Lack of vision for unification
The author, a former ambassador to Germany, is a guest professor to Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.
It is worrisome that more arguments are being made in South Korean society to deny national unification. Objectors of unification said it is necessary to redefine the essence of inter-Korean relations as a relationship between two nations in order to properly challenge the North’s provocations and violations of international laws in the global community or for the sake of peaceful coexistence. A scholar claimed that accepting each other’s sovereignty, ideology and system is a way for permanent peace. Some even said it is already too late to accomplish unification. Another called himself “president of the South.” They are arguments that have lost the long-term goal by making compromises with reality.
Unification is the fundamental resolution to all issues concerning security of the Korean Peninsula, pains from national division and human rights abuses in North Korea. In his memoir, “I wanted German Unity,” Chancellor Helmut Kohl, known as the father of German unification, wrote that at the moment of German unification, he thought of his coworkers who had persistently worked for the goal of unification as proclaimed in the Constitution without compromising with reality. Although West Germany faced endless challenges — such as the victors’ decision-making power over German unification, East Germany’s argument for two ethnic groups and two states, demands to maintain the status-quo, and politicians compassionate toward East Germany. But West Germany kept the goal of unification and consistent unification and foreign policy, although it was alternately governed by the leftist and rightist administrations. That served as the ground for unification.
“The entire German people is called upon to accomplish, by free self-determination, the unity and freedom of Germany,” stated the preamble of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. That helped prevent any attempts to recognize East Germany’s status as a state or refuse unification. Willy Brandt, who normalized the relations between East and West Germany, accepted East Germany, but prevented any possibility of national division becoming official. His foresight opened up a path toward future unification.
When the Treaty of Moscow was signed in 1970 between the Soviet Union and West Germany, it was made clear through Egon Bahr’s letters that German division was not permanent. In 1972, when the basic treaty was signed between East and West Germany, West Germany demanded an attachment to be made to insist that the treaty is not against the West German government’s goal of unification, and East-West German relations are temporary and extraordinary.
In 1973, the Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that the basic treaty was not against the Basic Law’s preamble. Furthermore, it made public a logic that Germans must not give up on their pursuit for unification, mending internal political rupture. Through the process, Chancellor Kohl was able to declare that unification was still West Germany’s political goal when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. Subsequently, unification came the next year.
Article 4 of our Constitution stipulates that “the Republic of Korea shall seek unification and shall formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification based on the basic free and democratic order.” Clause 3 of Article 66 also said, “The President shall have the duty to pursue sincerely the peaceful unification of the homeland.”
The 1992 South-North Basic Agreement also defined inter-Korean relations as a “special relationship that has been formed temporarily in the process of seeking unification.” It took into account the reality that the two Koreas each and simultaneously joined the United Nations in the previous year while warning against the risk of the two Koreas remaining permanently divided. And all succeeding administrations in the South upheld the agreement.
As national division prolonged and the disparity grew between the people of two Koreas, more South Koreans are seeing the North as a neighboring country. We are increasingly losing the goal of unification stipulated in the Constitution. The government must address this issue publicly, create a national consensus and establish realistic policies and improve diplomatic posture.
Presidential candidates are presenting their visions and national agendas before the March 9 election. Their campaigns must serve as an opportunity to remind the people of the goal of unification. Candidates must show their political abilities to present their future vision for the Korean Peninsula and bring about a national consensus toward unification.
I look forward to seeing a leader who will not miss an opportunity for unification when it arrives.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.