UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Global systemic change and unification dynamics in Korea and Germany Bleiker, Roland


The Cold War era imposed a similar destiny upon Korea and Germany. The existence of two ideologically and strategically hostile global alliance systems caused national division in both countries and subsequently accounted for insurmountable external obstacles to unification. These systemic restraints began to diminish when, as a result of internal changes in the Soviet Union, Cold War ideological cleavages ceased to be the driving force behind great power relations. The flexibility provided by the resulting new world order has permitted a swift unification of Germany, yet it has left the Korean situation relatively unchanged. The objective of this thesis is to contribute to a better understanding of the similar yet disparate intra-national dynamics in Korea and Germany. It will be argued that the following four factors best explain why global systemic change has impacted so differently on the two nations: (1) Unification cannot occur without at least tacit endorsement by the great powers involved. Their approbation depends largely on how they perceive unification as influencing their own interest and policy options. If unified, Korea and Germany each have economic and strategic potentials that could be threatening to the surrounding countries and to the great powers. However, the great powers' perception of this threat is mediated by the context within which unification would occur. While Europe's institutional framework greatly tempers the potentially destabilizing impact of German unification, the bilateral nature of transnational interaction in East Asia does not provide a comparable antidotal component that could mediate the impact of Korean unification. (2) Historical differences between Korea and Germany decisively influenced internal perceptions of unification. Post-1945 intra-German relations were characterized by Cold-War tension, rather than direct military confrontation. Hence, intra-national antagonisms have never spread far beyond the problems associated with the competition of two ideologically incompatible social systems, making unification relatively easy once the external obstacles had vanished. By contrast, the Korean War and the countless postwar incidents created a domestic atmosphere of hate and distrust that must first be reduced before constructive talks on unification can begin. (3) A requisite for unification is an elimination of the ideological differences within the divided nation, which can only be achieved through a fundamental régime change on at least one of the two sides. Régime stability, in turn, is directly linked to at least two factors. It is dependent on the compatibility of the employed ideology with its cultural environment. The link between ideology and culture was considerably weaker in East Germany than in North Korea. Germany's linguistic, cultural, and philosophical tradition is fundamentally individualistic. Hence, it provided a much less suitable breeding ground for authoritarian Communist rule than Korea's hierarchical cultural tradition, which facilitated the sustenance of totalitarianism, thereby impeding a removal of intra-national ideological obstacles to unification. (4) The stability of a régime is also dependent on the level of hegemonic control that the ruling social group can impose. Despite possessing similar coercive capacities, the North Korean and East German régimes greatly differed with regard to their dominance over civil society. The continuous penetration of Western media sources into East Germany inhibited the SED régime from winning tacit popular support for its narrow class-related interests. The resulting increase in popular dissatisfaction substantially contributed to the downfall of the Communist régime. Pyongyang, by contrast, was able to filter exogenous influences and limit information sources for the population to the government censored media. Hence, a popular challenge to authoritarian rule was less likely to arise because it was relatively easy for the ruling social group to impose its subjective agenda and its egocentric interest.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.