In his book, The Private Life of a Nation, Lee Eung-Jun portrays a bleak future for a reunified Korea.

The dystopian novel depicts the united peninsula five years after an abrupt reunification. The setting he renders is grim, if not medieval.

In the book, the 1.2 million former members of the disbanded North Korean People’s Army have descended into a shadowy class of gangs and thugs. The stockpiles of North Korean weapons have gone missing in the clumsy process of disarmament and have made the country, which previously had no gun crime, into a violent LA-style gang war zone.

Meanwhile, wealthy South Koreans have scrambled for the North, each fighting to buy up as much of the neglected land there as possible.

Corruption and waste have depleted the national treasury as the South is gripped in panic over the government’s failure to tame the out-of-control North.

Lee’s book is a dramatization, but it does hint at the gloomy (and imaginative) view many South Koreans hold towards reunification. Many dread its prospects, and many more feel an overwhelming sense of ambivalence. Not much can be known about the public mood in the North, but it’s obvious that the average Southerner has no particular enthusiasm towards unification.

In a study conducted by Seoul National University in 1994, 92 percent of South Koreans considered unification absolutely “essential.” By 2007, that opinion fell to 64 percent. Today, support for unification is barely above 50 percent, with support lowest among the young: a 2010 survey revealed that only 49 percent of young adults judged unification as necessary. Among teens, the figure dropped even lower to 20 percent.

This sentiment is seldom declared openly but is felt by all long-time dwellers of Seoul and with good reason too: the financial cost of reunification would be astronomical.

It would cost South Korean taxpayers seven percent of the country’s GDP for every year for the 10 years after reunifying. A joint estimate by the country’s Finance Ministry and universities put the cost of unification – if it were to occur by 2020 – around $2.8 trillion. The cost is expected to only increase with time as consumer prices climb and socioeconomic disparities widen.

For the first few years, a majority of the costs will go into consolidating the North’s basic administrative, judicial and social services and raising its basic standard of living. Steep government investments and transfer payments will likely follow for many decades after. For the South, the early stage of reunification will resemble more of an expensive occupation than a real unification.

Then there is also the question of socially integrating the two countries. Vast cultural riffs, hardened by decades of separation, will make social development harder and slower than economic development.

The South is far more Westernized and accustomed to habits and norms different from than that of the North. Politically, as it was with Germany and Vietnam, the absorption and the merger of a formerly Communist, authoritarian state will most likely tilt the nation to the left as more people come to demand and expect greater government involvement. Political prisoners will need medical help, mental recuperation and rehabilitation.

Aggressive investments in education will be needed to assist North Korean children and young adults to catch up with their southern counterparts. In a culture of cutthroat competition for entrance into the best schools and accelerating education costs, such feat may take decades to achieve.

For South Koreans, reunification will also mean taking on the costs of the North’s societal ills, including vituperative drug addictions (North Korea is one of the largest supplier of methamphetamine. Due to the drug’s use as substitute painkillers, the country is suffering a meth epidemic), displaced soldiers and thousands of orphans and indigents.

Furthermore, discrimination against North Koreans is a problem certain to happen. The difficulty of simply normalizing life will be a massive challenge.

One concluding consensus from all of this is that swift reunification will not be good for either North or South Koreas. An abrupt merger will badly damage the South’s economy and credit, leaving the North to experience Soviet-style “shock therapy.”

Hong Kong’s model of a gradual integration with China appears to be the less fiscally-disruptive path to reunification as opposed to the speedy, unilateral model of the Germans. A slow unification would mean maintaining separate currencies and restricting the flow of migrants from the North until the socioeconomic gap significantly narrows. This may potentially mean erecting a zone of economic separation.

If the South can replicate past successes and quickly build up the North’s infrastructure and attract foreign investments, it may be able to bring down reunification to a more affordable level. For Koreans, slow and steady wins the race.

All of these are, of course, innately speculative.

We do not know how reunification will come about or what it will explicitly entail. For now, the only thing certain about reunification is that it is still a long way off.

Doo Lee is a College sophomore from Suwanee, Ga.

Cartoon by Doo Lee

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