Meri Joyce : goodwill ambassador for peace on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia regional liaison officer for the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict
The year 2020 marks 70 years since the outbreak of the Korean War. This means seven decades of pain, suffering and division for the Korean people; it also means seven decades of justification of militarization in Northeast Asia, of tensions and mistrust between nations and between peoples, of competition and the arms race, of nuclear threats, and of lack of human security and environmental sustainability. Ending the Korean War is an urgent task not only for Korea, but for the peaceful future of the Northeast Asian region and indeed for the whole world. The fact that this has not yet been achieved highlights the need for more support and engagement from different levels of the international community; including a regional multilateral approach; more meaningful involvement of civil society, including women and youth; and more international support for the dedicated efforts of Korean civil society.
As embodied in the ongoing Korean War, the Northeast Asian region remains characterized by Cold War-era political interactions. The region is often charged with fierce rhetoric amid fears of military escalation, and it lacks institutional mechanisms for peace and security. The absence of sustained dialogue has heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across the region, leading to crises including even the threat of nuclear war.
We have seen dramatic historical developments on the Korean Peninsula in recent years. Yet, despite this tentative progress, the situation remains in a critical state in 2020. The severe deterioration in inter-Korean relations demonstrates the fragility of this situation; this is also exacerbated by the context of the world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. As ongoing uncertainty amid the upcoming US elections threatens to lower the priority of peace on the Korean Peninsula within US policy, broad international support is required more than ever to ensure that peace remains on the global agenda, and that developments continue in a positive direction rather than relapsing to the threat of armed conflict and indeed the potential use of nuclear weapons. To this end, the active involvement of both regional and international civil society is crucial.
A regional approach is an absolute necessity. While Northeast Asia has both global economic powers and also states possessing nuclear weapons, at the same time it lacks regional mechanisms for cooperation. Therefore, the role of civil society in informing policy and laying the foundations for regional cooperation becomes all the more important. The unique role of civil society in dialogue processes is increasingly appreciated and recognized, as demonstrated in many peace processes throughout the world. Yet, cooperation between civil society actors in Northeast Asia has been hampered by the tense regional environment. Remnant Cold War structures mean that fractured and tense relations experienced at state level are often duplicated at the level of the citizens, with issues such as discrimination, hate speech and mistrust. More opportunities for civil society to exchange and collaborate across borders and across different fields including peacebuilding, humanitarian, human rights are needed, as is the necessary institutional and financial support to enable such activities. Further, efforts must be made to ensure that such activities are fully inclusive of women and youth. Genuine sustainable peace can only be achieved with the participation of all members of society.
Building an international platform for civil society to get involved
It is for these reasons that the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), in cooperation with the Mongolian NGO Blue Banner and many partners throughout the region launched the Ulaanbaatar Process in 2015. This civil-society led dialogue is the sole standing platform in which civil society from all parts of the region - including both Koreas and all former Six Party Talk member countries - is actively and regularly participating through times of both crisis and stability. While its activities are still only small, the continuation of the process demonstrates the importance of space on the regional level, and of ongoing, institutionalized platforms for dialogue, which can allow for mutual trust and commitment.
As well as cooperation within the Northeast Asian region, more exchange with international civil society is also vital. The region is still highly unrepresented in international peacebuilding discussions. More up-to-date information from the ground must be shared on a regular basis to provide a deeper understanding of the situation, perspectives of relevant actors, and potential innovative approaches to break through impasses.
It is for this reason that the Korea Peace Appeal is so timely and necessary. As an international campaign to amplify voices calling for an end to the Korean War and a transition from armistice to peace, this campaign has enormous potential to bring the world’s attention to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and the urgent need for joint action for peace. It is hoped that through this campaign many more people around the world can learn more about Korea and the efforts of the Korean people for peace; can find ways to become involved and support; and develop innovative partnerships to bring an end to the Korean War, and bring the peaceful and sustainable future we envision together into reality. en.endthekoreanwar.net