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Sainati: Despite qualms, Korean unification might be best chance at peace

Leo Sainati, Assistant Opinion Editor

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Reports of North and South Korea marching under one flag at the upcoming Olympics have recently made international headlines, as the Games’ location in Pyeongchang, South Korea has sparked tension. Holding one of the most politicized international events in one of the most strained regions of the world was sure to draw attention — but it seems that this decision adds, for the first time in years, a hopeful outlook on the situation.

The United States’ recent relationship with North Korea has brought high levels of tension, perhaps unseen since the Cold War. Foreign policy experts have been stumped on how to break through communication barriers, as military, diplomatic and covert actions have largely been ruled out. Yet reunification of the Korean Peninsula could serve as the most promising method for easing tensions.

Data from the 2017 Unification Perception Survey conducted by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies found that 53.8 percent of South Koreans believe reunification is necessary, but are split on what a unified government would look like. The only semblance of a North Korean opinion was drawn from a survey of 100 North Koreans in China by The Chosun Ilbo and the Center for Cultural Unification Studies, which found that 95 said reunification was necessary, largely for economic reasons.

The Kim regime has built itself on restriction to the outside world. Through extensive, well-established propaganda, Kim has fostered a nationwide hatred for the U.S. built on misconceptions and lies — only exacerbated by a particularly aggressive U.S. executive. Cutting off the country from outside contact is key in maintaining control over the population, so opening up to the world is essential to break the propaganda wall. Despite recent hostilities, calls for cooperation are seemingly being made out of necessity, a sacrifice to sustain the economy.

Economic data from South Korean think tank Korea Development Institute found that North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an unemployment rate hovering around 25 percent. Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, has relative levels of wealth, but this is heavily concentrated with vast income inequality throughout the country. Fighting heavy U.S. sanctions, North Korea has managed to sustain itself through trade with China, coal mining and savings. Despite undoubted economic strain during a possible unification process, the South has ample technology and capability to utilize North Korea’s abundance of natural resources; a previously under-exploited good. Much like East and West Germany, the two nations have complementary economies that could point to future success from a key U.S. ally.

Though these predictions are admittedly idealistic, the fact remains that all other attempts at diplomacy have mostly failed, and tensions are at an all-time high. North Korea opening up to the world is the best chance at destabilizing Kim’s propaganda regime, possibly leading to his demise. Calls for Korean unification should be met with a healthy amount of skepticism, but should be regarded as our best chance at peace.

Leo Sainati is a SESP freshman. He can be contacted at leosainati2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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