March 10, 2019

In a new LISD Commentary, "Letter from Seoul: 'Memory and Hope'," Wolfgang Danspeckgruber with Hans Ulrich Seidt discuss the geopolitical, cultural and regional factors affecting a potential reunification of North Korea and the Republic of South Korea. They detail that "most Koreans, regardless whether they are in favor of reunification or not, do feel like one people. The South believes the North is separated and lives under an authoritarian regime, and new initiatives should eventually lead to a softening of the border, thus opening possible long-term perspectives of reunification." 

Commenatry Abstract 

It is clear to all that the aspiration to unify North and South Korea is a very unique case of “positive self-determination” in our world, while simultaneously being one of the most complex ones, which involves nuclear weapons, and the direct interest of at least five major powers including neighboring China, Russia and Japan, the United States and the European Union). Thus, their incisive focus on the peninsula and the outcome of recent developments will likely result in global consequences. In this context, there is a powerful reality of a de facto complete separation of North Korea and the Republic of South Korea along the 38th perimeter and consequently South Korea being akin to an island. South Korea can only be reached by plane or ship, or as one young Korean said, by “rowing or swimming.” Neither road nor rail connect the world’s eleventh largest economy to the North nor further on to China, Russia, and EurAsia. Hence, it is vital to seriously consider new ideas to continue the existing connection between the south eastern Busan in the Republic of Korea to Seoul further on north to and across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into North Korea and China and further on west by the Trans-Siberian Railroad towards Europe.

Behind the booming economic activities of today are the still very powerful elements of the past, both within the complex and strict Korean society and the remembrance of wars past— including periods of Japanese domination, the War in the 1940s, and the intra-Korean war after Chinese aggression in the 1950s. Surprisingly, the adoration and fascination with the art, culture, and values of Europe spans across generations. There seems to be a deep fascination with Austrian culture from Klimt to Mozart, Schubert and Strauss, Jr., and one is struck by the rem- iniscence with Switzerland, which can be found in a similarly strong national identity and will to defend; in the highly organized advanced life in sometimes tight living conditions due to the topography (with the key difference of access to the sea); also in the effective and superbly organized infrastructure in a complex mountainous and coastal setting; and even in the architecture of old roof constructions. We were particularly impressed by the expressed hope and aspiration of a normalization of the intra-Korean relationship, which could potentially result in a declaration of the end of the war of 1950, an opening of rail connections, some economic activities, and perhaps a bit of tourism—albeit gradually.

Wolfgang Danspeckgruber is the Founding Director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University, LISD. He is also the founder and chair of the Liechtenstein Colloquium on European and International Affairs, LCM, a private international diplomacy forum. Danspeckgruber researches, teaches and writes on the theory and practice of international diplomacy, private diplomacy, and crisis diplomacy; on the interactions between religion, values, and diplomacy; and on self-determination, security, and stabilization. Regions of interest and involvement, also in private diplomacy, comprise Europe, the wider Middle East, and Central Asia. Danspeckgruber was educated at the Universities of Linz and Vienna, Austria, (ML; DLaws) and at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, University of Geneva, Switzerland (PhD). Following his Austrian military service (First Lieutenant, Reserve), he served as special assistant to the Commander of the Austrian National Defense Academy. Danspeckgruber was a visiting scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and has held fellowships at the Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and at Princeton's Center of International Studies. Danspeckgruber’s books include Robert Gilpin and International Relations: ReflectionsWorking Toward Peace and Prosperity in AfghanistanThe Princeton Process on the Crime of Aggression, 2003-2009 (edited with Stefan Barriga and Christian Wenaweser); Self-Determination of Peoples: Communities, Nations, and States in Global InterdependenceEmerging Dimensions of European Security Policy. He is the editor of the Encyclopedia Princetoniensis and the LISD Chair’s Summaries.

Ambassador Hans-Ulrich Seidt has served most recently as Inspector General of the German Foreign Office. Seidt was Director General for Culture and Communication of the German Foreign Office from 2012 to 2014 and Germany’s ambassador to Korea from 2009 to 2012. He served as Germany’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2006 to 2008. His diplomatic postings have included Moscow, Nairobi, Brussels NATO, and Washington, DC. During the Balkan wars Seidt served from 1994 to 1997 as deputy director of the Special Task Force Bosnia of the German government. Seidt studied law, history, and international relations at the universities of Tübingen, Geneva, Bonn, and at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris. He passed both legal state examinations and received a PhD in contemporary history and international relations from Bonn University. He taught international relations at the Otto-Suhr-Institute at the Free University Berlin. Seidt is a member of the board and vice-chairman of the Dresden Cultural Foundation, a member of the board of the Swiss Afghanistan Institute/Bibliotheca Afghanica, and has received honorary doctorates from Valparaiso University (USA) and Chonnam National University (Gwangju, Korea).

About LISD Commentaries

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination supports a publication program that disseminates research conducted as part of Institute projects in a variety of formats. The published output from LISD includes policy briefs, issue reports, edited volumes, and book-length policy reports that are part of the Liechtenstein Colloquium Report series. The program also supports the e-publication of "LISD commentaries," op-ed style articles that provide analysis and insights to a broad range of current events and pressing policy issues. Past LISD commentaries have addressed issues ranging from counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring in Egypt, and Turkish elections to human trafficking, self-determination and modern diplomacy, and observations from fact-finding trips to Tehran and Kabul. LISD commentaries are written by LISD researchers, faculty associates, non-resident associates, and participants in LISD-sponsored lectures, panels, workshops, and colloquia.