Germany's lessons for Korea
April-June 2017
By: Jochen Prantl and Hyun-Wook Kim

It was clear from the very beginning that these questions could only be dealt with at various multilateral and bilateral levels simultaneously. The unification of the Korean peninsula requires a similar multilevel approach. Yet, the strongest focus of the strategic diplomacy of Korean unification needs to be on the domestic audiences. While the engagement of key stakeholders such as China and the United States will shape the conditions of the Northeast Asian security system, the ultimate endpoint of strategic diplomacy is the political integration of North and South Korea. This is a tall agenda. German unification was achieved by integrating two countries politically. Economic cooperation and exchange facilitated by Ostpolitik created an environment that let the East German people aspire to the West German system and lifestyle. The Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, commencing in September 1989, brought together dissatisfied East German citizens demanding unification with West Germany. The weekly marches turned into a mass movement that galvanized the political process leading to unification in 1990. “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people”) was the most famous chant, reminding East German leaders that a democratic republic needs to be ruled by the people and not by an undemocratic party. It also constituted a very powerful strategic narrative that framed the diplomatic process of unification. In the general election of March 1990, 93 percent of East German citizens cast their vote. Forty-eight percent supported the conservative Alliance for Germany, which had promised freedom and prosperity based on the West German model.

Unification without a minimum degree of sociocultural connectedness of the people is bound to remain fragile, as the case of Yemen demonstrates. Yemeni unification in May 1990 was achieved through arbitration by the Arab League of Nations. However, the process did not mobilize enough domestic support to create a sustainable integrated political system. Despite the ratification of the Yemeni Constitution in 1991, which committed the country to a multiparty system, free elections, respect for human rights, the right to own private property and equality under the law, and the holding of parliamentary elections in 1993, the country remained divided and in deep political crisis. Most significant, the military forces of North and South Yemen remained separated. The outbreak of civil war in 1994 was a result of the unfinished process of political integration that lacked buy-in from the political elites, the military and Yemeni citizens.


Comparing notes on German and Korean unification does not suggest that there are cookie-cutter approaches available to easily replicate the success of one unification process in another and very different operational environment. Yet, two points follow from our brief comparative analysis.

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