Or open the ultimate Pandora’s Box?
It is possible that the costs of reunifying Korea would not be as burdensome as some people fear. To begin with, Korea doesn’t offer its citizens the same extensive safety nets that Germany does, which should lower the costs. Furthermore, South Korea could finance the costs of reunifying through foreign direct investment, especially given North Korea’s rumored vast mineral wealth. And, as Sue Mi Terry has pointed out, reunification would provide South Korea with a younger population of able-bodied workers. Nonetheless, on balance, reunification is going to extremely costly, at least in the short term.
North Korea’s most recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test has once again captivated the international community. Much less attention has been paid to how South Korea is responding to its neighbor’s military advances. Firstly, South Korea is acquiring the capabilities to conduct preemptive strikes against North Korea’s nuclear and missile sites under the guise of its “Kill Chain” strategy. Relatedly, Seoul is seeking the capabilities and simulating decapitation strikes against North Korea’s leadership—that is, South Korea wants the ability to assassinate Kim Jong-un and his inner circle.
Both capabilities pose enormous challenges that are not being acknowledged. For both scenarios, Seoul is failing to ask the simple question of whether the United States would back its actions. Washington itself does not appear to be contemplating this essential question, even though it would be directly implicated by South Korea’s policies.
(This first appeared in December.)
With regard to the decapitation strikes, the most important question not being asked is—what comes next? Although South Korea depicts its threats of decapitation strikes as a way to deter Kim Jong-un from launching an attack, the North Korean threat would not simply go away if Seoul had to execute this strategy. There are myriad different potential outcomes likely to result from a successful decapitation strike. It is worth considering the consequences of some of these.