments in the Republic of Korea (ROK--South Korea). Also, Japan has had historically an enduring fear that Korea is 'a dagger pointing at the heart of Japan'. This theory, of course, has been a polemical subject among military strategists and students of international politics. Whether or not one agrees to 'the dagger' theory, many Japanese believe it, and certainly many Japanese leaders express concern over the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Third, Korean unification is certainly related to the progress of the economic systems of 'concerned countries'. It is quite clear, that any country which spends more than five per cent of its GNP on defence is going to do so at the expense of badly needed social services which should have a higher priority. As is already well-known, South Korea's defence budget totals about six per cent of its GNP, and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK--North Korea) is expected to spend more for military purposes. When compared to the level of economic and social development of these two political systems, the expenditures for both military establishments are indeed excessive in terms of domestic needs and national resources. Excessive military spending is a major factor adversely affecting the healthy progress of both Korean societies. Discounting direct military and non-military aid given to South Korea in the last few decades, the U.S. still maintains more than thirty-eight thousand troops in South Korea. Furthermore, the U.S. will also continue to bear some of the burden of South Korean defence in the foreseeable future.

Fourth, the division of Korea is, in fact, a product of rivalry in the international political arena. It is a division, which occurred and continues against the wishes of millions of Korean citizens. A study of Korean history would demonstrate that it has been a cultural/historical unity for centuries in spite of Japanese occupation; and that the division of Korea is a political and historical aberration. Once the country was divided into two parts, Korean citizens on both sides were practically forced to accept for themselves an alien political system; i.e. a capitalistic system in the South and a communist system in the North. Under these totally different conditions, the people in each political system have been disparately socialized in varying ways to such a great degree that eventually Koreans in the two systems have acquired different personality and value premises. Various studies, furthermore, indicate that intensive efforts have been made by the leaders of each political system to compel ordinary Koreans to accept and integrate a disjointed personality system, mainly for the purpose of furthering political values and goals. …

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