The Implications of a United Korea
The shows of Korean unity at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang have been interesting and uplifting. Without a shadow of a doubt, the border between North and South Korea is unnatural - an artificial line between two like peoples. However, with all the talk of Korean unification, what would a united Korea actually look like?
Firstly, it is important to note that South Koreans don't exactly support unification. 71% of South Koreans below the age of 20 oppose a unified Korea - and they have their reasons. North Korea is a completely backward, dystopian state, where the population is mostly comprised of famished, disillusioned peasants, who have been brainwashed by over half a century of propaganda. Korean unification would certainly be a large politico-economic burden to South Korea, and while a long-term benefit is likely, the 50 years following Korean unification would induce hardship on the South. Additionally, the clock is ticking on popular support for unification. If a group of peoples is kept divided for too long, they will eventually become too different to reunify. A prime example of this was the pan-Arab movement, wherein Gamal Nasser and his followers created a ripe environment for the unification of all Arabs into a single government but never followed through. North and South Korea are already two very different places, with there being almost no economic or political similarities. Still, racial and linguistic similarities are equal in magnitude to economic and political differences. Only time will tell if even the racial scene in North or South Korea changes too much for unification to be possible. There is also the question of what kind of political or economic system would even exist in a unified Korea. The Juche system of North Korea could not possibly be forced on the South Koreans, but North Korea is built by communists, for communists. How North Korea could be incorporated into the current South Korean system is not a question with easy answers.
Another important point is one that has not been considered by many - what role would this united Korea play on the global stage? A united Korea, according to GlobalFirepower, would be the sixth strongest military on the planet. With 250,000 active personnel, roughly 1000 aircraft, and 200 ships (all estimates based on current needs and military might), this unified Korea would match Japan in terms of military strength. This would allow Korea to pursue a more independent foreign policy, as North Korea would not exist and the Korean military would be strong enough to deter a Chinese invasion. This independent foreign policy would lead to interesting consequences. For example, South Koreans still resent Japan for its former imperialist hold over Korea, a sentiment that is even stronger in North Korea. Assuming a unified Korea remains a democracy (a likely proposition), this anti-Japanese sentiment would likely result in an anti-Japanese foreign policy, especially when one considers that South Korea and Japan already have a moderately antagonistic relationship. It is entirely possible, that, given South Korea's rapid improvement of relations with China, Korea realigns its foreign policy entirely and becomes a strong Chinese ally in Asia, and develops a more antagonistic relationship with Japan. Good relations with the US are still likely, however, Korea would likely remain neutral. The main reason why China even supports North Korea is due to the fact that China fears a US ally only a few hundred miles away from Beijing. Thus, unification would likely never happen, unless a guarantee of Korean neutrality is included in any unification treaty.
East Asia is a complicated region, with many interlocking factors. However, the United States must consider the ramifications of every political move before the move is carried out. To not be calculative in foreign policy is a grave blunder.