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Asia, Politics and Government

The Role of the U.S.-ROK Alliance in the Process of Unification: A U.S. View

Katharine H.S. Moon – 1.25.16

To discuss the unification of the Korean peninsula is to accept that we are entertaining hypotheticals and that ideas and plans for any unification process lack an essential partner, the DPRK. We have no control over the timing and “breakout” of unification, and we can only hope that it is peaceful from start to finish.

We also need to emphasize that unification is a process that will take decades to fulfill from the moment that the two Koreas embark upon formal unification. The binding of the two sides by treaty and common institutions will not be the end point of unification, but a mere beginning. How two peoples, separated for seventy years or possibly longer (about three generations at the least), might learn to live together as one political, social, economic, and cultural community remains a haunting question and daunting prospect. It is difficult to foresee what that process would entail, and the best we can do now is to envision as inclusively and realistically as possible the different routes pre-unification might take.

We also cannot rule out the possibility that unification, however defined, might not endure—that the long history and practice of living with different worldviews and in socio-psychological environments—no matter how sincere the hopes might be on both sides of the 38th parallel and by supportive countries. So, thinking about unification is an exercise in uncertainty and rigorous imagination to assess realistically the types of uncertainty that might emerge and how responsible actors might shape and respond as constructively as possible.

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