Prospects from Korean Unification

  • April 01, 2008
  • COL (Australian Army) David Coghlan

Throughout the 1990s, predictions of Korean reunification were rife. Since then, enthusiasm for such predictions have faded, and although the underlying assumption of reunification remains, forecasts of when and how this will occur have been more subdued. Reunification poses two distinct yet interdependent conundrums: reunification itself, which is the immediate challenge; and the strategic landscape that emerges from reunification, which has the potential to fundamentally transform strategic relationships in Northeast Asia. Within this context, this paper examines the prospects from Korean reunification. Initially, it will establish the framework from which such prospects will emerge: the nature of the North Korean regime, the cost of reunification, and likely reunification scenarios. From this framework, a raft of challenges and opportunities present themselves to the stakeholders in the region; and South Korea, China, the United States and, to a lesser extent, Japan and Russia will be examined to determine prospects from Korean reunification. The paper will suggest that China, at the expense of the United States, has positioned itself to profoundly influence the nature of reunification, the “tilt” of a unified Korea, and with it, the future Northeast Asian strategic environment.