After decades of isolationism from the South, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said he wanted to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons when he met with a special envoy from South Korea, the North’s official media reported on Thursday, and the two sides set Sept. 18-20 as the dates for a summit meeting between leaders of the two countries.

The envoy, Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, met with Mr. Kim in Pyongyang on Wednesday in hopes of breaking the deadlock in the talks between the North and the United States over dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons program.

On Thursday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said that Mr. Kim reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearize North Korea. But it fell short of clarifying whether Mr. Kim was ready to take major steps toward denuclearizing his country, such as submitting a full inventory of nuclear weapons and fissile materials, that the Trump administration has insisted on.

“Noting that it is our fixed stance and his will to completely remove the danger of armed conflict and horror of war from the Korean Peninsula and turn it into the cradle of peace without nuclear weapons and free from nuclear threat, he said that the North and the South should further their efforts to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the North Korean news agency said, referring to Mr. Kim.

What would a unified Korea mean for the west and doing these talks without the involvement of western powers like the US?

  • 3
    I don't think this can be answered. It would depend on many factors, not least whether a "united korea" is based on the political system of the South or of the North.
    – James K
    Oct 20 '18 at 6:23
  • While this cannot be answered, it is an intriguing question. If I had a magic wand, I would say go for it. South Korea will do for a united Korea what Hong Kong did to China. That is a Socialist government that allows wholesale capitalism Oct 21 '18 at 15:47

Depends on the terms of the unification. Let me talk a bit about the German precedent, and how it might or might not translate to Korea.

Basically, when the population protested against the (communist) GDR government that government surrendered rather than try a bloody suppression, and afterwards the population decided to join the (capitalist) FRG.

For historical and constitutional reasons, the FRG could not refuse this decision if they had wanted far as domestic law was concerned, but they had to handle the legal complications out of the aftermath of WWII.

  • There was a brief debate of a neutral Germany, but in the end it was a clear part of the West. Other central European nations followed into the EU and NATO.
    Russia felt that it had been given assurances which were broken. How will China react to a Korean reunification, and will they try to get more solid assurances regarding their Eastern border? Would such assurances drive a wedge between Korea and the West?
  • The FRG economy was large and strong enough to take the GDR in. There were major economic upheavals, but in the end the unified pension funds paid pensions earned in the GDR, etc.
    The ROK is not quite as large, compared to the DPRK. The economic rehabilitation of the DPRK would be a significant burden on the average ROK citizen. Will Korea need massive economic aid?
  • The GDR was a communist dictatorship, but abuses were not on the scale we see in the DPRK. In the end there were trials for the most egregious violations of human rights, but there is a political party in Germany today which can trace its lineage to the GDR communist party (after several name changes and a merger). There is at least one Bundeswehr general who started his career in the communist forces, and even some of the secret police are still at work for the government.
    It might be hard to swallow for the ROK and DPRK citizens if former DPRK secret police get the same treatment.

  • There is no German precedent for the DPRK nuclear program, but Germany has a civilian nuclear program under IAEA safeguards. Germans were trusted to handle plutonium as long as all t's are crossed and all i's are dotted.
    In a disorderly situation, various powers might want to send forces to "secure" those nuclear sites. In an orderly situation, nuclear weapons would have to be disassembled (and possibly HEU diluted) before the material goes to other uses, since the ROK is a NPT member and may not take custody of the weapons.

Summarized, everything depends on the terms of the Reunification, and there is really no useful precedent.

The West, notably the US but also the other members of the former UN forces in the Korean war, would have stakes in the outcome but they would ultimately have to accept a free decision of the Korean people.

China would have serious stake in what happens on their border and they might send "peacekeepers" (or even peacekeepers without scare quotes) if there is any widespread disorder. That, in turn, would concern the West.

  • 1
    Good answer. Two things come to mind that add to the differences: SK is about twice the population of NK while West Germany was four times that of EG (more easily absorbing it). More importantly: China as a backing power of NK isn't about to fall as the soviet bloc did in '89.
    – janh
    Oct 20 '18 at 6:56
  • @janh, see my second bullet point re size and the last paragraph re China.
    – o.m.
    Oct 20 '18 at 7:05
  • Just wanted to add and clarify, it's a good answer nonetheless.
    – janh
    Oct 20 '18 at 7:08

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