The German-Korean Unification Parallel

The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 23, No. 4, December 2011, 457-472

16 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2014  

Robert E. Kelly

Pusan National University

Date Written: December 1, 2011


This paper plots the greater difficulties of future Korean unification through a comparison with Germany 1989/90. The balance of forces favors a more politicized, more expensive, and more internationally contested Korean unification course than in Germany. Domestically: there are more North Koreans than there were East Germans, and they are much poorer. There are fewer South Koreans than there were West Germans, and they are less wealthy also. South Korea’s state strength or capacity is lower than West Germany’s was, while North Korea is a semi-failed state, even by East German standards. So, fewer people with a lower GDP per capita in a weaker system will support more people with less wealth from a worse system. Internationally: today’s external patron (the United States) of the free Korean half is weakening, while the external patron (China) of the communist half is strengthening. The opposite was true of the United States and West Germany, and the Soviet Union and East Germany, in 1989. Today’s northern patron (China) is trying to push further into the Asian continent, while yesterday’s eastern patron (the Soviet Union) was looking for an exit from central Europe. Chinese peninsular intervention is therefore easier, while U.S. support for South Korea’s unification terms will be more difficult.

Keywords: North Korea, South Korea, Germany, East Germany, Unification

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Robert E., The German-Korean Unification Parallel (December 1, 2011). The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 23, No. 4, December 2011, 457-472. Available at SSRN:

Robert E. Kelly (Contact Author)

Pusan National University ( email )

mulgeumup beomyeli
Pusan 609-735, 50612
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)
+10-3760-5462 (Phone)


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