Small Wars Journal

Unification Options and Scenarios: Assisting A Resistance

Sun, 10/11/2015 - 12:41pm

Unification Options and Scenarios: Assisting A Resistance

International Journal of Korean Unification Studies vol. 24, no. 2

David S. Maxwell 

Unification of Korea is the only acceptable outcome on the Korean Peninsula. It is the only condition that will solve three of the most intractable problems in Northeast Asia: (1) the Kim family regime’s nuclear threat; (2) the human rights atrocities and crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated on the Korean people living in the north each and every day for the past six decades; and (3) the achievement peace and prosperity in the region. It is only through unification described as “a stable, secure, peaceful, economically vibrant, non-nuclear peninsula, reunified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people,” that can bring security and stability to Northeast Asia. 

There are four paths to unification: peaceful, internal regime change, regime collapse, and war. Because no one can foresee the path it will take, planning for unification has been stymied. Peaceful unification is the best but also counterintuitively the hardest to achieve. Regime collapse (that could lead to conflict) and war will result in the significant loss of blood and treasure and have global economic impact as a minimum. Further, it is possible that due to North Korean indoctrination that the Korean people living in the north may resist unification and form a resistance to conduct an insurgency against the ROK as it implements unification plans. 

There is the possibility of growing internal resistance against the Kim family regime. Considering the possibility of resistance after the removal of the regime, one way to prevent it may be to co-opt the internal resistance now, give it support and whether it is successful or not, this could help prevent organized resistance to unification. It is time to take a professional approach to supporting a resistance in the north. 

Keywords: Unification, Kim family regime, Dresden Initiative, resistance, unconventional warfare



Mon, 12/14/2015 - 1:25am

In reply to by David Eunpyoung Jee

I invite you to read my rejoinder to the piece here:’t-pick-a-fight-we-can’t-win


Thu, 10/15/2015 - 6:49pm

In reply to by David Eunpyoung Jee

A specific comparison to the Free Syrian Army, or the Iraqi National Congress, or any other example is of course inappropriate, as each circumstance is different. Anything beyond very covert support for a resistance, though, must be built on a thorough and dispassionate assessment of the capacities, durability, coherence, and potential of that resistance. Adopting a proxy can be a dangerous thing, especially when that adoption carries a commitment with it, as public adoption always does.

It is very easy to adopt a proxy and too late realize that the proxy cannot win, leaving one to choose between escalation and abandonment. It's not a pleasant choice, as poor Vlad Putin is in the process of discovering.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 8:08am

In reply to by David Eunpyoung Jee

Thanks. David. Good point. I think we have a much better opportunity for the ROK to do better in the north with US support than the debacle with the Free Syrian Army. But you are right to point it out because for the foreseeable future everything will be viewed through the lens of the FSA when you and I both know the conditions are much different in the north. But the naysayers or know nothings will make the comparisons for sure. And I look forward to your new report on unification coming out soon. I saw Patrick yesterday and he said probably next month. I will ask SWJ to post it when it is released.


Wed, 10/14/2015 - 12:31pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I don't know if it's so much "American Exceptionalism" as it is the warm, fuzzy WWII memories of liberating occupied territories we seem to regress to so often. What too many forget is that the only time that went swimmingly was when the enemy was an occupying foreign power. The Vichy French fought us, as did the Italians until after the surrender. And liberation of occupied France and Italy was in part legitimized by popularly-recognized governments and indigenous military units - the Free French, or the post-surrender Italian Co-Belligerents -- fighting along side the "invading" forces.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 11:10pm

In reply to by David Eunpyoung Jee

Resistance insurgency is most accurately a term applied to a continuation of warfare by some segment of a population who's government and military are either already defeated, or are in a state of warfare with an invading force.

This is a natural response by a population that identifies more closely with the sanctity of their homeland, and perhaps with the legitimacy of their own government, than they do with the right of some foreign force to impose upon their sovereignty. One of the great flaws of the US phased planning construct is that we do not recognize that such a resistance response is the norm when a foreign power infringes on the sovereignty of another, be that by physical occupation, or even by much more benign occupation by policies that can equally impinge on the sovereignty of another.

The idea of "American Exceptionalism" has contributed to the rationalization of several operations over the last century where the US has provoked a resistance insurgency after rationalizing the negative aspects of our behavior away. We convince ourselves that what we bring is so inherently good, and that what we oppose is so inherently bad, that our actions will somehow be exempt from the laws of human nature. So far that has never proven to be the case.

I think it would be extremely dangerous to assume that there would not be a very powerful and widespread resistance among the North Korean people against any kind of foreign intrusion into the sovereignty of their homeland.

David Eunpyoung Jee

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 10:35pm

"Considering the possibility of resistance after the removal of the regime, one way to prevent it may be to co-opt the internal resistance now, give it support and whether it is successful or not, this could help prevent organized resistance to unification."
I strongly agree with this part, in order to assist the resistance, I believe it is crucial for the ROK and US HUMINT community to build multiple channels of communication and information inside North Korea. However, an important question is "How can we prevent a North Korean version of Free Syrian Army?"

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 11:51pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


I have read the paper and my questions are from my own "premortem analysis" of what you recommend. I think there are too many assumptions that rest upon some of the most problematic aspects of US military doctrine on insurgency and unconventional warfare (not the least of which being the doctrinal conflation of resistance as both an internal and external form of insurgency).

Doctrinal problems aside, my questions are tied more to the policy issues of interests, priorities, and risk. North Korea is unquestionably a human tragedy, but that does not seem justify the risk to US interests so likely to come from such an adventure, particularly when we have overtaxed ourselves equally unnecessarily in so many places and ways.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 11:04pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


I suggest you read the paper.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 9:31pm


How is it in US vital interests (adequate to rationalize the risk of provoking retaliatory war acts from this nuclear power) for the US to conduct unconventional warfare against North Korea by providing support to an internal North Korean revolutionary movement?

What creates the urgency to warrant the risk of attempting to accelerate an outcome that may not be any better for us, or our allies and partners in the region, than the current situation? What would warrant us creating yet one more in a long line of US facilitated foreign governments, and therefore fundamentally lacking in popular legitimacy with large portions of the affected population?

Is this not a mission that South Korea is fully capable of conducting on their own if they believe it to be of vital interest to them? We have helped to create the time and conditions necessary for South Korea to emerge as modern success story. It seems to me that greater distancing by the US and greater autonomy for South Korea is more logical strategically than this UW intervention into North Korea that seems to move our relationship in the opposite direction. If South Korea wants our support in such a high risk operation, but is unwilling to undertake the operation alone, that seems a bit suspicious.

Better we focus on how to better counter the UW efforts of Russia, AQ and ISIS, than spread ourselves even thinner by beginning another operation that could easily prove to be far more deadly, expensive and distracting from items far more vital to our interests than any conflict since the last time we went into North Korea.

I just don't see how the cost benefit equation works out in our favor.