North and South Korea: We Want Reunification But They Don’t Let Us


We are more or less all aware of the current North-South Korea relations, Korea reunification and North Korea’s nuclear development program which daily fill the pages of the world newspapers. However, what is less known is why disputes between the two states started and who does not want them to succeed with the reunification.

The legendary 38th parallel (The Korean Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone between North and South Korea) was first suggested as a dividing line for Korea in 1902 by the Japanese, after the First Sino-Japanese war (a war fought between Qing Dynasty China and Meiji Japan over the control of Korea).

After the First Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895), Russia was attempting to pull Korea under its control, while Japan had just secured recognition of its rights in Korea from the British Empire (The Anglo-Japanese treaty laid out an acknowledgement of Japanese interests in Korea and if Japan went to war in the Far East, and that a third power entered the fight against Japan, then Britain would come to the aid of the Japanese).

Tensions between Russia and Japan had increased in the years after the First Sino-Japanese war. Before the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), in an attempt to prevent any conflict, in 1902 Japan proposed to Russia that the two sides split Korea into separate spheres of influence along the 38th parallel. However, no formal agreement was ever reached. Therefore, in November 1904 because of the rival imperialist ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea, the Russo-Japanese War began.

In 1905, Russia started facing political unrest and Revolution, and eventually lost the war from Japan. The Russo-Japanese War ended on 5 September 1905, with the Treaty of Portsmouth. Russia recognized Korea as part of the Japanese sphere of influence and agreed to evacuate Manchuria. Japan, in due course, took full control of Korea.

Korea was occupied and declared a Japanese protectorate in November 1905 by the Eulsa Treaty (Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty), and officially annexed in 1910 through the annexation treaty (His Majesty the Emperor of Korea made the complete and permanent cession to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan of all rights of sovereignty over the whole of Korea). Japanese Korea was considered to be part of the Empire of Japan along with Taiwan, which was part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

In November 1943, just two years before Japan’s WWII surrender and liberation of Korea, the Cairo Conference was held in Egypt. At the Cairo Conference, the US President Franklin Roosevelt, the UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China meet to address the Allied position on Japan during World War II, and to make concrete decisions about postwar Asia. Joseph Stalin refused to attend the Conference in order not to provoke Japan.

The Cairo Declaration was signed on 27 November 1943, with the three main points:

1. The Allies resolved to bring unrelenting military pressure against Japan until it agrees to unconditional surrender.

2. All territories Japan has conquered from China, including Manchuria, Taiwan, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.

3. Korea shall become free and independent.

Two years after the Cairo Conference, in February 1945, the Yalta Conference was held in Ukraine. At the Yalta Conference the Allies failed to establish the Korean trusteeship first discussed. Korea future became unclear.

From 16 July-2 August 1945, the Potsdam Conference was convened in Germany. Again, participants were the big three; Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All points of the Potsdam Conference were agreed except one concerning Korea.

On 26 July 1945, in addition to the Potsdam Agreement, President Harry S. Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek issued the Potsdam Declaration which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan during WWII in Asia. Japan rejected Potsdam ultimatum.

The Potsdam Declaration, as well, failed to provide Korea solution, the only point where Korea was, in some way, mentioned was the point 8, which stated: “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine”.

Still, despite all agreements and declarations, no progress concerning Korea was made. Therefore, without resolution on the table, the Allies unilaterally decided to divide Korea, without consulting the Koreans.

Just few days after the Potsdam Conference, on 6 August 1945, the United States dropped nuclear bomb “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The blast killed approximately 70,000 people. Estimates of total deaths by the end of 1945 from burns, radiation and related diseases ranged from 90,000 to 140,000. About 20,000 Hiroshima victims were Koreans.

On 9 August 1945, the United States dropped another nuclear bomb the “Fat Man” over Nagasaki, Japan. Casualty estimates for immediate deaths range from 40,000 to 75,000. Total deaths by the end of 1945 have reached 80,000. About 2,000 Koreans died in Nagasaki. The US is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons in combat.

On 9 August 1945, Russia declared war on Japan, as agreed earlier at Yalta Conference (Russia shall declare war on Japan within 90 days after the defeat of Germany). By 10 August 1945, Russia’s Red Army occupied the North Korea Peninsula, the North of the 38th parallel. Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on 15 August 1945. Few weeks later, on 8 September, US forces under General John R. Hodge arrived at the southern part of Korea. The United States took firm control of the South part of Korean Peninsula, the South of 38th parallel.

Korea was under Japanese rule as part of the imperialist expansion of Japan for 35 years from 22 August 1910 to 15 August 1945 (formally until 2 September 1945, upon the Japanese defeat in World War II).

However, instead of finally being freed, Korea was once more occupied, just this time by the Allied Powers: Russia and the United States. The US-Soviet division of Korea excluded the Koreans who were represented by US Army colonels Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel.

By December 1945, Korea was administered by the US-Russia Joint Commission, as agreed at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in October 1945. Again, excluding the Koreans, the commission decided the country would become independent after a five year trusteeship.

With mistrust growing rapidly between the United States and the Soviet Union, no agreement was reached on how to reconcile the competing provisional governments from the North and the South. On 14 November 1947, the UN passed a resolution declaring that free elections should be held, foreign troops should be withdrawn, and a UN commission for Korea should be created. The Soviet Union, a veto power member, boycotted the voting and did not consider the resolution to be compulsory.

The Russians and Americans were unable to agree on the implementation of Joint Trusteeship over Korea. Consequently, the two superpowers backed different leaders and two states were effectively established, each of which claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula. South Korea, Republic of Korea (ROK) was declared on 15 August 1948 with Syngman Rhee as the first President, while North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established on 9 September 1948 with Kim Il-Sung as the Prime Minister.

This division of Korea was seen as unacceptable and temporary by both the South and the North regimes. From 1948, until the beginning of the civil war in June 1950, the armed forces of the North and the South engaged in a series of bloody conflicts along the border in an attempt for Korean national reunification. Both Syngman Rhee and Kim Il-Sung were intent upon reunifying Korea under their own political system.

On 25 June 1950, the North Korean Army (KPA) crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. Initially, Joseph Stalin rejected Kim’s requests for permission to invade the South, but in late 1949 the Communist victory in China and the development of Soviet nuclear weapons made him re-consider Kim’s proposal. In January 1950, after China’s Mao Zedong indicated that China would send troops and other support to Prime Minister Kim, Stalin approved an invasion.

Just few hours after the North Korea attack, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously condemned North Korean invasion of the Republic of South Korea with the UNSC Resolution 82. Resolution was adopted despite the Soviet (a veto power member state) boycott of the UNSC, while at the time China was represented by the Republic of China (Taiwan), and not the (mainland) People’s Republic of China (Mao Zedong). Due to the stalemate of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, there have been two states claiming to represent China in the UN since then, and both officially claim each other’s territory.

On 27 June 1950, the Security Council published Resolution 83 recommending member state military assistance to the Republic of Korea. The US President Truman ordered the US air and sea forces to help the South Korean government, siding with the South, while, People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union sided with the North. Consequently, Chinese People’s Volunteers Army (PVA) entered North Korea in the late October 1950, while Russia’s support was limited to air strikes and material aid.

On 27 July 1953, the hostilities stopped and the Commander in Chief of the UN Command, on one side, and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and the Commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, on the other side, signed Korean War Armistice Agreement in Panmunjom (a village on the de facto border between North and South Korea). Upon agreeing to the armistice, the belligerents established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 38th parallel, the most heavily militarized border in the world. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) never participated in the 1953 armistice.

The North and South Korea have never signed a formal peace treaty and therefore are still officially at war; only a ceasefire was declared.

After the ceasefire, North Korea was still under Kim Il-Sung rule and the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK). President Kim took full control of North Korean politics, with unconditional support of the armed forces. By the 1960s North Korea was the second most industrialized nation in East Asia, following only Japan. However, North Korea’s position was complicated by the Sino-Soviet split (the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union split), which began in the 1960s. Relations between North Korea and Soviet Union worsened when the Soviets concluded that Kim Il-Sung was supporting the Chinese.

In 1972, Juche ideology (man is the master of everything and decides everything) replaced Marxism-Leninism in the revised North Korean constitution as the official state ideology. The goal of Juche was introduced to make North Korea strong enough to resist foreign invasion and capitalist intervention.

By the late 1970s, the North Korean economy began to slow down. The Soviet Union aid and credit declined, the Juche ideology and resistance policy towards the US made it impossible for the North to ask help from the US, while, at the time, China was not financially strong enough to support North Korea.

In the 1990s, North Korea saw stagnation turning into crisis. In 1991, Russia withdrew its support for the North and demanded for payments. China stepped in to provide assistance and supplied food and oil, however, by the 1994 China reduced its exports to North Korea.

Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, his son Kim Jong-Il succeeded him as the Secretary General of the Korean Workers Party. During Kim Jong-Il’s rule political ideology remained the same and North Korea’s economy has continued to decline. From 1996 to 1999, country experienced a large scale famine which left some 600-900,000 people dead. On 10 February 2005, North Korea declared that it has nuclear weapons which created additional economic pressure on the country. North Korea explains it needs for the nuclear program as a security guarantee against a threat from the US, which has 28,500 troops based in South Korea.

As a result of its policy, North Korea is currently under the UN Sanctions (UN Security Council Resolution 1695 of July 2006, 1718 of October 2006, and 1874 of June 2009) and dependent on international food aid to feed its population (China and South Korea remains the largest donors of food aid to North Korea). On 13 February 2007, North Korea signed an agreement with South Korea, the United States, Russia, China, and Japan, in which North Korea will shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in exchange for economic and energy assistance. However, in 2009 the North continued its nuclear test program and on 27 May 2009 has declared itself no longer bound by the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

While, North Korea’s history is marked by firm communist rule, South Korea’s subsequent history is marked by alternating periods of democratic and autocratic rule, political turmoil, April Revolution in 1960, a military coup d’etat in 1961, assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979, the Coup d’etat of December Twelfth in 1979, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and suicide of the former President Roh Moo-hyun in May 2009.

Civilian governments are conventionally numbered from the First Republic of Syngman Rhee to the contemporary Sixth Republic. The First Republic, arguably democratic at its inception, became increasingly autocratic until its collapse in 1960. The Second Republic was strongly democratic, but was overthrown in less than a year and replaced by an autocratic military regime. The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Republics were nominally democratic, but are widely regarded as the continuation of military rule. With the Sixth Republic, the country has gradually stabilized into a liberal democracy.

In the 1950s South Korea became one of the poorest countries in Asia. Its infrastructure and resources were severely exploited during the Japanese occupation and completely destroyed by the Korean War. After a ceasefire in 1953, South Korea became heavily dependent on the US.

However, following the military coup led by General Park Chung-Hee in 1962, South Korea became for four straight decades one of the fastest-growing economy in the world history, completely transforming itself from farming and fishing based economy into one of the world’s most high-tech industrial powers.

Today, South Korea is a major economic power and one of the wealthiest countries in Asia. The South Korea economy is highly developed and one of the four largest in Asia and 13th largest in the world. South Korea is the world’s largest shipbuilder, the fifth largest automobile producer in the world, the world’s largest LCD and plasma display maker and the world’s leading memory chip producer, among other things.

Despite its historical political differences both the North and South Korea wishes reunification, however, it looks like they are facing strong obstructions by all sides.

Why obstructions?

If reunited, Korea will combine the world’s fourth and sixth largest active armed forces and will create the second largest active armed forces in the world with around 2 million active troops (the North has between 1,200,000-1,300,000 active troops while the South has 687,000 active troops). The People’s Liberation Army of China with 2,255,000 active troops and 800,000 reserve personnel is the current largest active army in the world. However, North Korea’s substantial arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons and South Korea’s technologically advanced and well armed military would have advantage over any army, including China’s.

By a significant margin, a reunited Korea will have the world’s largest reserve troops (North Korea has 4,700,000 reserve personnel, while South Korea has 4,500,000 reserve personnel, total of 9,200,000) and will have a considerable amount of military equipment. A reunited Korea will possess the world’s third largest number of tanks and submarines and operate the fourth largest air force and sixth largest fleet of destroyers in the world.

Looking at the above figures, it is obvious that both the North and the South are facing obstructions. The question is: who does not want them to reunite?

Many believe that if North Korean government does not feel threatened by South Korea or the United States, it will have nothing to lose from dialogue and engagement with the outside world, and will have no reason to build weapons of mass destruction. Also, it has been argued that the only solution to the Korean problem is war.However, these arguments should be re-examined.

North Korea’s official policy is to seek reunification without what it seen as outside interference, through a federal structure retaining each side’s leadership and systems. Both, the North and South Korea signed the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration in 2000, in which both sides made promises to seek out a peaceful reunification. Accordingly, North Korea does not have anything to lose from unification with the South, only to benefit, but some parties do.

North Korea is not threatened by the South, and trough history never was. South Korea is not violent country and it has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea. This is seen in South Korea’s relentless efforts to reunite and trough ongoing financial and material support for the North.

The same is with the United States. The United States, like South Korea, will not attack North Korea and it present no threat to the North. According to the President Obama, South Korea is the US closest ally. Therefore, the US will do nothing to disturb this close union, especially not by provoking the North. The US needs strong military ally in the Asia, and that is South Korea.

The US officially supports Korean reunification under a democratic, US allied government. On the other hand, the US has secret agenda. The US needs North Korea as it is to keep instability and maintain its army in the region. In addition, the US needs North Korea’s rule to promote Democracy in Asia, to justify use of war against terrorism, to keep an eye on China’s military expansion and domination and to boost weapons demand from the US based-allied suppliers (to sell weapons to the countries threatened by the North Korea), among other thing.

If the US wanted different North, it would use its intelligence network and South Korean infiltrated spies to take dawn North Korea regime in the matter of hours, yet, no such action was seen, or will be seen in the near future. It appears that North Korea is something like a good friend to the US, rather than the enemy. Lately, this friendship was seen with the former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang in August 2009. In addition, two captured US journalists, after sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, were held in Pyongyang guesthouse, not jail. This was not the case with other convicts, especially not in the countries like North Korea where they first beat detainees and then ask questions. The US and its allies invaded so many countries and changed so many regimes, but never North Korea, North Korea still remains undisputed.

China, Russia, Germany and Japan next to the US are four major players in Korean reunification.

China has a definite interest in ultimately maintaining a divided Korea, while, like the US, officially supports reunification. In one word, China does not want the US, South Korea’s ally on its border. North Korea serves as a strategic buffer between itself and the Democratic influences of the Japanese and the South Korean (the US supported) governments. As long as Korea is divided, communism in China is safe and the South Korean investments in China are secured.

Japan officially supports reunification of two Koreas under a democratic government. Yet, Japan’s interest, like with others, is divided Korea. If Korea becomes reunited, Japan will lose its economical dominance in Asia. In addition, Japan is an island and its natural resources will eventually get exhausted, therefore, Japan needs main-land country to set influence at, perhaps buy, or even invade in order to prevail, and reunited Korea would be very hard to control and impossible to invade. Japan has a history of invading Korea, before Korea occupation in 1905 Japan made two invasions of Korea, one in 1592, and the second in 1594. On top, Japan needs North Korea as a treat to maintain it’s military. One of the interesting things is that Japan is the only country in the world left with Emperor, and for that reason Japan’s imperialistic ambitions are still present. His Imperial Majesty the Emperor (Akihito) is the world’s only reining monarch whose title is customarily translated into English as “Emperor”.

Many are excluding Germany from Korean reunification influence list, but Germany is more than influential. Germany, the EU leading member state and Europe’s strongest economy, officially supports reunification, yet, Germany’s loyalty to Japan is more important than any reunification. In addition, Germany is Japan’s largest trading partner within Europe, and reunited Korea would end their domination in global market. European Union led by Germany is world’s largest economy by gross domestic product (GDP), followed by the US and Japan. If we count out the EU, Japan is the second largest economy while Germany is the third. This historical link between these two major economies will not be jeopardized by Korean reunion. Germany stands strong beside its partner-Japan, and Germany will support Japan without questioning. On top of everything, reunited Korea may push Japan from the second place (GDP) which would heavily affect German economy.

Russia is very unclear when it comes to Korean reunification. The Russia’s North East Asia Policy appears to have 3 principle objectives:

1) To ensure continued stability of the Korean Peninsula.

2) To limit American and Japanese influence in North East Asia, and to increase Russia’s influence there.

3) To increase investment from China, Japan and South Korea in Eastern Siberia

Russia, like China does not want the US on its border, therefore North Korea makes perfect buffer zone. On the other hand, Russia will not lose anything from united or divided Korea. Russia will only benefit; Russia has enough potential to supply both Korea’s. For now, Russia is just observing and waiting for its moment in Korean peninsula.

However, what if the war eventually breaks between two Korea’s?

The chances for North Korea to invade the South are 1%. On the other side, chances for South Korea to invade the North are less than 1%. Both Korea’s now knows that the war will bring no solution, only devastation and misery. Therefore, war is out of question.

However, we should not exclude outside parties which have the great interest in Korea peninsula. War can be easily triggered by the third parties, trough what is called, intimidating actions, such as: assassinations, terrorist attacks, deliberate military incidents and provoked political talks.

Assassinations and terrorist attacks, among others would have no major impact if executed in North Korea, like it would in the South. This would be more or less useless in the North because of the North’s political situation and lack of freedom of press. Assassination of five persons in the North would trigger immediate war; these include: President Kim Jong Il (the Dear Leader), his sons; Kim Jong-un (just like his father- the Brilliant Comrade), Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chul, and Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Il’s brother in law.

On the other side, South Korea is in great danger from political turbulence’s, assassinations, terrorist attack, kidnapping, among others. South Korea is a democracy and the largest Christianity in Asia. Any kind of major disturbances like mentioned above would get immediate world attention and would escalate to war with the North. List of the potential targets in South Korea is much larger, these include: President Lee Myung-bak, Prime Minister Dr. Han Seung-soo, Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan. Therefore, South Korea should keep all eyes open and stay out of any kind of provocations by the so called third parties-reunification obstructers.

If, by any chance, war breaks between the two, than both the North and the South would lose. The US, China, Japan and Russia would enter the war and eventually split the North and the South in to four spheres of influence. Russia would take/cut northern part of North Korea along side of Chinese border all the way to the Korean Bay to exit to the Yellow Sea (this would be perfect for China, to distance its main land from the US). China would take control of the southern part of North Korea from the Russia’s new controlled border/territory till the 38th parallel (this way China would have perfect control of Korean peninsula). The US would take the northern part of South Korea from the 38th parallel till the splitting line between southern city of Kunsan and eastern city of P’ohang (the US would increase its hegemony and military presence in peninsula), while Japan would take southern part of South Korea from the splitting line of the cities of Kunsan and P’ohang till the island of Cheju-do (Japan would finally have its long desired piece of land on the mainland).

Looking at these facts, it looks like reunification of Korea is hardly possible. Therefore, how can the North and the South resolve their issues and reunite?

Knowing that North Korea is unwilling to change its de facto leader Kim Jong-il and the ruling elite, the only way for North Korea to unite with South Korea is to replace its Juche ideology and Songun policy, with Democracy. First, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should change its name to Democratic Republic of Korea, and the Constitution of North Korea should be changed and state that “the Democratic Republic of Korea shall, by carrying out a thorough cultural revolution, train all the people to be builders of democracy”, not socialism and communism.

North Korea should adopt Democracy as an official policy and hold free elections in which, of course, the same regime would be elected. The name of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) should be changed with the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) with Kim Jong-il as the President of the party, not general secretary. If North Korea does this, reunification with South Korea will occur in the matter of weeks. In addition, North Korea economy will prosper since there is no Democracy in the world that would allow newly elected democracy to suffer.

Concerning its Nuclear Development Program, North Korea should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and limit the spread of nuclear weapons. However, North Korea is not the only country with Nuclear weapons; the US has around 2,500 active warheads, Russia around 3,000 active warheads, the UK around 200 active warheads, France around 300 active warheads, China around 150 active warheads. Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are hosting US nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing policy. India and Pakistan, like North Korea, have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel has a policy of opacity regarding its own nuclear weapons program. The difference is that North Korea was a member of the NPT, but withdrew in 2003, citing the failure of the United States to fulfill its end of Agreed Framework, while India, Pakistan and Israel have declined to sign the treaty.

On the other side, Republic of Korea has only two reunification condition: to kindly asks United States Government to withdraw United States Forces Korea (USFK) from its territory and close military bases and camps, and sign peace agreement with the North, ending 59 years of Korean War.

Looking at the whole story, the most important question for both Korea’s would be: for how long do they think to be marionettes in this global political game?