The United States has a significant role in Korea’s unification process. As one of the major powers in the world, it has a considerable amount of power to influence the outcome of Korea’s unification, as seen in how it is able to impose sanctions in response to North Korea’s missile testings and development of nuclear weapons.
Experts have pointed out that differing approaches are adopted by Beijing and Washington in efforts to denuclearize North Korea. “Washington believes in using pressure to influence North Korea to change its behavior, while Chinese diplomats and scholars have a much more negative view of sanctions and pressure tactics,” says the International Crisis Group’s Daniel Pinkston (PDF). “They tend to see public measures as humiliating and counterproductive.” The United States has also tried to pressure China to lean more heavily on North Korea. U.S. presidential executive orders (PDF) and congressional moves impose sanctions on countries, firms, or individuals contributing to North Korea’s ability to finance nuclear and missile development; some measures passed in 2005 targeted North Korean funds in Chinese banks, while more recent ones focus on its mineral and metal export industries, which make up an important part of trade with China. Washington has also been in talks with Seoul to deploy a missile defense system (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, also known as THAAD) to boost regional security, though Beijing strongly condemns its potential deployment and sees it as a threat to Chinese national security.
American support for Korean reunification is firm, reflecting the strong U.S. interest in seeing a united Korea that is free, democratic and led by the ROK. When Korea is inevitably reunified, the major U.S. policy interests will include ensuring a peaceful and stable region, preventing the emergence of new security threats, and supporting Korea as it creates a unified, democratic, market-oriented society and economy that benefits all the Korean people.
The United States will have much to contribute to Korea’s reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation process when reunification happens. Dismantling the North Korean military machine and eliminating its nuclear weapons will be central priorities for Washington. And a unified Korea will need a security guarantor, a role that the United States should play, even with a downsized military presence and a new rationale for its alliance with Korea.
Northeast Asia will be a very different place after Korea’s reunification. A newly reunited Korea will establish itself in the region while its neighbors will be digesting the reality of engaging with a dynamic nation of 75 million people – a nation with considerable economic clout, a strong military, impressive human resources, but also with a host of internal challenges as reconstruction, integration, and reconciliation begin in earnest.
The primary U.S. interests in and around the post-unification Korean Peninsula will include ensuring a peaceful and stable region, preventing the emergence of new security threats, and supporting Korea’s task of creating a unified, democratic, market-oriented society and economy for all Koreans. The United States’ pursuit of these interests will be greatly affected by a number of factors, not the least of which is the manner in which reunification occurs.
The United States has long supported the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and ROK President Park Geun-hye’s goal of a reunified Korean Peninsula is one that is today comfortably shared by the United States.
The analysis below generally assumes that Korean reunification will take place peacefully. However, if reunification occurs through other than peaceful means, the environment in which the United States pursues these interests would be highly complex, and the challenges that both the United States and the ROK would face would be considerably greater.
- Provide all possible assistance to the ROK’s reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation process; Though main leadership is expected to be from ROK itself, the U.S., Korea’s neighbors and the international community / organizations will need to help due to the complexity and scope of some of these tasks
- Assist ROK efforts in dismantling the Korean People’s Army’s offensive military capabilities and to demobilize and integrate former KPA forces into Korean society. – Crucial to preventing new security challenges from arising after reunification.
- Ensure all elements of the DPRK’s WMD programs are removed. This will be a paramount priority, especially in ensuring that custody of WMD and nuclear materials is maintained if reunification occurs by other than purely peaceful means.
The successful elimination of the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs would greatly ease the concerns of Korea’s neighbors, particularly China and Japan. It would also send a strongest signal to the region and the international community that a united Korea will not pose a threat to its neighbors and that it will abide by all of its international treaty obligations.