[VIEWPOINT]Germany’s unification lessons

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[VIEWPOINT]Germany’s unification lessons

When October comes, Koreans, the “orphans of the Cold War” living in the only divided country in the world, are reminded of the unification of Germany. It is only natural for Koreans to be curious about what has happened to Germany, which achieved unification 15 years ago.
Fifteen years is enough time for a human to grow into a teenage boy, waiting to become a young man. Just like any new challenge, the unification of Germany cost an enormous amount of money. While there were simulations with countless assumptions and on-the-map drills, they all fulfilled standards of their own, and no one knows the exact cost of unification. The discussion of the cost of unification itself is a political one, so each political group has a different way of calculating the expenses.
The obvious thing is that all the expenses were paid with taxpayers’ money, and therefore the burden has to be handed over to the citizens. The problem is that the explosiveness of the tax “bomb” is powerful enough to bring a regime change.
The burden of tax was so heavy that it had almost broken the backs of German citizens. The Korean Peninsula cannot be an exception. No one, and no regime, can avoid the issue, and there is no alternative for the government other than informing the citizens and asking the consent of the majority of them.
Along with the tax burden, the aggravation of social inequality, such as the wage gap, is also one of the challenges of a unified Germany. In addition to the direct expenses of the unification, it is time to consider the indirect costs as well. Even before unification, German society had many social, regional and environmental problems. Of course, the ideological confrontation between East and West Germany dissolved after the unification, but it transformed into a new form of regional problem. Therefore, the confrontation of the two systems has become another problem within a system.
Those who paid attention to the discords and contradictions from the confrontation of the regimes would gladly deal with the new regional challenge, but those who benefited from the Cold War confrontation one way or another find it unbearable. No doubt, the emergency management mechanism of German society based on the strong economy has displayed a competency to control the newly emerging problem. However, Germany might have been successful in unifying the two systems, but integration of the two societies is yet to be accomplished.
Of course, the Korean Peninsula is a different case from Germany. There is an issue that has never been publicly discussed in the Korean society. It is the possibility of a military collision in the course of and right after unification, in other words, a civil war. In the process of dissolving the former East German forces, the intervention of the former Soviet Union was very effective.
As we all know, however, the Korean Peninsula has been a very militarized society indeed. South Korean society has become so complicated that a few years ago, a field commander said the Internet, cellular phones and traffic jams have made a military coup impossible. In contrast, North Korea is still a strictly military-oriented society, where the military authorities have unchallenged influence. That means that there will be a possibility of military resistance depending on how the process of integration unfolds.
The unification of Germany was made possible as the country successfully kept the problems internal. In other words, unified Germany used power and money to minimize the intervention and interference of its neighbors. And fortunately, Germany could wipe out the concerns of neighboring countries over its “criminal record” by imbedding its international movement into the greater integration of Europe.
The tragedy of the Korean Peninsula and Koreans is that the tension is elevating in East Asia and there is no flow of integration that can be compared to that of Europe. Moreover, the structure of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear development programs makes it hard to keep the problems domestically based.
Compared to the precedent of Germany, there is no realistic option of a “self-reliant” solution except for the plan of imbedding the unification of Korea into the six-party talks.
Fifteen years after unification, Germany is still left with the challenge of social integration and keeps on posing questions without answers to the divided Korea.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hae-young
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