A comment to this post implies belief in an old canard of the Korean left that the United States is an invisible hand that keeps Korea divided. That argument depends on any number of dubious lines of reasoning, from control of South Korea’s natural resources (such as . . . ?), to controlling its trade (and yet, China is now Korea’s largest trading partner), to keeping Korea as a client for U.S. arms (a united Korea wouldn’t need arms, and a whole new infrastructure, too?), to facially asinine constructs that seem to envision Tokdo as the linchpin of global strategy.
Some of those ideas are so facially silly that their aherents are probably immune to reason. For the sake of discussion with everyone else, however, I wanted to present a list of reasons why Korean reunification is in the objective U.S. interest.
1. Reuinification would put a re-energized democracy next to the most politically backward part of China, on which China’s military would have to rely to do its next Tienanmen. It directly challenges the political system of the only major power that can really threaten the United States.
2. It shifts economic power from an adversary to a quasi-ally. Reunification instantly transforms Korea, a nation with which the U.S. has longstanding trade, diplomatic, and military ties, from a de facto island into a part of the Asian mainland. It reduces Korean reliance on Chinese ports and railroads by giving Korea direct access to the trans-Siberian railroad and several excellent natural harbors. After things stabilized a bit, a united Korea would at least temporarily draw foreign investment away from China, where labor costs are already rising. Later, it would expand regional trade with all nations, including China, thus reducing the chance of conflict and contributing to global prosperity.
3. If a unified Korea can be brought into a regional alliance of democracies, it’s a much stronger partner and ally, whereas a divided Korea is a perpetual strategic liability for the United States (ie., the erstwhile two-theater-war doctrine). Such a regional alliance is the only long-term way to counterbalance growing Chinese power until China becomes a democracy.
4. The replacement of a dangerous and unstable North Korea with a united Korea would free up U.S. forces for potential trouble spots in the Middle East and across the Taiwan Strait, and potentially distracts Chinese forces away from an aggressive posture toward Taiwan out of a need to keep a lid on areas adjacent to a chaotic post-revolutionary North Korea.
5. Post-unification Korea would need U.S. help more than ever for reconstruction and stabilization. I personally advocate a U.S. policy of keeping all U.S. forces out of post-revolutionary North Korea as a concession to China, except for strictly humanitarian functions like field hospitals, feeding stations, and the provision of clean water, and for no more than, say, one year. This transition period will be fraught with danger, and any foreign presence could provoke a powerful nationalist reaction. Most North Korean forces would likely disintegrate with the regime. That means South Korea forces would face a monumental stabilization and reconstruction effort, meaning South Korea would become more — not less — dependent on U.S. diplomatic and economic assistance to check China’s growing influence over the northern parts of Korea and rebuild North Korea’s infrastructure.
6. The reunification of Korea under a democratic system would be a moral and political victory for the United States. It transforms the Korean War from a bloody entanglement with a murky outcome to a delayed victory. That is especially so if the United States is credited for enabling pro-democratic forces inside North Korea.
7. I admit up front that this one sails into uncharted waters, but it’s possible that, like their counterparts in Eastern Europe, post-unification North Koreans could end up being the most pro-American voters in Korea, but probably not until their view of the world had adjusted to the absence of the green goggles. North Koreans are very isolated; nationalism historically has great appeal, even to dissidents, and especially in Korea; America is a natural object of envy; and anti-Americanism isn’t a pocketbook issue on which most North Koreans are most likely diverge from the official line. Finally, the quality of U.S. public diplomacy is abyssimal. The determining factor may be how much credit the U.S. can earn for enabling pro-democracy forces to challenge the regime and helping to ease the suffering of the people.
8. So who would rebuild North Korea’s power grid, pipelines, roads, ports, and rails? Could Hyundai do it all alone? Who really benefits from Korean reunification? Why, Halliburton, of course! Nuff said? Not quite. What have we here? We can’t let the Chinese have all that oil, can we? Even as we speak, that oily puppetmaster Dick Cheney sits in his undisclosed location, drafting up no-bid contracts to build refineries from Kumgang to Chongjin!
And there you have it: irrefutable evidence that the neocon cabal that runs Washington wants Korea to be united and democratic.
Now, reexamine each of those arguments — mainly, the serious ones — and ask yourself whose interests are served by Korea’s continued division. Hint: it’s the nation that’s gradually gaining control of North Korea’s resources and benefits by keeping U.S. forces in the region wrong-footed.