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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 10)

All Headlines 07:00 March 10, 2016

Operation Unification
: It's time to prepare detailed map

Once again, tension is so palpable on and around the Korean Peninsula that one squib could send the cold-war-era tinderbox up in flames. The alliance of South Korea and the United States is staging their biggest military drill following the toughest-ever U.N. sanctions issued against North Korea for conducting its fourth nuclear test and a rocket launch. The North is threatening a preemptive strike with its only benefactor China relegated to the role of bystander for now, but ready to step in if painted into a corner.

This indicates a shift in the balance of power that could lead more likely than before to three scenarios ― unification, war or back to the equilibrium. War should be ruled out because of the enormous costs it would entail, but from Seoul's standpoint, unification should be the most desired outcome and it couldn't come sooner for Korea's future existence. Therefore, there arises a greater need than the "Unification-is-a-bonanza" slogan to chart out detailed maps dealing with possible contingencies with the purpose of advancing one. Start with discarding the fantasy of German-style unification. Germans didn't kill each other but Koreans did to the tune of millions.

The necessity for the early engineered unification is grounded on the fact that the South has been stagnating for some time with its growth potential exhausted. The unification could provide an outlet for the continued growth through the opening of an insatiable market of 24 million in the North, which would suck in all kinds of goods and services for a long time to come to overcome decades of isolation. The combined population of the two Koreas would make for a standalone market of 70 million, which could function on domestic consumption.

Also the unification would free the unified Korea from the "Korea discount" that has been acted as a drag, preventing it from living up to its potential and becoming a "middle power", responsible for coordinating interests of the big powers in the region and helping to ensure peace.

For that to take place, the first priority is winding down the North. The scary part of this tin-pot dictatorship is not its stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) but its unpredictable leadership that has defied forecasts of its collapse for years but may give in any time when China cuts off its life support system. In order for its leadership not to make the extreme choice, it is important for any unification map to include the provision of a safe haven for them in return for cooperation in preventing a shambolic transition.

The real challenge, however, lies in reconciling with each other the different interests of the relevant powers ― the U.S., China and Japan. As pointed out by David Helvey, former assistant U.S. defense secretary, in a recent column in The Korea Times, the U.S. wants the unified Korea to stay true to their current alliance, maintaining the shared values of democracy and rule of law to the anti-China encirclement. China is thinking the mirror opposite of what the U.S. wants, meaning it won't consent to any unification that exposes its flanks to a raw North with a refugee crisis on its doorstep. Japan may take one Korea as a clear and present threat for its boosted size and proximity, in contrast to the two bigger powers that tend to think the Korean Peninsula as part of their greater game for the regional and global hegemony. Korea won't have to suck up to China and the U.S. to curry their favor or yield to Japan to gain their understanding for its unification goal. Rather, it should positively project its power and show leadership when called for to the point of helping them understand that unification promotes the best of their interests. That should be where Korea's unification treasure map should ultimate lead.
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