We are one year from the 2012 American presidential election and, as certain as there will be mud-slinging and name-calling between the candidates and their supporters, we can count on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to begin misbehaving again in an effort to turn the spotlight on his agenda.
Pundits will undoubtedly suggest that the Korean peninsula’s problems would be solved if North and South Korea simply unified, but a new book by Auburn University at Montgomery’s assistant provost for international affairs, Jacques Fuqua, argues that unification is not as simple as it may seem.
“Korean unification has long been dogmatic fodder for both South and North Korean political leaders,” Fuqua said. “It is also regarded by most of the world as a near panacean solution for bringing into line a truculent and mercurial North Korean regime that pursues development of nuclear weapons, proliferates weapons of mass destruction and commits human rights atrocities against its citizens. The reality is, however, that unification of the Koreas remains a distant hope because of its complexity.”
In “Korean Unification: Inevitable Challenges,” recently published by Potomac Books, Fuqua lays out the numerous challenges preventing unification. He argues that numerous political, economic, historical, social, diasporic, cultural and geopolitical issues would derail any efforts to create a single Korea. Unifying the Koreas would not be unlike the reunification of Germany, only more expensive and complex.
Fuqua said the friction that arises from the 20,000 North Korean migrants presently living in South Korea demonstrates what Korean unification would look like. North Koreans have few job skills, are not well educated, are destitute, do not understand the South Korean dialect of the Korean language, and have no context for living in a democratic society or functioning within a capitalist economy.
"Imagine the immediate post-unification period,” Fuqua said. “Millions of North Koreans would seek to escape to better economic opportunities – leading to millions of homeless, uneducated North Koreans with few job skills saturating South Korea, the world’s 12th largest economy. Given the characteristics of the South Korean labor market, these newcomers would not be easily absorbed.”
Fuqua also considered the possibility of North Koreans crossing the border into China, which would present Chinese leadership with both domestic and geopolitical challenges. North Korea presently serves as a geographic buffer between China and South Korea, where U.S. military forces are stationed. Fuqua said it is difficult to envision circumstances under which Chinese leadership would view having U.S. military forces stationed directly across its border as advantageous.
Fuqua concludes that, in the end, unification may simply be "too hard" to accomplish. The domestic instability, tremendous costs to South Korea and the rest of the world, and potential for geopolitical blowback make unification a dicey proposition on a global scale.
"In short, the long-sought unification of the Korean peninsula may be a paradise best postponed,” he said.
Fuqua has nearly 22 years of international experience working in U.S. higher education and government. He joined Auburn Montgomery in January 2010, where he is expanding the university’s international presence and enhancing services to international students. Before arriving at AUM he served in similar roles at Indiana State University, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Indiana University, Bloomington. Fuqua also authored Nuclear Endgame: The Need for Engagement with North Korea (Praeger Security International, August 2007).
Fuqua began his career in the U.S. Army as an officer in 1979, ultimately becoming a foreign area officer through a four-year program that develops a select group of Army officers as regional political and military specialists. He went on to serve in Korea and Japan and received several medals for his efforts, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the U.S. Army Meritorious Medal.