Lessons from Germany

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Lessons from Germany

When asked what he feared most while serving as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Harold Macmillan replied, “Events, dear boy, events.” The quote is frequently cited when the question of leadership is discussed. In fact, the handling of events of various sizes determines the success and failure of a leader. Successful leaders are not shaken by unexpected events that may change the fate of their nations. If they have outstanding leadership, they use them as opportunities for national development.

A good example is the leadership of former Chancellor of West Germany Helmut Kohl in the process of the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. It is meaningful to reexamine the lessons from German reunification and Chancellor Kohl’s persistent diplomacy as tension steadily build on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea’s third nuclear test.

Because the U.K., France and former Soviet Union suffered serious damage in the first and second world wars by a powerful Germany, those European neighbors did not want to see a reunified, strong Germany. However, Kohl successfully overcame all hostility and fear and achieved reunification by building solid trust with U.S. President George H. W. Bush and other key policy makers.

Kohl started by assuring French President Francois Mitterrand that he was in favor of accelerating the creation of the European Union and introducing the new euro currency to dilute the power of unified Germany. Germany could afford to win over Mikhail Gorbachev - the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, who could have posed a critical obstacle to German unification - based on the solid economy of West Germany. It is estimated that a total of $45 billion was provided to the former Soviet Union in association with German reunification.

In the course of persuading the former Soviet Union and Secretary Gorbachev, there were dicey moments due to fictitious propaganda issued by the East Germany leadership. It is noteworthy that these moments were overcome primarily because Chancellor Kohl and Secretary Gorbachev had mutual trust on a personal level.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher openly criticized Kohl’s reunification efforts from the beginning, but active backing from the United States and gradually growing support from neighbors including France, Russia, Italy and Poland turned the tide.

In short, despite disadvantageous circumstances surrounding the idea of German reunification, Kohl utilized top-level diplomacy based on personal trust and the economic prosperity of West Germany to achieve the long-awaited reunification.

While countless North Koreans are risking their lives to defect because there’s not enough to eat in the country, Pyongyang is estimated to have spent enough money to buy three years’ worth of food for all of its citizens on nuclear experiments and missile development. What’s going on inside the minds of North Koreans who were mobilized to “celebrate” the accomplishment, which after all is based on their sacrifices and their hunger? Considering the active response of the international community, the consequent reaction of North Korea’s authorities and the possibility of an additional provocation, the probability of various events unfolding to serve as a momentum for unification may be increasing.

Therefore, Germany’s experience tells us there is a lot to be done from our side. To gain backing for our reunification from major neighbors, summit diplomacy and mutual trust between heads of states are more important than anything. Fortunately, President-elect Park Geun-hye has a significant political asset in her reputation as a trustworthy politician who does not break her promises, built through her 15-year political career. She needs to prove herself by contacting foreign leaders and building the diplomatic assets of mutual trust at a personal level.

High-level policy makers in the Korean government also should establish trust relationships with their foreign counterparts. When it comes to internationally urgent events that require immediate attention, prompt resolution is only possible through direct contact among heads of states.

It is needless to say that we must secure the financial capacity to afford reunification along with diplomatic efforts. We should make consistent efforts to enhance state finances and our international trade balance, not to mention persistent endeavors to strengthen fundamentals and improve the growth potential of the Korean economy so as to maintain fiscal health.

The notion of “economic democratization” has a universal value that no one can deny, but we should closely examine whether policies promoted under that slogan will harm the fundamentals and growth potential of our economy.

Along with domestic policy efforts, we must also build close cooperative systems with major neighbors and international organizations. Keep in mind that opportunity only comes to those who are prepared. Let’s work together to make the best of the valuable opportunity of Korean reunification when it finally comes our way.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.


*The author is former finance minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sakong Il
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