World order, diplomacy and governance | Asia | Book Reviews

north korea : south korea : korean reunification

[Tae-Hwan Kwak and Seung-Ho Joo (eds). One Korea: visions of Korean unification. Routledge. New York, 2017. 234 p.]

review / Eduardo Uranga

One Korea: visions of Korean unificationThroughout the second half of the 20th century, tensions between superpowers in East Asia made this part of the world a hotspot of the International Office. Tensions remain today, such as the trade war that has pitted the United States against the People's Republic of China since 2018. However, over the past 70 years, one territory in particular has been affected by an ongoing conflict that has repeatedly claimed the world's attention. That region is undoubtedly the Korean peninsula.

This book, co-edited by Tae-Hwan Kwak and Seung-Ho Joo and bringing together various experts on inter-Korean relations, discusses the various possibilities for a future reunification of the two Koreas, as well as the various problems that need to be solved in order to achieve this goal. The perspectives of the various world powers on the conflict are also analysed.

The Korean issue dates back to World War II: after the country was occupied by Japan, its liberation ended up dividing the peninsula in two: North Korea (occupied by the Soviet Union) and South Korea (controlled by the United States). Between 1950 and 1953, the two halves fought a conflict, which eventually consolidated the partition, with a demilitarised zone in between known as the 38th Parallel or KDZ.

One of the formulas for Korean unification described in this book is unification through neutralisation, proposal by both Koreas. However, the constant long-range nuclear missile tests carried out by North Korea in recent years present a major obstacle to this formula. In this atmosphere of mistrust, Korean citizens play an important role in promoting cooperation and friendship on both sides of the border with the goal aim of achieving North Korea's denuclearisation.

Another aspect that plays an important role in forcing a change in North Korea's attitude is its strategic culture. This must be differentiated from the traditional Korean strategic culture. North Korea has adopted various unification strategies over the years, while maintaining the same principles and values. This strategic culture blends elements from the country's strategic position (geopolitically), history and national values. All of this is under the authority of the Juche ideology. This ideology contains some militaristic elements and promotes the unification of Korea through armed conflict and revolutionary actions.

Regarding the perspectives of the various world superpowers on future Korean reunification, China has stated that it favours a long-term approach to unification deadline; a short-term process deadline would collide with Chinese national interests, as Beijing would first have to settle its disputes with Taiwan, or end the trade war against the United States. China has stated that it will not accept Korean unification influenced by a military alliance between the US and South Korea.

On the other hand, the US has not yet opted for a specific Korean unification policy. Since the 1950s, the Korean peninsula has been but one part of the overall US strategic policy for the entire Asia-Pacific region.

The unification of the Korean peninsula will be truncated as long as the US, China and other powers in the region continue to recognise the status quo on the peninsula. It could be argued that armed conflict might be the only way to achieve unification. According to the authors of this book, this would be too costly in terms of resources used and human lives lost. On the other hand, such a war could trigger a conflict on a global scale.

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