Ever since Colonels Rusk and Bonesteel’s plan to divide Korea by the 38th parallel was put in motion in late 1945, talks about the potential reunification of the peninsula have continued.
But as readers will see, Pyongyang’s interest in the subject has declined: as time has gone by, the North has shown less and less interest in unifying the Korean peninsula.
Officially, both Koreas consider themselves to be the only Korean state in existence: South Korea explicitly states in its Constitution that its territory is made up of the entire Korean peninsula with the adjacent islands.
In its first constitution, North Korea was even more radical, saying that “the capital city of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is Seoul” and ordering that all maps of the country published should include the entirety of Korea painted in the colors of the DPRK.
Moreover, just as South Korea has its “Department for the Five Northern Provinces,” supposedly the “real government” of the North, since the late 1950s North Korea has had its own “legitimate government” of the South.
Andrei Lankov’s research had shed some light on this institution. Originally, it was composed of people who had defected from South Korea to the North and were not purged, but when most died of old age, their children and grandchildren took over.
Each of them has a position, such as the First Secretary of the Taegu Party Committee or a Deputy Chief of the Pusan People’s Security Committee.
Unlike the five “governors of the northern provinces” in South Korea, these people do have real jobs as well – but they get a premium in addition to their salaries for “occupying” some position in the South as well. This “government” is vast, going as far as chiefs of departments in county committees.
Since the late 1950s North Korea has had its own “legitimate government” of the South
The top elite (such as the First Secretary of Seoul), is appointed from people who were born in the DPRK, however. Twice a year, these “officials” are supposed to listen to lectures about South Korea and are also granted access to documents laying out the city, town or county they are responsible for.
SHIFT IN POLICY
In the late-1940s, Kim Il Sung and former leader of Communist Party of Korea Pak Hong Yon managed to convince Terentiy Shtykov, the Soviet Ambassador to the DPRK and the de-facto ruler of North Korea, that the best way to deal with the South would be to invade it.
As we all know, this invasion failed and Korea remained divided.
Kim Il Sung’s dream never came true. From then, his policy on the South was inconsistent and hectic. Sometimes he was planning another attempt at forced unification, other times he seemed to be totally content with the division going on as it was.
The next time when South Korea was at its weakest was the year between the fall of the harsh regime of Lee Sung-man (aka Syngman Rhee) in spring 1960 and the military takeover of the government in May 1961.
But documents show that not only was an invasion not planned at that time, but that the WPK Central Committee actually cooled down some of the hotheads in South who were calling for the establishment of a “people’s revolutionary republic”.
Another sign that Kim Il Sung had begun to realize that his dream of reunifying Korea under his rule would never become a reality were the changes made to the 1948 Constitution. Since roughly the 1960s the Constitution, to the best of my knowledge, was never reprinted in North Korea, and became a document of restricted access.
In December 1972, it was replaced by a new Socialist Constitution, which defined Pyongyang as the Republic’s capital. Interestingly, commentary on the new Constitution by General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan did not mention that until 1972 the nation’s capital has been, de jure, Seoul.
On the other hand, Kim did return to his dream of a DPRK stretching, to quote an old North Korean song, from the Heavenly Lake of the Paektu mountain to the farthest shore of the Cheju island.
Several reports from foreign embassies from the 1960s show that the Great Leader was thinking about a Second Korean War. The plan was later abandoned.
In the 1970s and 80s, North Korean agents tried to (unsuccessfully) assassinate South Korean presidents. While we do not know for sure if there was a grand strategy for future unification, one should remember that only the South was targeted, showing that Kim Il Sung never completely abandoned his hope of subduing the South.
When it comes to his son and grandson, the situation is different. Neither Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un have lived in a non-divided Korea.
While both Great Commander and the Supreme Leader pay lip service to the idea that “unification is good,” nothing in their policies show that they think it will ever be a reality.
The formation of the DFRK would have been the end of the Republic of Korea
Since the 1970s North Korea’s official policy on South Korea has been the promotion of the so-called “confederation proposal” (although the word the DPRK uses, ryongban, usually means “federation”).
On the Sixth Congress of the WPK, Kim Il Sung announced his proposal for the creation of the Democratic Federal Republic of Korea (DFRK, alternatively somewhat incorrectly translation as “Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo”).
The DFRK would formally recognize the difference between the socialist North and the capitalist South and would have been ruled by the Supreme Assembly of the Nation (SAN), composed of an equal number of deputies from the North and the South.
Of course, the idea was that since the deputies from the North would have been controlled by Pyongyang, support from even one member from the South would see the North win control of the entire legislative.
Assuming South Korea would not have withdrawn from the Federation, eventually, the formation of the DFRK would have been the end of the Republic of Korea. In the 1980s, the Rodong Sinmun repeatedly published lists of South Koreans (without giving any clarification on who these people were), who apparently supported the Great Leader’s initiative.
Unsurprisingly, Seoul did not hand the keys over to Pyongyang, and thus the DFRK became a semi-forgotten project. Pyongyang reiterated the suggestion several times – each time with zero support from Seoul.
If we look at the history of the Cold War, we can find a pretty good analogy of how the North Korean elite sees unification today.
Imagine yourself talking to a KGB colonel sometime in the 1970s. You ask him what he thinks of World Revolution. Of course, he will tell you that it is inevitable as prescribed by Marxism-Leninism, the teaching which is all-powerful-because-it-is-right.
Yes, the workers will rise in the West, the decadent capitalist world will fall, and, let’s say, the British Democratic Republic and the American People’s Republic will join the brotherly family of “democratic countries”. After all, did Marshal Frunze not call our Party “the Party of the class which is going to conquer the world?”
Unsurprisingly, Seoul did not hand the keys over to Pyongyang
Eventually, if you befriend the colonel enough and he learns you are a good and reasonable person (and not willing to impede his incoming promotion to major general) he would probably tell you that the World Revolution is going to happen eventually, but probably in the far future. Yes, of course, by all means, it will.
However, if you would become really close to our colonel, then eventually one day, after another glass of good wine he would tell you what he really thinks. No, there probably won’t be any revolutions. Well, maybe there would be some in some underdeveloped nations if the USSR supplied them with weaponry, but World Revolution? Not bloody likely.
So, no, he is not going to America to ferment a revolution there, not a damn chance. But, hell, the Soviet Union is a great and powerful nation and he is a patriot. Not that he likes this old idiot Brezhnev, certainly no. But he loves his Motherland and is loyal to it. That’s why he is in the KGB, after all.
Ironically, his counterpart somewhere in the CIA would probably tell you the same story. Of course, the triumph of the liberal democracy is all good and well, but as far as this agent is concerned, the Cold War may easily last for centuries.
Although semi-forgotten, this was the general perception in the West – for example, a Star Trek episode filmed in 1987 features the USSR still existing in the 24th century – the West was unprepared for its unexpected triumph over world communism.
In recent times I’ve heard the alarming news that there is a significant amount of people in the Trump administration who take seriously the idea that North Korea plans to use its nukes to force American withdrawal from Korea, after which South would be beaten into political submission and eventually annexed by North Korea.
This is, of course, nonsense: but it should be responded to, lest it leads to some dangerous decisions.
There is not one single precedent of one nuclear power forcing another nuclear power into abandoning its junior ally
The theory is based on three premises. The first is that if blackmailed with the threat of a nuclear strike on the American mainland, the United States would withdraw its troops from South Korea and dissolve the alliance between Washington and Seoul.
Second, if this happens under the current administration, or similar “progressive” forces being in power, Seoul would sign a DFRK-style confederation agreement with the North.
Third, the agreement will stay in force as long as necessary as it has to be for the DPRK to establish total control over South Korea, with South Koreans offering little, if any, resistance to it.
It would be enough for even one of these three assertions to be untrue. In fact, they are all false.
First, there is not one single precedent of one nuclear power forcing another nuclear power into abandoning its junior ally. West Berlin was nothing in comparison to the might of the Warsaw Pact. Taiwan is a small nation compared with the colossus which is the People’s Republic of China.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union would have very much liked to eradicate an enclave of enemy territory inside its sphere of influence, and for the PRC annexing Taiwan would have been a great success, perhaps the greatest since talking Taiwan’s seat in the UN in 1971.
Yet Moscow did not threaten an atomic strike on the United States unless they abandoned West Berlin – nor did China in regard to Taiwan.
Why? Because they all understand that Washington would never agree to it, and the only outcome of such a demand would be either humiliation for them – or a full-scale war. Because once blackmail starts, it never stops.
The second part of this theory is that Moon Jae-in and people like him are willing to sign a surrender-like federation agreement with the North. The fact is there is not a single statement coming from the Blue House suggesting that they are willing to do so, and Moon’s eager support of U.S.-imposed sanctions shows there is no reason to believe this either.
I am no eager supporter of Moon – appointing a person who plagiarized his Ph.D. to be a minister of education is by no means good – but he is not willing to surrender his country to the enemy.
Core supporters of unification make up less than one-sixth of the entire population
And what about popular support?
First of all, support for South Korea-led unification is not very high. A recent report by Seoul National University’s Peace and Unification Center showed that the support for unification “as soon as possible” is at 13.1%, that 54.1% support unification someday in the future, that 23.2% are content with the current state of affairs, and that 9.6% have no thoughts on the subject whatsoever.
Core supporters of unification make up less than one-sixth of the entire population, and many of the 54.1% percent of the people who support the unification “someday” are likely those who do not like the idea but do not want to give an answer which contradicts what they were taught for the most of their lives.
How many of these people would actually welcome a unification led by the North? Since the idea of being absorbed by the North is so extreme and unpopular, no one has bothered to conduct an actual poll, but let us look at recent election results.
There was a candidate named Kim Son-dong, from the Unified Party of People’s Masses – suspected to have connections with Pyongyang. He received 27,229 votes countrywide: 0.08% of the electorate.
He lost not only to every single politician of any importance, but even to Kim Min-chan, an independent candidate with a handsome face and no political background whatsoever. 0.08% is a high estimate of how many support the idea of the North annexing the South in the ROK, and the real number is likely even lower.
The truth is that South Koreans do not like the North – and actually, the North is even more feared than hated here in Seoul. It is not seen as a benevolent power coming to liberate them from the chains of capitalism: there is no chance that the South, abandoned by America or not, would ever willingly surrender to the North.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: DSCN0130 by nknews_hq on 2016-07-03 11:36:26