A peaceful unification of Korea is possible

Korea's dream of unity - but please not now

Seoul (Reuters) - The relaxation in relations between North and South Korea has also breathed new life into the political dream of a reunification of the nation that has been divided since the 1950s.

The term is associated with the images of the torn Berlin Wall, of families in each other's arms, and an army that is disintegrating. The two Korean states have always been committed to reunification. At the inter-Korean summit on Friday, however, the topic is only on the agenda for more than one month. Why?

Indeed, in the 70 years of the inter-Korean conflict, the dream of reunification has moved further and further away from reality. In the south in particular, the goal is not a priority for either politicians or citizens. In addition, the two countries have continued to grow apart: South Korea is a modern economic power with a networked society and a functioning democracy; the north, on the other hand, is bitterly poor, isolated and ruled by the Kim dynasty with little individual freedom. Unlike in Germany, the Korean people also fell apart in a fratricidal war that is still unsolved today. There is no peace treaty and no official mutual recognition.


President Moon Jae In has therefore put the great goal of reunification in the background and is focusing on solving the most urgent acute problems at the summit meeting with North Korea's ruler Kim Jong Il on Friday. These are the safeguarding of peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons, said Moon's security advisor Moon Chung In. Reunification, which was still on the agenda at the 2000 and 2007 summits, should not be discussed much this time around, he said. His creed is that there can be no reunification without peace. Unlike previous presidents who expected North Korea to collapse, Moon relies on peaceful coexistence that could eventually lead to unity.

It also affects the mood of the population, in which the desire for a union with the brothers and sisters in the north is waning. According to surveys, 58 percent are currently in favor, almost 70 percent in 2014 and 90 percent in 1969.

The economic costs - experts estimate them at up to five trillion dollars - would be far too high, says 35-year-old Park Jung Ho employee in Seoul. "I don't think we should unite just because we come from the same homogeneous group." He would like to live together without tension and problems. The government should therefore recognize North Korea as just as much neighbors as China and Japan.

It is difficult to determine what the mood of the North Korean population is like. Like South Korea, the North has formulated reunification as a constitutional goal. In 1993, the then ruler and founding father of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, proposed a ten-point program for reunification. This included the idea of ​​opening the borders but maintaining two social systems and two governments.


However, many experts such as Ben Forney from the Asan Institute in Seoul assume that the issue of reunification makes it more difficult to solve acute and short-term tasks. These include nuclear disarmament, human rights and the creation of stable communication between the two states.

The past has shown several times how complicated even the smallest steps can be. The jointly operated Kaesong industrial park project failed. In 2016 it was closed over the dispute over North Korea's weapons development. A program that would allow families separated since the end of the war in 1953 to re-establish contact recently failed. The mistrust is too deep. Many in the south are convinced that Kim wants to arm himself in order to bring the entire peninsula under his control over the long term. In the north, the US soldiers in South Korea are seen as an invasion force that aims to overthrow Kim.

In the longer term, reluctance to postpone calls for reunification could help improve relations, said Michael Breen, author of several books on Korea. “It is like a contradiction that reunification is seen as a romantic, wholesome, nationalist dream on the one hand, when in reality it is the source of many problems,” he says.