By now it's completely obvious that the Korean peninsula won't be reuniting any time soon. It's also quite likely that the South wouldn't want a full reunification anyway given the enormous economic differences between the two countries.

So why won't South Korea officially abandon their claim to the North of the peninsula? What benefit is there in maintaining the charade?

  • 48
    "It's also quite likely that the South wouldn't want a full reunification anyway given the enormous economic differences between the two countries." [citation needed]. The obvious precedent is Germany, and West Germany didn't reject a full reunification due to economic differences. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 13:45
  • 14
    @PeterTaylor the differences are far far bigger in Korea. At least East Germans didn't suffer from malnourishment. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 13:53
  • 22
    Look at the very limited exchange/visit/reunification programs for separated families that have happened in the past. There is a vast and overwhelming desire among the Korean people on both sides of the border to be a single nation. I'm not sure where your claim that "South wouldn't want full reunification anyway" comes from. You really think other nations all over the world won't chip in massive assistance if that's an obstacle to getting the unstable North Korean regime out of power and away from "the button?" Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 15:53
  • 3
    Not obvious that there won't be reunification, e.g. East & West Germany. Further, why would South Korea or the world not want to put an end to North Korea's warmongering and human rights abuses, if it could be achieved without bloodshed? (Other than perhaps Kim and his clique, of course.) The financial cost would seem to be less than continuing the status quo.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 18:43
  • 10
    During the cold war a german unification was completely impossible and far away, too. The GDR was also economically much weaker then the FRG. Despite all that, after 40 years of division, germany was reunited. What makes you think the south koreans see their situation much different (economic differences were present in germany too, but thats a very small price to pay for a reunification)?
    – Polygnome
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 20:10

5 Answers 5


Simply because abandoning territorial claims will do nothing:

  1. It will neither eliminate the military threat of the "North" Korea, nor would it relax the tensions.
  2. It requires enormous amounts of legal work, including adopting amendments to the Constitution of Korea.

This is why:

  1. Both governments claimed sovereignty over the whole Korea, however in a different manner:
    • Constitution of Korea (Article 3) claims its sovereignty over entire Korean peninsula;
    • Constitution of "North" Korea (Article 1) claims its sovereignty over all Korean people. Article 2 talks about "the liberation of the homeland" (obviously, including the "Southern" Koreans) from "imperialist aggressors".
  2. There is no peace treaty signed yet (the 1953 Agreement deals with armistice only);
  3. Retracting the territorial claims can be done on a mutual basis, probably as a part of Peace Treaty, when both sides to retract their claims;
  4. There are reasons to think that the DPRK is not going to keep its promise, should any be given.
  5. Most likely, adopting amendments to the cornerstone articles of the Constitution would require conducting a National referendum and convincing the majority of the citizens. We could safely assume that there is a powerful lobby against that: the Wikipedia article for Korean reunification contains some introductory links that indicate controversy in public opinion.
  • 1
    You should expand on #5 is that - presumably - most South Koreans disagree with the idea. Though I don't have any polls to back up that guess
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 13:51
  • 32
    I'm curious why you use Republic of Korea and "North" Korea and NOT "South" Korea or Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I believe you should use one method to refer to both sides.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 16:36
  • 1
    @Nobody, the entire post argues that adopting the changes to a cornerstone articles of country's Constitutions are, at least, hard to accomplish. If it is nearly impossible, like you suggest, it only confirms the #5 is "probably very true", doesn't it? Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 17:02
  • 5
    @CGCampbell, thanks, edited the post according to your comment. Just a side note, I don't take the substances that could "expand my mind" towards being able to call the "North" Korea a "democratic", so let it be DPRK instead. :-) Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 17:23
  • 5
    @bytebuster Democracy and peoples' democracy are not the same thing. An old joke from the former communist countries says the difference is like between a jacket and a straightjacket. Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 7:27

As a German the message

By now it's completely obvious that the Korean peninsula won't be reuniting any time soon.

has no merit for me at all. I can assure you as contemporary witness that nobody expected a German reunification as far as 1988, two years before the final reunification. It was a big stroke of luck that Russia had no interest to aid the old government with military help (yes, they asked frantically for it) and that the resentment was running so deep that the own army denied any involvement and the demonstrations were so big that neither police nor Stasi could suppress it anymore.

Neither is the argument of the different enormous economic differences convincing. Yes, the reunification of Germany was extremely costly and long, but it also showed opportunities. The land will split into the two regions and the enormous inner demand and a good supply of cheap workers could boost the economy. During the 90s many countries were thinking that Germany tried to bite off more than it could chew and was a sinking star (Remember the "old Europe" quip from Rumsfeld 2003?).

Well, the situation now...there is an idiom in Germany. It is translated as "Pity is given as a present, but envy must be earned".

We really don't know what the future will bring. If the North Koreans continue to annoy and disgrace China, their presumed ally or if a revolution is triggered in China or if the government in North Korea are simply not able anymore to support their population and their soldiers(!)...I do not rule out that South Korea will be reunited during my lifetime.

  • 1
    As a German too, it seems to me that the GDR does not get anywhere close to being a model for today's North Korea. For one thing, the GDR was quite closely associated to the USSR – rather closer than the FRG to the USA – whereas the PRNK is largely on its own (with China as you say a partner they shouldn't rely on even when China is very strong), whilst it's not too difficult to claim that the current South Korean state is a “foreign outpost of Western imperialism”. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 20:58
  • 3
    As far as I know, GDR still has much higher unemployement, much lower standard of quality of life, and much more problems with political extremists, and that 25 years after a separation of 40 years. Koreas had been separated since 50 years and the economical difference is far bigger than it was between former GDR and western Germany.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 22:12
  • 11
    @Bregalad You are right that East Germany (The name GDR ist not liked anymore) earns less and has a higher unemployment (see the maps). But the income gap is steadily closing: 1991 the BIP of East Germany was 40% while it is now 77% and it overtook Italy and Spain (Yes, political extremism is still rampant, especially in Saxony). You should also consider that many East Germans moved to the West to get work. I do not underestimate the problems, but it is much better than before. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 22:52
  • Did the GDR have a cult of personality like the DPRK does? That certainly is a strong impediment to reunification.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 21:17
  • @RonJohn During the hot phase of the Cold War (1950-1970) most countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact had indeed personality cults. Walter Ulbricht got all the typical socialistic tributes (Naming of important buildings, honorary citizen etc.) and his image was hanging in every schoolroom, but he never got as much international recognition as the successor Erich Honecker (Order of Lenin). One reason could be that he had throat cancer which was giving him a falsetto voice, he was always extremely wound tight and he had no charisma at all. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 23:02

It is the official government policy of both North Korea and South Korea to unify. This is due to the historical fact that Korea was unified before World War II. Both countries were unified for more than a thousand of years, under various names, including the Greater Korean Empire from 1897 to 1910, Joseon from 1392 to 1897 and Goryeo from 918 to 1392.

Both countries have a shared history and culture. In addition, they have also proclaimed reunification as an eventual goal after the Korean War, signing the 7 · 4 South and North Korea Joint Statement, outlining this aim.

However, given the recent development of North Korea's nuclear weapon programme, it has made denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula a bigger priority than reunification.

While reunification may be increasingly difficult now due to the divergence of their economies and social structures, it's worth remembering that they have only been separated for less than a century, as opposed to being unified for a millennium. As such, both North and South Korea will not give up their claims of each other.

  • 1
    Both countries were unified for more than a thousand of years but those years didn't see technological revoluitions of 1950-2017: TVs, computer, internet, cellphones, etc... and their enormous impact on everyone's lives (especially in South Korea which is a very "geek" country)
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 22:16

Why doesn't South Korea give up its claim on North Korea?

Let me ask a rhetorical question. Why doesn't the north give up its claims on the south?

By now it's completely obvious that the Korean peninsula won't be reuniting any time soon.

No it isn't. Obviously Germany split around the same time as the Koreas but still reunified. If there is any angst about that, I haven't heard it.

Beyond the question of whether or not the community wants to reunite, there is also the constant possibility of military action. The United States is not going to rule North Korea under martial law. If the United States goes to war with North Korea, the only practical end (assuming a US victory) is for South Korea to take over in the North. And if South Korea does that, their own constitution would require that they allow the north's citizens to vote. They'd be reunited.

Personally, I would expect them to reunite by the end of the century. Obviously North Korea's model is not sustainable. If it was, they wouldn't have to sell chemical weapons to Syria just to keep the lights on. The Koreas will either find a way to work together, which will inevitably to reunification, or North Korea will collapse, which will inevitably lead to reunification.

The only path to keeping the two separate that I can see would be for China to manage North Korea as a client nation. And China doesn't seem very interested in doing that. I suppose Russia could take the place of China if they wanted, but I'm not sure that anyone wants that either.

  • 5
    "Obviously North Korea's model is not sustainable." George Orwell would disagree with you. And not only is North Korea extremely similar to the 1984 dystopia, this dystopia was assumed to be stable even if essential parts of daily life were missing. Now 1984 was only a book, but wealth and well-being do not seem to be necessary for stability.
    – Thern
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 11:39
  • 1
    @Thern George Owell was writing in 1948, when the Soviet Union had only been around for 30 years. In 1984 in the real world, few foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact governments in less than ten years. The lack of a freer counterpart, South Korea/West Germany/US, is a significant difference between modern totalitarian regimes and Oceania in 1984.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 19:11

One must also keep in mind that this situation is not two groups of people who are in conflict. It is largely the Kim dynasty in the north promoting the divide, not the people of N Korea. Only the Kims and a few cronies benefit from the current situation.

Should the Kim dynasty fall, as in something unpleasant happening to Kim Jong Un, reunification becomes a possibility, albeit one with considerable economic issues in revitalizing the destitute north, and political issues with China. N Korea acts as a buffer between the capitalist south and China.

  • It is largely the Kim dynasty in the north promoting the divide. No. They are greedy for power and would gladly rule the south as well. Your 1st paragraph is factually wrong.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 14:23
  • 2
    @Bregalad: I think you need evidence for what seems, on the face of it, an utterly absurd claim. Why would the mass of people in North Korea choose to live impoverished lives under a totalitarian dictatorship, if they had the opportunity to do otherwise? Who benefits, other than the ruling clique? Remove them, and the country would reunite, just as the two halves of Germany did after the fall of Communism.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 18:23
  • 2
    The divide refers to the government style, not the physical country. Any remarks regarding what N Korean people might think would be pure hypothesis, but in the case of conflict, we can study another dictatorship where the average person lived very poorly... Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Once he was removed, all loyalty to his regime evaporated quickly. Granted, the result was chaos, but the idea that N Korean people would remain loyal to the Kims if the current one were removed isn't backed up by past experience. As they say in Africa, the juju dies with the man.
    – tj1000
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 19:28
  • Well I'm not familiar with Iraq, but considering the current cahos I would be surprised if nobody were nostalgic of the Saddam Hussein era. And you could as well say that the US is promoting the divide by influencing South Korea that much. Sure the influence is nowhere near as awful, but it's still there.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 21:43
  • 6
    @jamesqf "Why would the mass of people in North Korea choose to live impoverished lives under a totalitarian dictatorship, if they had the opportunity to do otherwise?" Because of nationalism, respect for the ways of the ancestors, the desire for stability, and the contempt for individualism which is largely present in eastern Asian countries. In Iraq or Russia, people actively rejected western ideas as well. Even in eastern Germany, one fourth wants the GDR to return.
    – Thern
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 11:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .