Korean Summit Enhances Prospects for Unification:
RAND Research Examines Potential Implications

On June 15, 2000, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung signed a historic pact, dubbed the "June 15 Agreement", that committed the two Korean states to work toward reunification.  The three days of meetings between the two Kims marked the first time since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 that leaders from the rival countries have met.  Behind the success of this summit lies the possibility of integration and peaceful unification, one of the scenarios explored by RAND researchers in a recent publication, Preparing for Korean Unification: Scenarios and Implications.

The findings in the report, co-authored by Jonathan Pollack and Chung Min Lee, summarize and integrate the results of a research project on "Korean Unification: Implications for the U.S. Army," sponsored by the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, U.S. Army, and conducted in RAND Arroyo Center's Strategy and Doctrine Program.

The authors note that North Korea's economic decline ensures that it cannot maintain the status quo indefinitely.  North Korea balances today on a tightrope between economic atrophy and breakdown, and, depending upon its further evolution, there is potential for unexpected twists and turns in Pyongyang's relations with Seoul.  "Despite the seeming rigidity of the South-North relationship, inter-Korean dynamics could shift fundamentally over the next decade, and quite possibly much sooner," the authors noted. 

Given the uncertainty and variability of the region, researchers examined four alternative unification scenarios, each with corresponding characteristics, potential indicators, variations, and operational implications for the Army: (1) integration and peaceful unification; (2) collapse and absorption; (3) unification through conflict; and (4) disequilibrium and potential external intervention.

The researchers recommend that the Army prepare for flexible roles and tasks that the United States would take on in any of these scenarios.  They also stress the need for the Army to enhance its intelligence-collection and analysis capabilities. In addition, the authors emphasize that "the Army will also face new operational requirements as Korea moves toward unification, in particular should the reconstruction of the North's economy and infrastructure and the peninsula's integration into a single political entity become a reality."  The report also discusses Korea's potential post-unification role.

Although the recent summit set in motion monumental steps towards peace in the region, it contained no mention of the all-important security question.  North Korea still possesses a mighty military force, and the approximately 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea aren't likely to pack up and go home anytime soon.  As the authors note, peaceful integration and unification also assumes a political understanding and agreement on a permanent peace mechanism.  The authors also suggest that it assumes "that both South and North can overcome and forgo the zero-sum thinking they have held to almost constantly" for the last half century.