What would a post-unification federal government look like?

[Understanding Unification]
Daily NK  |  2017-11-10 15:48

Although ex-South Korean President Park Geun Hye asserted it, can unification really be considered a bonanza? If there is sufficient strength of government to manage what needs to come before and after unification as well as protect the economy, then unification is indeed an opportunity. However, bringing together the two Koreas--each cut off from the other for more than half a century--is no simple task. Remaining optimistic about unification is necessary, but understanding the positive and negative aspects involved is of critical importance.

To this end, Daily NK will deliver a series of excerpts from the recently published book, Unification Strategies During Sudden Changes in North Korea, co-authored by Kim Young Hwan, head researcher at the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights; Oh Gyeong Seob, researcher at Sejong Institute; and Ryu Jae Gil, secretary general at the think tank Zeitgeist. This 40-installment series seeks to offer fresh insights into pending issues relating to the unification of the two Koreas.

A unified Korea under a single political system - particularly one led by South Korea - is a frequently discussed scenario for the future of the peninsula. Other options include a two-state federal system or one involving a 'special administrative zone' similar to Hong Kong's position within China. North and South Korea could also enter into an alliance, keeping their separate sovereignties intact. Here, we take a closer look at the implications of a federal system and how it could be structured.

A Federal Government

A federal system under the control of the current regime is North Korea's preferred unification scenario, but also entirely unrealistic. A federal system may, however, prove useful after the initial absorption of the North under a single government. In other words, while federalism may not be used as a means of achieving unification, it may be compatible with a new system initiated after unification.

The structure of a federal system is characterized by a single government in charge of national security and foreign diplomacy, with leaders of each constituent region managing domestic affairs. The president would not only be responsible for the nation's security, but also for protecting and maintaining the new unified system itself. The governing administration would thus inevitably point to its responsibility as a protector of unification as it seeks to identify and counter political threats. Although it will depend on the circumstances at the time of the federal system's foundation, there is a high possibility that there will be federal police and judicial organizations. It is highly unlikely that the federal system will allow for intelligence units to operate separately in both the North and South.

Although federal-level organizations are only supposed to investigate federal crimes, this would foreseeably depend upon how the rules are established at the time of the system's foundation. Such crimes could include anything from threats to the unified state, to violating rules of movement and communication between the North and South. As much as some would like to steer clear of establishing a federal government as powerful as that of the United States, it may be difficult to avoid.

There would also need to be a supreme court, district courts, and courts of appeal at the federal level. Another unknown is whether or not the federal supreme court would be more powerful than the respective supreme courts of each of the Northern and Southern territories. On the other hand, organizations such as the police and investigative units would probably work alongside each other.

The federal system may also result in the establishment of a constitutional court or council. A federal constitution would be needed to charter the basic rights of all citizens, and a court or council would be a necessary element of this constitution. Many would obviously like to see the South's constitutional court somehow lead the charge in this area due to the overall positive opinion among South Koreans of the court's performance over the past 27 years. In such a case, the federal supreme court would have considerably less power than the federal constitutional court.

Organizations will also have to be created to address the many aspects of unification, including fair and balanced economic development and welfare distribution; student exchanges and the dispatching of expert researchers; transportation and communication within and between each region; and linguistic differences and 'language reunification'. The organization in charge of economic development in the North will likely be placed under the Northern state's government, receiving aid and monetary support from the federal development organization. The precise wording of the constitution and power of the courts becomes extremely important at this point, as there is a high likelihood of political clashes over aid and development strategies if the federal and state administrations end up on opposing sides of the political spectrum. 

But considering the present circumstances, it would be difficult for the federal government to be made up of an equal number of representatives from the North and South. Members of the North Korean government lack an understanding of modern governing processes in line with the type of federal system that would likely be established. The population ratio could determine who fills lower-level positions at first, and also for high-level positions after a few years of the new system. Modernizing the thinking of North Koreans may take longer, so departments covering areas such as human rights and constitutional rights awareness, as well as the Ministries of Justice, Labor, and Gender Equality, will all likely need to remain dominated by South Korean bureaucrats beyond the initial 5 year period. 

The federal system's structure itself dictates that there will also be many instances where federal-level organizations must intervene in the domestic affairs of each region. The president may have the power to set domestic agendas, especially if they belong to the same party as the one governing a given region. 

The new federal government will have extensive powers at first, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. In such a unification scenario, political struggles are not likely to immediately dissipate, and federal authorities would not allow elements to remain in open rebellion against the central government. But as time goes on and bureaucrats gain experience, these fundamental issues surrounding power and jurisdiction can slowly be resolved.

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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