One Korea?

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about the future of North and South Korea.
What is the likelihood of unification over the next 10 years?

“It is fairly clear that for different reasons unifications is not favored by the North nor the South, any of their immediate neighbors, or the U.S. While an uncontrollable event could lead to unification—remember East Germany—it does not seem to be the objective or preferred of any of the parties.”

“The main hurdle to unification, beyond North Korea's refusal to give up their nuclear system is the South Korean fear of what unification would mean for the living standards of South Koreans.”

“It is impossible to predict when reunification might occur. Some form of confederation could be the outcome of continued engagement over the next few years, but a real reunification will only occur when the current regime in the North is gone.”

“Despite what they say about the goal of reunification in Seoul, they began to realize after German reunification that absorbing the North Korea would destroy the South's economy.”

“Kim Jung Il is not another Gorbachev, Sadat, or De Klerk. Rather, he's another Kim Il Sung.”

“Despite probable continued efforts by the two Koreas at reconciliation and expanding bilateral in ties, the interest of the North Korean regime in not eradicating itself will be the major obstacle to outright unification.”

“Kim Jong Il is in excellent health; South rejects sacrifice for North. They are not Germans.”

“The chances of unification, even in ten years, are very slight. Look for reconciliation, peaceful coexistence and at most, some type of confederation.”


“Unification is certainly in the offing, but it may take more than a decade to move from reconciliation, to normalization, to full unification.”

“This will require some fundamental decisions on the part of Kim Jong Il that so far he's been unwilling to make. South Korean officials will also have to decide that the tremendous cost of reunification is worth the increased security. Some in the region will see reunification as a threat.”

“The pace will have to quicken to achieve this in 10 years.”

“The North Korean regime finds open trade to be highly threatening and is unlikely to engage deeply with an advanced economy such as South Korea.”

“Ten years is a short span in Korean time, but during that period there will be considerable growth in economic traffic and a modest reduction in arms.”


“The North’s political and economic condition is unsustainable; collapse followed by rapid integration with the South is virtually inevitable.”

Would stronger political and economic ties between the two countries advance US interests?
89% YES

“Economic ties will be the key to bringing North Korea into the modern world and that would be in US interests. Again, progress will be slow in my view.”

“We should give them an increasing stake in good behavior, and react negatively only when their act is a clear and big violation.”

“While there may be occasional differences between South Korea and the U.S., pulling the North closer into the South’s orbit is in the overwhelming interest of Washington.”

“Stronger ties will have the same effect that stronger East-West ties had in places like East Germany. The regime in the North will begin to lose its coherence.”

“It would help remove one flashpoint, easing the burden on an America that is over-committed abroad.”

“Unless we want to have to deal with the mother of all refugee crises; besides far better that the South Koreans take the lead regarding this poisoned chalice than we do.”

“Any return to greater tension between the North and South, particularly if it were to increase the prospects of military conflict, would pose serious issues for the US re both China and Japan. Stronger ties between the two countries allow the US to claim that its policies has increased stability in North Asia.”

“Anything that would reduce tension on the Korean peninsula and increase the chance of eventual peaceful reunification would be in the interests of the United States.”

11% NO

“Absent the North Korean threat, the South Koreans will lose remaining inhibitions about the US. As it is, monstrous ingratitude is the societally approved stance towards the U.S.—understandable given the prevalence of grandmothers who serviced G.I.s , but still...”

“If North Korea is playing around on the nuclear issue, then South Korea’s cozying up is real bad news. If, against all odds, North Korea goes non-nuclear and quasi-decent, then South Korea’s cooperative attitude is fine. But let's not count on that.”

PARTICIPANTS (39): Ken Adelman, Graham Allison, Ronald Asmus, Samuel Berger, Daniel Blumenthal, Stephen Bosworth, Daniel Byman, Warren Christopher, Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke, Ivo Daalder, James Dobbins, Lawrence Eagleburger, Jay Garner, Leslie Gelb, Marc Grossman, John Hamre, Gary Hart, Bruce Hoffman, John Hulsman, Robert Hunter, David Kay, Andrew Krepinevich, Charles Kupchan, John Lehman, Edward Luttwak, John McLaughlin, Richard Myers, William Nash, Joseph Nye, Kenneth Pollack, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Joseph Ralston, Wendy Sherman, James Steinberg, Shibley Telhami, Jon Wolfsthal, Anthony Zinni.

Not all participants answered all questions.

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