[OUTLOOK]A U-turn on unification thoughtUntil recently, our one great dream had been the reunification of the two Koreas. Unification was our most earnest hope; it was a mission that could not be forsaken. But this earnest mission of unification is now seen as something that can be delayed for 20 or 30 years if the bottom line doesn't work out right. The new consensus among our people is that we should not and cannot make unification happen right away.
This is an amazing change in an amazingly short time. What is more surprising is that both the left wing and the right wing in our society agree with the new national consensus that unification will not come in the near future. In other words, the theory that unification is now impossible has now become orthodox in our society.
Is unification really so impossible to achieve in the near future? Will the costs of unification truly decrease if we wait 20 or 30 years? Can we expect the method of unification to become more peaceful and the dynamics of our relations with surrounding powers to become easier with time?
We need to think over this theory that unification is impossible that has now pervaded our society.
First of all, there are indeed numbers presented by experts as to the expense of unification, but these are all arbitrarily estimated numbers under very uncertain assumptions. What is important about the costs of unification is not the absolute numbers but whether it is true that the cost will decrease if we wait a few more decades.
Unless North Korea's economic growth rate overtakes that of the South beginning now, the economic gap between the North and the South will only widen and the costs of unification would only rise. At present, this gap in economic growth looks inevitable; it would be unlikely -- and undesirable -- that North Korea's growth rate would exceed that of the South any time soon. We might as well expect unification to come before that happens.
The costs of unification started becoming an issue in our society after the reunification of Germany. In mentioning Germany, we should note first that although there are many Germans who might complain about the costs of achieving unification, there are hardly any who regret the reuniting of the country.
We should be concentrating on lessening the costs rather than delaying unification with the excuse that the cost is too high.
Next comes the problem of how to readjust our relations with our neighboring countries in the process of reunification. Those who claim reunification is impossible emphasize the fact that all the other countries with an interest in the region seem less than enthusiastic about the prospects of a reunited Korea.
Again, the Germans persuaded the surrounding countries that a unified Germany would bring more stability to regional relations and succeeded in extracting their support. We should also establish foreign policies regarding reunification on the basic premise that a unified Korea would be much more helpful to the security of Northeast Asia than two Koreas contending with each other.
Last, we would do well to remember that unification will not always come at the most convenient time for us and in the manner we want it to come. Should the North Korean regime crumble tomorrow, that would mean immediate reunification whether we wanted it or not. As of now, no one can predict the fate of North Korea's regime.
What we do know is that North Korean society is in a horribly difficult state now. The socialist countries that had been North Korea's ideological sponsors in the past have all either fallen or become transmuted, leaving North Korea a very lonely figure indeed.
Instead of socialist friends, North Korea now has to learn to survive on the economic aid of the capitalist countries that it has always considered its enemies -- and still does.
In other words, North Korea is not only floundering in economic difficulties, it is standing at the threshold of an ideological crisis. Under such dire conditions, North Korea has recently shown some signs of starting economic reforms.
Even if those reforms succeed, North Korea would still be left with a serious inflation problem and a high unemployment rate. This is why there is no telling what will come of North Korea, with or without reforms. This is also why we need to consider all possibilities and keep all options open.
We must throw away indolent hopes that unification will not come about for a long time. Always remember that our reunification might be just around the corner, waiting to take us over just when we have least expected and are least prepared for it.
The writer is the president of the Social Science Institute.
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