With the inter-Korean Summit in April 2018 and the USA-North Korean Summit in June, 2018, there have been a greater interest in the relations between North and South Korea. Some say that the transition to peace has started, and others argue that this is just another one of North Korea’s schemes. Nonetheless, in order to prepare for a unified Korea, it is crucial that the Koreas learn more about each other. For this reason, the ‘Together for Unification’ Academy was created to educate North and South Korean students about unification so that they could become leaders of a unified Korea.
The ‘Together for Unification’ Academy aims to broaden students’ perception about unification by exchanging opinions on different issues that may arise upon unification and to seek appropriate method of unification by comparing the unification policies of both South and North Korea. Furthermore, the ‘Together for Unification’ Academy will deal with issues related to international politics in order for students to be able to analyze the inter-Korean, North Korean-US relationship amongst the multitude of information on current events.
1. Unification of other nations in the 19-20th Century
The first chapter is about the unification of other nations and the historical context of the division of the two Koreas.
A. German and Italian Unification in the 19th Century
- Military led unification of Germany in the 19th century by Prussia
Many nations have achieved unification in the course of history, but let’s start with the two cases most similar to the Korean Peninsula– 19th century Germany and Italy.
In the 19th century, Germany was divided into smaller regions after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. Germany was dealing with the conflict between the group that supported the idea of Lesser Germany, that wanted to create a nationalist state with the Prussian Kingdom (called Prussia in North Korea) at it’s core, and the group that supported Greater Germany, that sought to include the Austrian Empire in the unification process.
The Habsburg Empire, located in Vienna, Austria, could not accept being ruled by the Prussian elite. So those that supported Lesser Germany took initiative and unified Germany without Austria. Germany and Austria use the same language and share the same culture, but they did not want to be unified, and even to this day, there aren’t many Austrians that want to be unified with Germany.
- Military led unification of Italy in the 19th century
In the late 19th century, Italy was divided and under the rule of Austria, France, and Spain. The Italian nationalists, led by General Garibaldi, achieved unification by fighting those who opposed him. It was a revival of nationalism, and unification of people that shared the same language and culture. However, it was a unification achieved by military force.
B. The Unification of Germany, Yemen, and Vietnam in the 20th Century
Let’s look at the three cases of unification in modern history.
- German Unification
Since there is abundant information on the German unification, this part will be brief. The unification of Germany was achieved by the absorption of East Germany by West Germany. Many say that this could be a model unified Korea could follow. Unlike the situation in South and North Korea, people-to-people exchanges were allowed and East German residents could even watch West German television. Even so, until 1989, the year preceding unification, East Germans did not think to demonstrate against the regime because the Soviet military kept a forceful rule, and the control of the intelligence agency was severe. We can take note that even if there is an influx of information, it does not mean that people would revolt against the government.
- Vietnamese Unification
Vietnam’s case is a military led unification in every aspect. South Vietnam had the fourth greatest armed force at the time with the military and economic support of the US. How did North Vietnam, armed with mere rifles, achieve unification when South Vietnam had more than one hundred F-5 fighter jets?
The problem lay within South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese government was corrupt, and leading officials were sending their assets and family overseas. Also, the South Vietnamese government was infiltrated with North Vietnamese spies, even among the high ranks. So when the war started, the fighter jets didn’t even take off, and the North Vietnamese won with their rifles.
- Yemeni Unification
The Yemeni unification can be seen as unification achieved by agreement. This is the form of con-federal unification that North Korea has been suggesting. However, South Yemeni elite have risen against North Yemen, which led to the civil war which continues to present day.
It is nearly impossible to find cases of successful unification by agreement in which both parties have an equal say. Unification seems to involve conquest or absorption. Since unification by definition means ‘to make into one’, it may be challenging to find an alternative solution.
2. The Division of the Korean Peninsula
A. The Cause of the Division
Let’s take a look at the case of the Korean Peninsula. North Korean students are taught that the division was caused by the US and Japan. It is true that the 38th parallel was set by the US.
However, to understand the reason why the 38th parallel was set, one has to understand the state of the world during World WarⅡ. Japan was at war with both the Soviet Army in Manchuria and the US in the Pacific. With the approaching imminent loss of the war and the Soviet military deciding to join the war on August 9th, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters divided its army into two sectors. The soldiers above the 38th parallel, in what is now North Korea, were incorporated into the Gwandong Army Command in Manchuria, China and the Japanese soldiers that were to the south of the 38th parallel were incorporated into the Japanese Mainland Defense Unit. Since the standard used to divide the military action of the Japanese Army was the 38th parallel, the US used the same standard as a disarmament line. As a result, the US cannot be blamed as the only one responsible for the division of the Korean Peninsula.
B. The Cause of the Korean War
- The reason why North Korea decided to start the war on June 25th, 1950
Let’s take a look into the reasons for the war that became the ultimate cause of the division. The Korean War started because of North Korean invasion. Kim Il-sung had previously asked for Stalin and Mao’s permission to commence attack on the South, but was denied approval. However, the Soviet Union also attained nuclear weapons after a successful nuclear test conducted on August 29th, 1949, and on January 20th, 1950 the US drew the Acheson Line that was the defense line for the Free World which excluded the Korean Peninsula. The Korean War started in June of 1950, a mere 5 months after the Acheson Line was created.
There was a confrontation between Kim Il-sung who wanted to use the blitzkrieg tactic and Choe Yong-gon who wanted to wait for the reinforcements that were held back due to combat at the 6th Division in Chuncheon. Eventually, the North Korean Army waited for 3-4 days before continuing down south even after conquering Seoul in three days, which gave the South Korean forces the chance to reorganize their troops. At the emergency military meeting, Choe Yong-gon came down from the post Commander of the Front and Kim Chaek was appointed in his place. Despite this Kim Il-sung’s great effort to unify the Korean peninsula by military force was not successful since the UN and USA forces joined the war.
- Historic lessons North Korea learned from the Korean War
Through this experience, North Korea realized that unification by force would not be possible while the US troops reside on the Korean Peninsula. That is the reason why North Korea continuously insists on the withdrawal of the US troops from South Korea.
North Korea decided that the most effective method to achieve the withdrawal of US troops is to develop nuclear weapons. Looking at the conditions under which the Acheson Line was drawn in the past, North Korea knew that the US withdrew a step behind the line because the Soviet Union had developed nuclear weapons. Because of this North Korea thinks that if it obtains nuclear weapons and missiles that can attack Japan, then the US will have to choose between Japan and its own homeland. North Korea thinks that a second Acheson line can be drawn in these circumstances. As time passes North Korea will be implicitly recognized as a nuclear state in the same way that India and Pakistan were.
The next tactic North Korea has chosen is to establish a peace regime. If there is peace on the Korean Peninsula and the North-South relations are reestablished to the extent that public opinion is formed that the cost to sustain the US troops stationed in the ROK is too great, then the South Korean public will ask for the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula. The unprecedented level of economic sanctions due to nuclear weapons development has driven Kim Jong-un to engage with the international society to re-establish its relations with South Korea and the US, but there are a lot of problems when it comes to denuclearization in the current situation in which North Korea has completed the development of nuclear weapons. It can be seen that Kim Jong-un is taking active measures at the two summits in order to lift the economic sanctions and to have North Korea recognized as a normal state. Kim Jong-un is continuously maintaining the stance that denuclearization can come after building trust, but North Korea’s method of denuclearization is very different from the one accepted by the USA and the international society and it will be very hard to adjust it. With time North Korea will take advantage of China and South Korea and will influence them to give up on complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID). This shows that North Korea’s fundamental unification strategy has not changed in the last 60 years.