There is much optimism around the Korean talks…..some are even looking forward to a possible unification of the two Koreas….they look toward the Vietnam of the 70’s and later the unification of Germany of the 90’s……
Yes the idea is very promising indeed….or is it?
The North and South have fundamentally diametric economic and political systems and national ideologies. They also have very large guns pointed at each other’s head. Neither side has much reason to trust the other to refrain from trying to exploit the chaos that would come with a transition and force reunification on their own terms. This trust gap is not going away, nor is the prisoner’s dilemma. True reunification would require breathtaking courage from leaders on both sides, who would need to ignore immediate incentives and assume enormous risk while going through the process.
This is, in part, why only two modern states have achieved negotiated, peaceful reunification. One was Yemen in 1990, and its experience ever since has been nothing anyone wants to replicate. The more instructive comparison is Germany, which reunified the same year. Prior to being sliced in two by outside powers, both Germany and Korea were cohesive cultural, linguistic and ethnic entities. Yet both became locked in a protracted zero-sum contest for supremacy between their competing halves. Both are surrounded by countries that, through the long-term lens of their own geopolitical imperatives, would rather see them stay divided. Both had U.S. troops stationed on half their home soil. And like the North, East Germany suffered greatly from the loss of Soviet aid and security.
A fanciful thought…..but we must get past rigorous negotiations before anything can move forward.
I wish I could say that I see a way forward….but with this bunch it is highly unlikely.