Why Korean reunification will be more difficult than German

In a recent Brookings Cafeteria podcast, Senior Fellow Kathy Moon, the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, talked about a variety of issues related to North Korea and the Korean peninsula. In her response to a question about the challenges of reunification between North Korea and South Korea, she discussed the many challenges, including cultural divisions, economic concerns, and the impact reunification would have on South Korea’s political system.

Listen starting at 45:30:


My biggest worry about unification is political, not economic, because very few people are thinking about the political ramifications and manifestations of unification or even reconciliation and increased engagement between the two Koreas. And my worry is this: what will be the impact of unification on democracy in South Korea, [and also] democracy on the peninsula? South Korea’s democracy is very young. It has only been one generation where people have been living in a democratic system. And South Korea’s democracy is still fragile and vulnerable in many, many ways.

So when I think about adding 25 million people from the North and the 50 million people from the South together and mixing them up politically, I begin to wonder what kind of a political system can manage this kind of “integration.”

And if democracy can successfully integrate North Koreans, how are we to do that? What are the institutional, normative, cultural, educational factors and facilities, and ideas that are going to be needed in order for the political integration of North Koreans to take place?

— Kathy Moon

For more on this topic, see:

– History, Politics, and Policy in the U.S.-Korea Alliance (event, esp. panel four)
– North Korea’s Incheon Landing, by Kathy Moon
– Surprising Excitement about Unification, by Richard Bush