Princeton University Library Catalog

The Impossible Dream: Korean Reunification, Its Pathways, and Obstacles

Kim, Brian [Browse]
Senior thesis
Ikenberry, John [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
132 pages
Summary note:
For 70 years, peaceful reunification has been an official constitutional objective of the South Korean government. The current Park Geun-hye administration has especially prioritized reunification as national objective. But despite the importance of reunification, surprisingly little has been done to conceptualize what concrete steps the South Korean and American governments could actually take to achieve unification. Drawing on lessons from the successful peaceful reunification of Germany in 1990, this thesis conceptualizes pathways and obstacles to Korean reunification and explores the ways in which the ROK government might proactively pursue peaceful reunification. Specifically, this thesis finds that based on the German experience, the two Koreas must first achieve mutual coexistence as a basic starting point from which the potential for diplomatic friction, military conflict, and economic instability can be minimized, and unification is more likely to occur peacefully. This thesis also finds that although North Korean collapse is a necessary condition for reunification, collapse, as in Germany, does not have to occur in a destabilizing way that increases the potential for conflict. Contributing to a robust literature on policy toward North Korea, this thesis offers in-depth analyses of various scenarios for Korean reunification, analyzing the potential pitfalls and projected costs of each. The importance of diplomacy to achieving peaceful reunification is also emphasized, and preemptive steps to mitigate the risks and minimize resistance to reunification are presented. Especially in light of rising international sanctions against North Korea and the growing consensus about the need for regime change as the only pathway to denuclearization, the conclusions of this thesis offer a grave reminder about the unpredictable dangers of externally induced regime change and reinforces the argument for a peaceful pathway to denuclearization and reunification by consensus on the Korean peninsula.