Unification without Actors
Kang Cheol Hwan
Unified Shilla was a result of a combination between the strong will to make the three divided kingdoms of Korea – Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla – unite and the ‘Hwarang Spirit’ (Hwarang refers to the military academy established in the Shilla era that trained male youth in martial arts and ethics). The three factors vital in unifying the three kingdoms are as follows: the diplomacy of Kim Chun Chu, the 29th monarch of Silla; the military strategy of General Kim Yu Shin; and the strength of the army. It is important to note that Unified Shilla could not have come to its existence with solely the presence of capable generals – they were, in fact, countless causalities in battles. Information and psychological warfare in Goguryeo and Baekje resulted in fatalities; however, these sacrifices played a pivotal role in unification. Thus, while the three kingdoms’ merger was both a victory in diplomacy and warfare, it was also reflective of the sacrifices made by people who gave their lives in the unification cause.
The merging of the three kingdoms, which opened an era of unification for the Korean population, mirrors the divided peninsula of South and North Korea of today. While North Korea remains at the edge of its collapse, the country has successfully isolated its regime and continues to threaten the security of South Korea through weapons of mass destruction and traditional offensive military tactics. While unification has the potential to be a plausible reality, there seems to be a lack of individuals fully dedicated to its cause. It is as if North Korea, if left alone in the current state, is expected to automatically self-destruct, and naturally become diplomatically accessible to South Korea.
Likewise, the political structure of unification is confronting difficulties through South Korea’s internal ideological conflicts. North Korea is exploiting such discord by maximizing their profits and fueling the continuation of the regime – while South Korea’s National Intelligence Service in charge of combatting the regime’s information and psychological warfare, the institution has failed to even ensure the South’s security by failing to properly deal with external spies. If South Korea is unable to influence the North Korean population into mobilizing against the regime, unification becomes simply an idea, rather than reality.
It is true that while South Korea was able to rapidly reach economic and democratic progress, the country has neglected to establish human rights and democratic rule of governance through projecting their own experience in the North. While the South Korea-USA Coalition strategy can play pivotal roles in offsetting North Korea’s sporadic military outbursts and participating in potential warfare activities, it will have little influence in establishing unification through peace. Important to note, despite the US’s financial and resource-based investments, the country has failed to bring about successful outcomes in warfare – for example, American participation in both the Korean and the Vietnamese War has not set high military precedence.
However, it is important to acknowledge American democracy-based institutions and their assistance to Eastern Europe’s civil society organization in the democratization process of the region. Evidently, information collection and democratizing tools have been proven to be better suited in such context than military resources. Similarly, the Jasmine Revolution of Africa and the Middle East were an effort made possible through civil society and pluralist mobilization, rather than the participation of armed forces. The unification of the Korean Peninsula, thus, cannot become realized without democratization of North Korea, as well as the mobilization of the empowered North Korean population.
The North Korean people have been isolated by the regime’s totalitarianism for more than half a century; however, the international community has neglected to take enough measures to restrain the Kim Monarchy. Of course, states alone are not responsible for the liberalization of North Korea. As such, civil society organization such as North Korea Strategy Centre and other grassroot institutions involved in information dissemination are key to democratizing the regime. The unification of North and South Korea depends on the distribution of information, and this is a pathway that South Korea must take leadership in paving through.