North Korea Has Lost the ‘Unification Competition’
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North Korea Has Lost the ‘Unification Competition’


APLN member Jun Bong-geun discussed the implications of Kim’s surprising renunciation of Pyongyang’s policy of seeking peaceful unification with South Korea. Read the full article here.

Kim Jong Un ditches idea of peaceful unification and casts South Korea as a ‘primary foe.’

Why did Kim Jong Un suddenly renounce North Korea’s traditional policy of seeking peaceful unification with South Korea?

Since the Kim Il Sung era, North Korea had maintained a one-nation, one-state unification policy and unification offensive toward South Korea. Therefore, Kim Jong Un’s recent renunciation of peaceful national unification bewildered most North Korea watchers. It is seen as an acknowledgment of the uncomfortable reality that North Korea has lost the ”unification competition” with South Korea and is searching for a new survival strategy.

Historically, unification is possible only when the stronger country absorbs the weaker one militarily or peacefully. Today, South Korea is a leading middle power, while North Korea is an isolated rogue state. South Korea’s population is twice that of North Korea’s, and its economy is 50 to 60 times that of North Korea’s. It is natural that North Korea, suffering from chronic economic and systemic crises, is concerned about potential unification by absorption. Therefore, North Korea’s best survival strategy would be a complete political and legal break from South Korea.

Is Kim preparing to attack South Korea and pursue unification by force, including using nuclear weapon?

Recently, North Korea raised military tensions with South Korea to an unprecedentedly high level. At the Korean Workers’ Party plenum at the end of last year, Kim Jong Un declared South Korea to be “the most hostile state” and inter-Korean relations “a warring belligerent relationship,” and ordered North Korea’s army to “prepare a great event to conquer the territory of South Korea.”

The nuclear-armed North Korea appears confident that it can overwhelm the nonnuclear South Korea and deter U.S. military intervention. However, it is unlikely that North Korea will start a premeditated, all-out war against the South for the time being, since a war would be suicidal and bring about the end of its regime. Moreover, North Korea’s economy cannot afford to sustain an all-out war, and neither China nor Russia would support a North Korea-initiated war. On the other hand, a limited military attack by the North can happen anytime near the demarcation line. An accidental military collision and escalation can also occur anytime due to the unusually high level of military preparedness and tensions between the two Koreas as well as their preemptive doctrines.

Image: Soldiers are seen near the military demarcation line at Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, Feb. 7, 2023. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)


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