DPRK Briefing Book : Korean Dilemma: Normalisation Or Unification And Nothing

DPRK Briefing Book : Korean Dilemma: Normalisation Or Unification And Nothing

Dr. Hans Maretzki
NAPSNet Policy Forum Online
May 9, 2002

The headline may sound curious, but in fact deals it with a choice and missed chances. Under the presidency of Kim Dae Jung, ending this year, were occasions near at hand for normalising the inter-Korean relations. But ceding to old stare DPRK formulas landed Kim DJ’s sunshine policy in a repeated conjuration of an unfeasible unification scheme for Korea. Instead of pushing boldly for a target, that the president himself described as peaceful coexistence, missed Seoul’s north policy to launch a respective new strategy. On the other hand was North Korea not ready to exploit the chance for an improvement of its position. It did not join the possible course toward a relative inter-Korean normality; and it underrated at due time the utility of a better relationship with the US. Indeed displayed the sunshine policy a respectable goodwill atmosphere for détente on the peninsula. But it remained on the sidetrack of talking about integration of irreconcilable elements, instead of entering the ostensible main-track of normalisation through a realistic temporary two Korea policy. At the end of this article one may find some recommendations for a bolder engagement during the past five years, however it seems they are too late coming reflections.

Time and again lash statements from Pyongyang against enemies of the Korean unity. That seems to be a vain exercise. There are no forces or individual opinions anywhere denying the legitimate right and patriotic obligation of the Koreans to become reunited as soon as a chance arises. Dominant is great international respect for the deep national feelings and ethnic cohesion of all Koreans. Therefore exists an intense support for a solution ending democratically their division. The problematic phenomenon poses the non-adaptable antagonist intentions on both sides of the ravine. What matters are two real political Gordian knots. One is the fifty-seven years old and not easily removable communist-capitalist split on the peninsula; the intransigent nature of two systems is not suited for being combined under one national roof. Here is the only choice patience. The other is the urgency to replace the ongoing inter-Korean confrontation by an agreed interstate normalisation and détente, setting that need prior to the pending unification. Here was courage called. The respectable attempt of president Kim’s sunshine policy offering cooperation and reconciliation was on the mid-June summit 2000 not followed by an initiative for regular Korean interstate relations.

One may suppose that all advising experts around Kim Dae Jung misunderstood the essence of the German unification. Until 1989 stood there after forty-four years of division three different views on national joining in the arena. A great majority kept strong hopes up on unity for an unknown historical moment and via somehow way. And as side effect from a functioning German-German interstate normality and détente, a realised coexistence, expected most people on both sides not a speedy unity. Another opinion was against unification, upheld by protagonists of the German Democratic Republic. They had the origin of national division in mind, effectuated by Soviet instigation of the later so-called real socialism as counter-system against a liberal order and market economy. And they understood the unavoidable alternative, to maintain their system in separation or to fail and disappear. The East favoured a status quo policy of two German states, serving that way hopes on self-preservation of GDR. That course continued until an effective internal opposition lead onto fundamental transition in East Germany, facilitated by the end of Soviet dominance. The breakdown of Soviet type socialism met the expectations of all who decades long urgently demanded unification, of those who incessantly campaigned for getting the inimical counter-system in the separate state collapsed and the nation reunited in the Federal Republic of Germany. Their terms guided exclusively the unification success, corroborated by an overwhelming democratic vote.

All factions in the prior inter-German controversy had one illusion-less conviction in common. They knew that no unity could come as long as two intransigent system states, liberal capitalism and dictatorial socialism, faced each other. The contrasting thoughts on both sides were realistic enough to avoid such erroneous conception like searching a reconciliatory compromise between the two for each other non-adaptable systems; lets say a confederation or something similar for bridging the national split. This thesis excludes indeed several occasionally disseminated illusory schemes of a German confederation. The camps under different flags were sober enough in grasping the basic truth in every national unity, its primary dependence from a unanimous political system and a singular socio-economic structure. Or one formulates the cognition in other words: for national unity has one side to give up and let the other side taking the hegemonic lead, and the whole case runs positively if democratic rules and procedures are sufficiently applied.

A national unification functions as reversion of those origins that released the division. It was not simply the installation of different client states by the controversial victors of 1945 as such. Basically was it the Soviet creation of dependent counter-system states against the inauguration of states linked to the US and the West what divided several national entities. In that view functions national unification decisively and without a true alternative via the restoration of political and socio-economic unanimity as fundament of a rejoining. Plenty proposals are known for a compromise-minded, soft overcoming of national splits caused by systemic antagonism; they all have been left daydreams (Hongkong and Macao examples argue not against).

The message to the Koreans is unequivocal. Either the situation matures for a complex unification into one nation based on oneness of the system. Or the outdated side does not want to cede and continues its secluded systemic existence, and the national separation continues. In the latter constellation comes another choice onto decision. Either a dangerous and costly confrontation goes on, or both sides accept a status quo policy between the discrepant system states, knowing they are unfit for a hybrid. That demands to postpone the unification until more favourable conditions come up, and to normalise in the interim with a rational modus vivendi the interstate relations on the peninsula.

For commenting Korean unification schemes needs a certain politically uncomfortable aspect a mentioning. Surely will the unity once be realised with might and main, out of all Koreans’ free volition and in unison about a common system. But that is an open-ended process and needs probably a longer span of time. In conclusion arise decisions, which the responsible politicians should soberly explain to the public. The one means, you adjourn despite all nationalistic emotions the federation topic, being sure the sake of unity will rather gain than getting harm (a German experience), or you nourish further confrontation with the insoluble unification dispute. The other point means you choose contemporarily instead of nebulous federation projects a rational and functional alternative, the regulation called coexistence. Consequently thought means coexistence not a preliminary stage for a joining like president Kim DJ occasionally explained. To the contrary, coexistence delimits two for each other strange state entities and permits in countermove an important scope of mutual co-operation and opening.

Peaceful coexistence, often mentioned in Seoul, but far from its definition for instance by the PR of China, could be beneficial for both very different Koreas, favouring normalisation understandings and a better environment for truly prospective economic engagements, – in case the enormous roadblocks for normality will be gradually removed. It looks like a serious reality-refusal: all states of the world (minus two decisive states in the region) recognised two Korean states and UN members, however the two themselves do willingly not recognise each other. The highly praised mid-June 2000 summit circumvented most of the barriers for inter-Korean normality; the rare chance to lift these things on the agenda was missed.

The actual inter-Korean relation suffers from several deficits: the two states hold on to non-recognition of the other side’s legal quality, they deny their contrahent’s sovereign equality, negate the other’s juridical legitimacy (not the same like moral legitimacy) and territorial integrity, they are not prepared arranging an independent inter-Korean peace settlement. Every side demands still being the only right and legitimate state for all Koreans. The makeshift nature of the inter-Korean relationship hampers mutual opening, normal communications and economically outstanding projects. The Koreas agreed an ineffective Basic Accord from 1992, defining both sides among other problematic elements as provisional entities, a status making serious understandings on military détente, more mutual security and earnest reciprocal reductions of the immense armaments costs quasi perspective-less.

Viewed from standards of international relations rates the quality of the intergovernmental relation in Korea below any normal (positive) state intercourse around the world. Beginning this year meant Seoul’s unification minister Hong about the wish for a counter-visit of chairman Kim, that “will reconfirm the agreement on peaceful coexistence, which was made by the leaders from the two Koreas at their summit…” Aside the fact of absolute no mentioning of coexistence among the summit understandings, are the Koreas far from such a relationship, supposing true interstate recognition.

The June-2000 summit did the contrary. It followed a deviation tactic of Pyongyang and dealt instead with basic interstate normalisation with a dysfunctional substitution. Meant is what the Joint Declaration dominated, the federation idea, an impressive phantom about reconciliatory unification, something like a grand compromise amalgamating the two contrahents. A national joining with continuation of liberal capitalism and Juche socialism in two autonomous states has no perspective. Such projects do not improve the inter-Korean climate; they rather disturb it by misunderstandings. What matters is the not removable systemic contest. The only contemporary way out gives a rationalisation of the dualism, a businesslike, co-operative and peaceful intercourse of each side with the basically not liked neighbour. There exists no chance for a win-win fusion between ROK and DPRK as Kim DJ occasionally stated. And beyond any feasibility is a “mutual recognition of the systems”, as the North despite his own ideology of Juche victory claims, and the South occasionally affirmed.

Debatable is therefore the essence of the third among the well-known grand principles for Korean unification, repeatedly agreed in 1972, 1992 and 2000. (“First, unification shall be achieved independently, without foreign interference, second, unification shall be achieved through peaceful means …Third, a great racial unity as one people shall be sought first, transcending differences in ideas, ideologies, and systems.”) Abridged, the third point is the crux and unrealistic. At the inception of his office announced president Kim not to hasten with unification and to concentrate on reconciliation and co-operation. But undeniably, on the summit he changed to another priority. The Joint Declaration contained first independent unification and second a rapprochement between the northern formula for federation on lower stage and the southern idea of confederation. Furthermore followed three points on co-operation. They had no new content, compared to older understandings, and brought in 22 month unfortunately no weighty harvest. For the DPRK had the agreed text a smart deviation value. Its unfeasibility helps to hide the continued bisection behind a label of nationalist demands and protracts at the same time the status of non-regulation between the Koreas. The ROK’s representatives consent to a formula ineffective since 1972/1992 deviated the dialogue from the primacy of an intergovernmental rapprochement and the only tangible coexistence of two states, based on UN-Charter norms.

Mid 2001 stated Seoul’s Unification Ministry: “During the…summit, the two Koreas did not seek an immediate unification, but extended reciprocal recognition of their systems, emphasis would be placed on peaceful coexistence rather than on institutional unification.” Nobody finds it in reports from the summit, and it is never detectable in statements from Pyongyang. (By they way functions coexistence not between systems, a political error indeed, it relates only to interstate relations.) The same year commented the North’s party secretary charged with South Korea affairs: “it is necessary to… ensure the reunification movement and free activities of pro-reunification patriotic organisations and figures in south Korea.” That sounds like old revolutionary “people’s front” intentions. And on its fifty-third anniversary stated the official appreciation of the DPRK: It is “the only legitimate state set up in accordance with the unanimous will of all the Korean people in the north and in the south of Korea on the basis of the brilliant revolutionary tradition.” How fit these positions to the above-quoted optimism?

Generally unleashed the summit emphatic delusions by asserting an end of confrontation and a dawning reconciliation. One wondered about all absence of sober analysis and uncritical praise for a finished Cold War on the peninsula. Seoul’s official institutions collected every advocacy and that way published www.Korea.net an article from Prof. Scalapino, the senior in US research on North Korea. He expressed cautious optimism, but the editor overlooked one statement, “it is unrealistic to seek unification soon. Such an event could only occur were the North to collapse or a conflict ensue”. The expert’s sentence needs to be amended. In fact is the Juche order not ready to give up and leave. Despite a most serious socio-economic crisis commands it enough military and regime power to whisk contemporary collapse expectations away. And that again makes an actual change of the status quo of two Koreas by unification improbable.

Considered from the point of diplomatic dealings was it not ingenious to withhold a proposal for mutual recognition as issue from the summit. That recalls the attention to the fate of the ineffective Basic Accord from 1991/92. A debate on this main inter-Korean document was on the summit not to discern. The Basic Accord itself dealt with mutual assurances about the unification principles, pledged reconciliation, mutual system recognition, lessening of tension, non-aggression, and an inter-Korean state of peace. But beside defined it the relation “not being a relationship as between states”. What followed was nearly a decade more of inter-Korean strife. The initiators of the mid-June 2000 summit were better advised if they took a renewed basic accord in their dialogue, envisaging an agreed interstate coexistence between the ROK and the DPRK.

The idea of a reconciliatory solution for the Korean discord found many defenders. And no doubt, it looks more attractive than in the Korean case the thorny way of normal intercourse between regular states. The official ROK policy offers no handsome definition of its reconciliation notion. No wonder, the difficulties are insurmountable: it demanded an equal footing of both systemic orders, a fundamental compromise of irreconcilable partners, resigning to compete further on capitalism or Juche and giving instead national cohesion top constitutional rank. So much reciprocal political trust, sharing of institutions and laws, such mutual tolerance of ideologies, an exclusion of rivalry between intransigent regimes would be miraculous. One should admit that national unity, upholding an antagonistic dichotomy of a weak and a strong system is unrealistic. Such systems are in inexorable contest until one submits to the other. The arguments against the formula “one unified nation and two systems” come from a genetic, a political logical, an empirical and last not least an interest determined aspect.

Genetically commenced Korea’s division as yet mentioned with the Soviet occupant’s transfer of a totalitarian counter-system against the expectable structure in South Korea. For the afflicted people in the North was it described as liberation from oppression and dawning socialist welfare. The “revolutionary” reversal overthrew all property structures and social values, created the separate and secluded identity of DPRK. That instigated the bisection of Korea’s political, societal and national status. In the sixtieth started an independent Juche autonomy policy with much more standing on its own than other Soviet clients. That coined the separate identity still expressly. With rigid leader-party governance and military megapower balanced the regime its economic and social weakness and assured that way survival energy and capacity. Principally remained the basic nature of the DPRK until today the same, defining itself as anti-capitalist challenge to the Republic of Korea.

The whole case contains two axioms. Since it was systemic partition causing the national split became the socio-political and ideological confrontation the major point at issue. That contrast got higher weight than all national cohesion. Like a conclusion follows the other axiom: there is no entrance into reunification without abrogation of the prior doubling of systems, no unity without restoration of systemic oneness. A historic arch from the split’s descendent to its elimination determines character and content of unification. In Korea was that legacy transferred into the new millennium.

Grasping the axioms was it much healthier for the DPRK to aim for interstate coexistence than to continue its unification shadow-fight. Moreover should its self-preservation interest guide towards an acceptance of the status quo of two Koreas, because the Juche state has neither the ability nor the stamina to stand a competition of systems under any national joining. An amalgam (Kim Dae Jung’s announced “common prosperity”) is the more improbable because they are extremely in imbalance: in economic weight, political culture, and attraction power for population, in the suitability to act in openness and on free markets. In every thinkable form of unity starts an intensive open competition and soon falls the weaker across to complete transition. With all trends of the time depends modernisation from private property, market economy, high technological standards, a societal constitution in accordance with the democratic vote of the people. All past euphoria in Korea on reconcilable joining misses to reflect the restorative nature of unification, not back to outmoded structures, but ahead to the only prospering system.

A “White Paper on Korean Unification” (Seoul 2001) contained an amazing reasoning. It stated correctly that internal economic weakness and changed international conditions put the DPRK in sensitive disparity, its role as challenging socialist counter-system failed. And then: “Consequently, the system competition between the two Koreas was no longer meaningful.” Just the contrary is true; a system competition stops never and gets the more critical the more one side becomes weaker or more sensitive for outer influence. The more the DPRK tries to compensate its weakness by its “armed forces first” policy. Disparate intransigent systems are not suited for harmony; their fight for dominance blows every attempt of merger up.

The head of the ROK denied occasionally to intent unification by absorption. May be it was an advance to the North’s demand for equality through parity and pro rata structures in federal institutions. But it overlooks that every inter-system contest ends in zero configuration. It is like in market relations. Enterprises in the same field compete and if one gets prosperous and the other insolvent reigns disparity, an eventual fusion stands never on equal footing. One may object, parts of a nation follow other rules; some claim they are qualified for patriotic fraternisation. But intransigent systems compete more merciless than economic entities. The winning side dominates a joining and only over a longer run flows a unity into a common national gain for all, the succumbed side included. But questioning the nature of unification must not be acute in Korea. It would be more rational to debate political and juridical ingredients of normal interstate relations. A gain for détente in Korea demands a lot more of mutual credibility than hitherto detectable, and that recommends avoiding surreal promises.

That relates to the magic word reconciliation too. The European détente in the 70th and 80th did not use that notion and called for rapprochement. The West like the East understood the other as irreconcilable contrahent, but decided in favour of a realistic handling of their divergence in constructive peaceful manner. Yet they dealt with each other like in business by compensation, serving complementary interests and mutual but different benefits. That led to slowly growing reciprocal confidence. The rationality in the past coexistence in Europe could be applied for inter-Korean relations too. They need a rapprochement and could unfold a wide array of exchanges with compensation type benefits. Reconciliation in the word’s true sense is valuable policy inside a community, lets assume for harmonisation inside a reunited nation.

Occasionally voiced the leader Kim Jong Il his view on reconciliatory unity. “People who have taken a wrong path in the past can repent and embark on the road of patriotism. On the principle of asking no question about the past, we will approach with generosity those … We will also unite with people from the upper classes in power, …big capitalists and generals in Douth Korea under the banner of great unity of the nation…” President Kim was not so detailed about reconciliation, especially not in reference to upper ranks of North Korea’s service class, but he expressed much patriotic goodwill. Both antagonists stay vague and incredible in their insistence on a grand compromise, an unbelievable patriotic tolerance letting bygones be bygones. And mostly circumvent both sides the sole reality, their own concrete-hard enemy schemes – the communist and anticommunist – that always and principally are determined to win. All affirmations to renounce to win in favour of reconciliation disseminate only irritating incredibility. In reality set all politicians north and south of Korea’s abyss internally and tacitly on final political oneness according to each ones pattern.

A comment on the just formulated crass truth may be permitted. The DPRK held itself until now through self-isolation, military strength and dictatorship. If it seriously had a priority of national understanding with the South in mind it could have stopped since decades to concentrate all energies on its fight for an eternal segregated Juche existence. It could have waived its “anti-capitalist stance” in favour of unity and welfare and join – encouraged by generous regulations bargained with the South as reward for an entrée – the Republic of Korea. Such a resolve became easier since the South changed toward democracy and displayed sunshine’s appeasement scheme. But the DPRK wants decidedly to fixate its separate being, as its premier reported on April 5, 01 to the supreme assembly “All sectors should firmly maintain the independence, resolutely uphold our ideology, our own political system, our mode of revolution and our own economic system, fully apply the party’s system of leadership and consistently implement the Juche-based line of socialist construction, the line of giving priority to ideology, so as to remarkably increase the overall power of the DPRK… The Juche character and national identity should be preserved and distinguished creative wisdom and patriotic devotion of our people displayed to the full to enable the country to emerge as a powerful nation…” Meant is not only the bastion of a separate state; meant is also an own quality as Juche nation. May be the premier forgot the three unification principles.

Of course, the ROK defends its own order too. But the sunshine scheme seemed to thrust all knowledge aside about the DPRK’s systemic nature. This observation needs not anticommunist biases; but alas, there exists a totalitarian order in Pyongyang, not comparable with the rest of the world. No state and not the ROK too, disposes the capacity to integrate in any form another state with permanently uphold contradictory structures (what just the unification formula demands) without damaging itself. The South, as sound its organism develops, cannot prosper in close linkage with a unfitting and troubling section as part of the integrated entity. Therefore will it immediately commence to overcome the irregularities and to reconstruct profoundly the acceded part, ostensibly an incorporation.

One may say that the major role of unification on the mid-June 2000 summit was an innocent concession of the South to the North. But the follow-up was foreseeable. The future Nobel laureate missed the chance for debating consequent normalisation steps, not to speak of peaceful coexistence. Moreover existed no reason for believing the North could really seek unification. If one supposes to Pyongyang’s leadership being rationalist and pursuing the regime’s existential interest falls its unification demand under strong doubts. Notwithstanding all vows from politicians determine laws of nature the run of political events. In all cases assumes the North by far the weaker socio-economic position, the considerable stronger side starts unavoidably getting the economic and political lead, the erosion of Juche structures aside. The northern leadership holds enough existential mistrust to understand the choice between protracted segregation and the risks of an open systemic contest. Why raised the summit dialogue no appeal to the raison d’être of the DPRKs representatives to convince them in favour of coexistence?

The dualism of two Koreas will not earlier be abrogated than after the disappearance of one of the systems, the bankrupt and non-democratic one. The power balance speaks for a longer bisection on the peninsula. But the system strife must not go on in mere confrontation. A modus vivendi of peaceful coexistence seems despite all indomitable divergence feasible. The South disposes on liberal principles, economic means and stability enough to engage for normal relations with the second national state notwithstanding its strange Juche character. And Pyongyang could discover that stabile coexistence served more to its self-preservation interest than old Koryo projects. There is surely a better chance for détente if the inter-Korean relations are handled from regular state-to-state positions.

Finally could the reader ask what may be recommendable steps for creating inter-Korean coexistence. There are several tasks for a revived engagement policy. Not mere ideas, all are negotiable, for both sides suitable for consent and of reciprocal value, and from the point of historic responsibility also justifiable. That demanded longer reasoning but a very short abstract may like footnotes be finally accepted.

  1. It is unavoidable to create clarity about a realistic sequence, to create interstate normality first and to solve the national question later, if preferred by tacit understanding on the postponement. There will be no substantial progress in overcoming the confrontation as long as attempts to join irreconcilable systems burdening the agenda. The more, as unification and peaceful coexistence of states exclude each other in an either-or-constellation.
  2. Both Koreas should commonly recognise the status quo of two existing regular states. Without that will peaceful coexistence not function. The acceptance of the status quo could be amended by an agreed proviso to resume the fundamental right of the Koreans on their national unity when more favourable conditions open a vista to a democratic consent on unification.
  3. The contemporary existence of two sovereigns in Korea is a fait accompli. Both sides should act boldly and create normally functioning bilateral interstate relations. That contained mutual recognition of the other’s equal sovereignty, integrity, legal capacity and state identity. Therefore one observes directly the validity of international law or the sides agree on a similar code of interstate rules of law. Only if both Koreas are legally coequals grows thereafter a conviction about benefits from intergovernmental co-operation. They should also send plenipotentiary representatives into the other capital.
  4. The mutual recognition may be formulated as “factual”, creating a reservation thought to let the common nationality unaffected. Convincing the DPRK demands overcoming their strong prejudices. Arguments are ensuing weighty advantages from mutual normality. A rational reorientation from both sides could launch a new inter-Korean perspective.

  5. For inter-Korean normality suffices not actionism with vague tourism projects or the arrangement of tiny questionable inter-Korean family meetings, where travelling depends on the other side’s occasional goodwill. Inter-Korean co-operation needs a network of contracts creating legally binding procedures. That means for example a consular agreement, permanent regulations for private travelling, reciprocal recognition of documents, an interstate Korean border regulation and the creation of corridors and rules for their crossing, agreements on postal- and telecommunication, on railway- and road traffic, on economic and financial relations, understandings on water flows or the use of natural resources. There is no important co-operation without a high degree of contractual stability.
  6. The ROK and the DPRK agree on operable stipulations for practising the several times proclaimed principle for solving the Korean problems between both Koreas themselves, including the peace and security issues. That must not affect US and China guarantees and good services. Necessary were great power’s support for the principle “Koreans have to do it themselves”. North Korea’s practice to trip South Korea up by addressing first the US should be ended.
  7. A realistic formula for the coexistence often referred to should be searched between Seoul and Pyongyang. Coexistence works only as relation-ship between states and appliance of UN-charter rules. It cannot create harmony between antagonistic systems but make peace between states. The standstill assurances of the Basic Accord related to ideological or subversive contests were in vain. The utmost one may do is to leave the ongoing ideological competition out of all interstate understandings.
  8. Detente policy follows inevitably a sequence. Political rapprochement precedes defusing of military confrontation. A decrease of military threats depends from a certain prior amount of inter-Korean normalisation results. Negotiations of the US with the DPRK on single armaments control issues, as helpful as they are, will not reduce the true dangerous military potential at the DMZ. Only an inter-Korean rapprochement offers the chance for mutual threat limitations and reductions. To repeat the given non-aggression pledge may cover a complex of détente but should not stand lonely. Primacies have specific military confidence building regulations, the establishing of DMZ crossing corridors, the decrease of attack forces in vicinity of the division line, the thinkable balanced force and armaments reductions.
  9. The stipulation of article 5 in the Basic Accord from 1992 should be vitalised. It said, South and North Korea shall together endeavour to transform the armistice into a firm state of peace between the two sides. To transform the cease-fire line into an acknowledged borderline could enormously favour further normalisation. The essence of such approach were a clear-cut decision to put the peace arrangement fully in the responsibility of the Koreas, notwithstanding a role of the United States and China as protecting powers of a respective treaty. China is not against an inter-Korean peace conclusion; the United States could be won to transfer it rights decidedly to the ROK for promoting a basic Korean interest.
  10. The Basic Accord from 1991/92 was determined by best intentions, but not successful to alter the inter-Korean relationship. It could not because it contained partly unrealistic stipulations or missed to answer such urgent problems like a mutual recognition at all. Two ways are open: either an inter-Korean peace conclusion corrects immanently with new regulations the previous agreement or the mutual recognition of the ROK and the DPRK will be based on a new basic treaty and the peace agreement follows separately.