This is not a parody for THE ONION, but a pragmatic proposal to reunify Korea with your money, in exchange for resource ownership, construction contracts, licensing agreements and temporary business sector and market monopolies in northern Korea worth billions.
What makes this proposal possible is the abundance of profitable resources and prospective enterprises in the Hermit Kingdom that would come under South Korean (or your) control after unification. North Korea ranks 10th among nations in mineral reserves, with large deposits of magnesite, ore, coal, gold, zinc, copper, silver, rare earths, and other minerals worth an estimated $6-10 trillion. Everything is up for grabs in northern Korea, including temporary monopolistic control over entire economic sectors in finance, energy, public utilities, telecommunications, manufacturing, healthcare, tourism, transportation, automotive products, construction materials and contracts for public infrastructure; ownership or licensing agreements for control over mines, seaports, airports, ski resorts, tourist attractions, and construction contracts for railroads, tar roads, a gas pipeline, energy generation, and a multitude of necessary projects. If you get in now, after unification these safe government-authorised investment vehicles will result in enormously profitable ventures, many with secure long-term revenue streams.
There are only a few people in the world with the enterprise and ability to consider this proposal. If I were to write a promotional it would read: SEEKING PROMISES FROM BILLIONAIRES, CORPORATIONS, PRIVATE EQUITY FIRMS, AND INTERNATIONAL BANKS TO INVEST IN A NO-RISK FUND THAT WILL PRODUCE ENORMOUS PROFITS AND INCREASE THE STABILITY OF OUR WORLD.
Impossible? What if the Kim regime can be disarmed and Korea unified by promising personal rewards to its elites? Imagine you control a multi-billion dollar fund and North Korea is an underperforming corporation run by an incompetent board of directors – the Kim family and a few ultra-elites – who will not negotiate a deal. In this regressive situation, it is logical to offer its shareholders – political and military elites – a higher price for their shares to persuade them to overrule their board of directors – a friendly corporate buyout.
Pyongyang elites must be assured of an uptown future. To reassure those who depend on their positions in power for their means of survival that they will continue to prosper under new political leadership in a free-market economy, I propose the institution of a Reunification Investment Fund to provide elites with a golden parachute after they bring about unification. In this Triangular Benefit Unification Model, the South Korean government guarantees large profits to private enterprises that in turn, promise money to Pyongyang elites for unifying Korea and transferring political power to Seoul.
I estimate this buyout will cost $30 billion – $4.3 billion dispersed per year for 7 years. The top 1,000 North Korean elite families are promised $5 to 30 million; 11,000 upper elites – including all generals – would become millionaires; 51,200 lower level political and military elites receive $100,000 to $500,000. In total, 112,200 elites receive on average one-quarter-million-dollars each and may now live in the free world as affluent citizens of a democratically united Korea. The apparent audacity of this proposal is assuaged by the fact this is a no risk investment, since money is not released until after unification and the formal transfer of political and military power. Details may be discussed, but surely some amount of incentive will motivate elites to make Kim an offer he cannot refuse.¹
On the surface it may seem counterintuitive, unethical, and even immoral to pay an enemy after decades of human rights abuse. However, upon closer analysis, almost everyone in the North Korean pyramid of power has been replaced in recent years, and this new generation of elites may be viewed less as perpetrators and more as victims of an ignoble history. Most who will benefit are merely innocent inheritors of their fathers’ ill-begotten estate (position and power) and were not complicit in its acquisition or in the malevolence that followed. We do not punish the descendants of slaveholders or the children of thieves and murderers. This payment would amount to a bailout for the sins of their ancestors – without moral hazard.
For practical reasons, promising personal and financial security to the House of Kim may ease the deal and prevent bloodshed. Denial of complicity in palace purges and other atrocities may preserve Kim’s public image; his father and the relic henchmen he has already dispatched from positions of power may be scapegoats for decades of malfeasance and unconscionable human rights abuse. If Kim does not acquiesce, with $20-30 million promised to each of the 200 most prominent families, they might take matters into their own hands. Or a coup d’état may be sponsored by well-compensated military elites. Since safety is more precious than power, young Kim would have little choice but to accept this offer.
North Koreans are ready for change. Digital visions of personal freedom and material prosperity have saturated cultural impressions, creating modern aspirations and a new social context for political change that has not existed before. After decades of silent transformation the mere existence of a $30 billion fund sitting in escrow ready to pay elites vast sums upon unification may be a game changer. This fund will provide a stable platform for peacefully managing the political transition, while international development banks and the South Korean government will provide the larger capital foundation for successful economic reintegration. The alternatives would cost trillions and might result in catastrophic loss of life.
For decades, cloistered foreign policy professionals in Washington have failed to make a deal. Although the grim trajectory of geopolitics may seem unstoppable, we need not continue down this road leading into the abyss. Instead, we may think outside the box and create novel solutions to unique contemporary geopolitical problems. We need private and public leaders who can bring out the best in us; those who perceive the big picture and understand the ideas that move humanity forward are often initially considered crazy, disruptive, or impossible; luminaries who can show us what we should want, while smartly employing incentives to get us there. Indeed, from time immemorial practical reason and creativity has helped us overcome nature, now in a digital nuclear age we must be smarter and more innovative in order to save us from ourselves.
Business entrepreneurs understand opportunity costs, and to counter threatening entropic global forces should be willing to invest large and long in a more secure world order. If they neglect their fiduciary responsibility in such matters, they do so at their own peril – and ours. Although this particular plan for enlightened self-interest is an impossible proposition for all but a few WORLD FINANCIAL REVIEW readers, for those in position, this idea might be worth billions and create an opportunity to stand for a moment on the world stage in Oslo Norway.
About the Author
Dr. Shepherd Iverson taught in the Institute for Korean Studies at Inha University in South Korea from 2009-2017. His academic papers, articles, and op-eds on disarming North Korea have appeared in international journals, Asian newspapers, and Forbes Magazine. Professor Iverson’s ideas are presented in detail in his new volume: Stop North Korea! A Radical New Approach to Solving the North Korea Standoff (2017).
1. Details of this plan and the payout are in my book, Stop North Korea! A Radical New Approach to Solving the North Korean Standoff (North Clarendon, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2017).