Unification fund a mustThere’s an anecdote people often tell to capture the unexpectedness of unification.
During his visit to South Korea in the summer of 1989, former German Prime Minister Willy Brandt said, “I wish to see German unification before I die. But Korea is likely to be unified earlier than Germany due to our neighbor’s opposition to the idea.”
Five months after the visit, the Berlin Wall collapsed and Germany was unified.
Even Brandt, who devoted his life to unification, couldn’t see through the heavy fog obscuring the picture.
As for the Korean Peninsula today, it is almost impossible to predict when such a monumental day will occur. So our only choice is to consider several scenarios and prepare for each one of them.
The North Korean regime is now at a critical juncture that will test its anachronistic governance structure, which is based on passing down power from father to son. Over the past two decades, North Korea has not been able to sustain itself without external aid. The path its leaders choose will determine the scope and intensity of any upheaval in the country.
If Pyongyang sticks to its past ways, we will likely follow the footsteps of Germany and see a quick and unexpected unification.
If it chooses to open up and reform, it may lead to a drastic improvement in relations between the two countries and a gradual unification.
The problem in both scenarios is that South Korea will bear the brunt of the financial burden either way.
In 2008, the JoongAng Ilbo proposed a plan to earmark 1 percent of the government’s annual budget for a unification fund. It followed that up this year by running a series of feature stories emphasizing the need to establish a fund for unification.
If a cataclysmic change occurs, immense confusion will spread across the country. After President Lee Myung-bak proposed introducing a unification tax, the Ministry of Unification and the National Unification Advisory Council plan to float the idea. But many South Koreans appear to be against such a plan, as they are having trouble making ends meet in a precarious economy.
Still, the proposed fund can draw from unused portions of the government budget and other sources. The most important task is to build a national consensus on the need to accumulate financial resources to brace for various contingencies. It will be a great challenge for both the administration and all political parties. If we just look at this with our arms folded, we’re headed for disaster.