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Challenges for Korean Unification Planning: Justice, Markets, Health, Refugees, and Civil-Military Transitions

Dec. 30, 2011, 8:21 p.m.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies published notes from a conference they hosted on Korean Unification. This was the second in a three-part series which was co-hosted by the University of Southern California and included experts on institution building in a variety of cases around the world. The participants focused on how unification could effect the economy, governance, health, and migration in region.

 In keeping with the successful format used in Phase One of the Korea Project, we framed unification tasks in a wider empirical context. Though it is commonplace to think of the Korean case as sui generis, there are so many uncertainties surrounding North Korea and so little reliable information that trying to make predictions about unification is especially challenging and, frankly, not very useful for policymakers or academia. We decided that we could only discuss unification intelligently and seriously by first deducing from a wider set of cases the lessons that might be applicable to Korea.

Thus, the focus of Phase Two of the project was to bring in world-renowned experts on issues such as transitional justice, marketization, population movements, health, the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and military transitions to explain what lessons we have learned from other cases of rehabilitation collapses systems that might be applicable to Korea. The principal investigators provided written guidelines for the functional paper writers not to focus on Korea per se, but instead to draw on their wealth of knowledge from other cases and practices to suggest what might be useful for pathbreaking thinking on Korea. The range of empirical cases presented at the conference was wide stretching from Sub-Saharan Africa to Iraq to Haiti to Vietnam to East Germany and the former Soviet Union. We then paired these  functional experts with top Korea scholars from the United States and the ROK to form "Unification Teams." The members of these teams were able to talk with each other in advance of the meeting, and the combination of functional and regional expertise in each team created synergies that helped lead to innovative thinking about how to conceptualize unification in the Korean context.

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