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Korean Anniversary: Confidence-building Measures Still Needed

In Asia, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, United States on September 16, 2018 at 11:46 PM

By René Wadlow

Sunday, September 9 was the 70th anniversary of the creation of North Korea. As has been usual in recent years there was a very highly-structured ceremonial parade. Such mass events are used to convey policy priorities to its citizens and to the outside world. This year, the parade was less aggressively military than in the past and might be interpreted as placing an emphasis on socio-economic development.

It is never easy from the outside to decipher North Korean symbolism. It may even be difficult for North Korean citizens to understand the message. There will be later in September another summit meeting with the President of South Korea and we may see more clearer then if advances in tension reduction can be made.

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In the meantime, those of us involved in tension reduction work must keep knowing on doors to see if any will open or to put messages in bottles to see if any will reach decision-makers. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has stressed that there may be a possibility of small steps that build confidence between the two Korean States and that do not overly worry the USA and China who watch events closely and who may do more than watch. It is unlikely that any progress will be made in the foreseeable future concerning demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula or unification. Small steps are probably the ‘order of the day’. However, Track II – informal discussions which are not negotiations but a clarification of possible common interests and areas of joint action – can be helpful.

Track II efforts have not been on a scale to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, and the saber rattling of governments has done nothing to reduce tensions. “Fire and fury like the world has never seen” is probably not the vocabulary that leads to negotiations.

Time Is Running Out for Water: Ban Ki-moon

It is hard to know how seriously to take the saber rattling, but the sound is loud enough and the sabers are sharp enough that calmer spirits need to propose confidence-building measures. The AWC had proposed to the then Secretary-General of the United Nations (U. N.), Ban Ki-Moon to have a U.N.-led conference to transform the Korean War Armistice of 1953 into a Korean Peace Treaty. Such a Peace Treaty would confirm the international legitimacy of the two Korean States while not preventing at a later date a con-federation or other form of re-unification. Such a conference and Peace Treaty could play an important role in reducing regional tensions. However, such a conference would require a good deal of negotiations as all conditions would have to be agreed upon in advance. Diplomatic conferences “bless” efforts made before in private. A successful diplomatic conference rarely starts from zero.

Another avenue of confidence-building measures is what the University of Illinois psychology professor Charles Osgood called GRIT – Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction. He recommended an incremental series of conciliatory unilateral initiatives. They should be varied in nature, announced ahead of time without bargaining and continued only in response to comparable actions from the other party – a sort of “arms race in reverse”. Unilateral initiatives should, whenever possible, take advantage of mutual self-interest, mutual self-restraints and opportunities for cooperative enterprise.

As Osgood wrote, “the real problem is not the unavailability of actions that meet the criterion of mutual self-interest, but rather the psychological block against seeing them that way. The operation of psycho-logic on both sides makes it difficult for us to see anything that is good for them as being anything other than bad for ourselves. This is the familiar ‘if they are for it, we must be against it’ mechanism” (1)

Osgood directed his proposals for dealing with tension reduction so as to ease fear, foster more circumspect decisions in which many alternatives are considered, and modify the perceptual biases that fan the flames of distrust and suspicion. The most favorable feature of the GRIT approaches that it offers a means whereby one party can take the initiative in international relations rather than constantly reacting to the acts of others.

GRIT efforts were carried out concerning Korea in the early 1990s between Presidents of the USA and North Korea but rarely since. Currently, the governments of Russia and China have proposed a GRIT-type proposal of a “double freeze” – a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in return for a sharp reduction of U. S. military presence in South Korea.

A “double freeze” may be too large a shift at this stage. The AWC has proposed such steps as increased family contacts, cultural exchanges, increased food aid to the Democratic People’s Republic, a lessening of economic sanctions and an increase in trade.

There is a need to halt the automatic reaction to every provocation, and to “test the waters” for a reduction of tensions. Real negotiations may take some time to put into place, but GRIT-type unilateral measures are a possibility worth trying.

(1) Charles E. Osgood. An Alternative to War or Surrender (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1962)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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Korea: An Olympic Truce – Time for Concerted Nongovernmental Efforts

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on February 8, 2018 at 11:03 PM

By René Wadlow

The holding of the Winter Olympics in South Korea from February 9 to 25, followed by the Paralympics on March 9-18, may be an opportunity to undertake negotiations in good faith to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to establish, or re-establish, forms of cooperation between the two Korean governments.

Such negotiations in good faith would be in the spirit of what is known as the “Olympics Truce”. Truce in classic Greek meant a “laying down of arms”. A truce was usually announced before and during the Olympic Games to ensure that the host city was not attacked and athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and return to their homes.

In 1924, Winter Olympics were added to the Summer Olympics which had been revived earlier in an effort to re-establish the spirit of the Classic Greek games. At the 2000 Sydney games at the opening ceremony, South and North Korean delegations walked for the first time together under the same flag. Today, with greater tensions, there needs to be more than symbolic gestures. There needs to be real government-led negotiations to reduce tensions. In addition to the two Korean States, the USA, China, Russia, and Japan are “actors” in the Korean “drama”.

There have been over the years since the 1953 armistice periodic increases of tensions related to the policies of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Currently, the nuclear program and missile launches of North Korea, the establishment of sophisticated anti-missile systems in South Korea, increased sanctions against North Korea voted by the United Nations (UN) Security Council as well as a new administration in Washington has led to an escalation of tensions. While tensions in the past have been managed by diplomatic discussions or changes in policy, there are always dangers that conflict management may fail due to miscalculations, misinterpretations of military moves, misinterpretations of aims and strategies. The misinterpretations and the failures of conflict management were important factors in the start of the Korean War in 1950 as well as the intervention of Chinese “volunteer” troops. (1)

Today, we are at a time when crisis triggers are ready. Crisis triggers are actions which occur prior to the onset of overt physical hostility between adversary States. Fortunately, not all triggers are pulled. Yet we must ask ourselves if the current tensions could slip out of the control of conflict management techniques.

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The palaestra, where athletes would train for the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece

For Korea, certain “rules of the game” of conflict management have been worked out. Rules of the game constitute a framework for standards of behavior which maintain restraint, unless there is a breakdown or serious miscalculation. There needs to be some degree of common interest among the parties which makes possible the development of these rules of the game for conflict management. Objectively, a lowering of tensions and a return to the status quo ante should be possible. But objective conditions do not always keep the rules of the game in place.

Today, the tensions around the two Korean States, the USA, China, Russia and Japan are somewhat like the pre-1975 Helsinki period when tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Powers periodically rose, fell, and rose again. Certain rules of the game had been set but were not formalized in treaties. Tensions, but also conflict management were largely US-USSR affairs. Other countries in Europe were on the sidelines. Neutrals such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland were largely ignored.

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During the prelude to the 1975 Helsinki Conference, there were useful unofficial contacts among non-governmental organizations and academics – what is now called Track II processes. These contacts and exchanges of publications helped pave the way for later governmental negotiations.  As with the 1975 Helsinki Conference, Track II leadership may be an important factor in highlighting shared stability concerns and a strengthening of the rules of the game. (2)

As the representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) we have very limited influence on the decision-making process concerning Korea of the six governments most directly involved. The Association of World Citizens (AWC), as other NGOs, has made appeals for positive action to these governments as well as to the UN Secretary-General. Many of the positive suggestions have concerned what is often called a “freeze for freeze” agreement: a suspension of the yearly United States (U. S.)-South Korean war exercise and a progressive reduction of U. S. troops stationed in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia, especially Japan in exchange for a ban on North Korean nuclear and missile testing and negotiations to replace the 1953 Armistice with a Peace Treaty.

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The Korean Unification Flag will serve as the flag of the unified Korean team during the Winter Olympics this year

The AWC has also made proposals for economic cooperation, more numerous meetings among separated family members and cultural exchanges. However, as the saying goes “Do not hold your breath waiting”. For the moment, we look in vain for enlightened governmental leadership. The appeals for calm by the Chinese authorities have not been followed by specific proposals for actions to decrease tensions.

Today, there is a need for a coming together of non-governmental organizations who are primarily focused on the resolution of armed conflicts with those groups concerned with the abolition of nuclear weapons. The current Korean tensions are based on the development of nuclear weapons and missile systems and the pressures and threats to prevent their development. The Olympic Truce period should be taken as an opportunity to advance “Track II” efforts on the part of NGOs to see on what topics fruitful governmental negotiations could be set out.

Notes

1) See Glenn D. Paige, The Korean Decision June 24-30, 1950 (New York: The Free Press, 1968) and Allen S. Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu. The Decision to Enter the Korean War (New York: McMillan Co. 1960)

2) For a good overview of Track II efforts in different parts of the world, see Oliver P. Richmond and Henry F. Carsey (Eds), Subcontracting Peace: The Challenges of NGO Peacebuilding (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2005)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Increased Korean Tensions: Time for Concerted Nongovernmental Efforts

In Asia, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on October 1, 2017 at 9:35 AM

By René Wadlow

An escalation of verbal exchanges between the Presidents of the USA and North Korea, missile flights over Japan, United States (U. S.) war planes close to the sea frontier of North Korea – one can hardly think of additional ways that governments can increase tensions short of an armed attack which probably all governments want to avoid. But there are always dangers of events slipping out of control. The Security Council of the United Nations (UN) has voted to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea. However, to date, sanctions have diminished the socio-economic conditions of the majority without modifying government policy.

For the moment, we look in vain for enlightened governmental leadership. The appeals for calm by the Chinese authorities have not been followed by specific proposals for actions to decrease tensions.

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The one positive sign which may help to change the political atmosphere both for governmental negotiations and for Track II (nongovernmental) discussions is the large number of States which have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 20 September, the first day that the Treaty was open for signature. Signature is the first step in the process of ratification. As a light in the darkness, the Holy See (the Vatican) both signed and ratified the Treaty at the same time. Guyana and Thailand also signed and ratified the Treaty, the three first ratifications of the 50 needed for the Treaty to come into force.

The Vatican leads by moral example; its Swiss Guard army is only lightly armed. The Holy See, although a State, is a bridge to the world of nongovernmental organizations (NGO). The torch of action must now be taken up by a wider range of organizations than those, which had been in the lead for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The strength of “one-issue” NGOs is that its message is clear. This was seen in the earlier efforts to ban a single category of weapons: land mines, chemical weapons, cluster munitions and the long-running efforts on nuclear weapons.

Some of us have long worked on the abolition of nuclear weapons. I recall as a university student in the early 1950s, I would cross Albert Einstein who liked to walk from his office to his home. I would say “Good evening, Professor Einstein”, and he would reply “Good evening, young man”. I knew that he had developed some theories, which I did not understand but that were somehow related to atomic energy. I was happy that we were both against atomic bombs under the slogan “One World or None!”.

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The current Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons did not grow from the usual arms control negotiations, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or the chemical weapons ban, both of which were negotiated in Geneva, both over a 10-year period. The Nuclear Weapons ban was largely negotiated elsewhere, Vienna and New York, in the humanitarian law tradition of banning weapons that cause unnecessary suffering, such as the ban on napalm after its wide use in the Vietnam War. The contribution of both “ban-the-bomb” groups and the humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross was great in reaching the successful outcome.

Thus, today, there is a need for a coming together of nongovernmental organizations who are primarily focused on the resolution of armed conflicts such as the International Crisis Group, International Alert, and the Association of World Citizens (AWC) with those groups concerned with the abolition of nuclear weapons. The current Korean tensions are based on the development of nuclear weapons and missile systems and the pressures and threats to prevent their development.

One proposal which seems to me to be a common ground on which many could cooperate has been called a “double-freeze” – a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear-weapon and missile programs with a reciprocal freeze on the yearly U. S.-South Korea war exercises and a progressive reduction of U. S. troops stationed in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia, especially Japan.

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There are also proposals for economic cooperation, greater meetings among separated family members, and cultural exchanges. However, given the heat of the current saber rattling, the “double-freeze” proposal seems to be the one that addresses most directly the security situation. We need to build on this common ground.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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