The following presentation was given by Lee Tae-ho at the International Symposium on Concluding a Peace Treaty on the Korean Peninsula held on July 26, 2013 at Seoul Women’s Plaza, South Korea, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice.

Lee Tae-ho is Secretary General of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy in South Korea.

 You might know ‘Imagine’, the famous song of John Lennon. There is another song by him, “Give Peace A Chance”. I’d like to emphasis that “Give peace a chance in the Korean Peninsula and East Asia” is crucial at this moment.

The year 2013 marks the 60th year of ceasefire in the Korean Peninsula. Hatred and military tension in the country has seriously deteriorated in the last few years. It reached its peak when the Yeonpyeong artillery exchanges occurred at the end of 2010. Not only North Korea but also South Korea have intensified the conflict and disputes rather than enhanced conciliation and cooperation. South Korea unnecessarily provoked North Korean leaders while creating an environment where both South Korean and American policy makers have taken a more aggressive and authoritative attitude. The unstable ceasefire situation of the Korean Peninsula is being used to justify not only military alliance among Korea-US-Japan which leads to militarization in East Asia but also strengthened Chinese armed forces.

In February 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster illustrated the potential dangerous situation in East Asia’s where nuclear power plants are crowded and nuclear arms races are increasing. While people are putting more efforts to make the world a nuclear free place, governments in the region are still consolidating their reliance on the nuclear deterrence. The Six-party Talks has been suspended for 4 years, and the level of reliance on nuclear disaster including North Korea’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons has become higher. The Governments’ plans for expanding nuclear power plants and developing nuclear reprocessing technologies are continuing despite the Fukushima catastrophe.

Proposal 1. End the Korean War in 2013! From the Armistice System to a Peace System

The unstable armistice situation has forced not only Koreans but also the people in East Asia to endure sufferings and sacrifices. The tensions and conflicts on the Korean Peninsula have driven the entire East Asia region towards military conflicts and confrontation. For example, the Cheonan warship incident and the artillery exchanges between North and South Korea have accelerated militarization of the region.

Despite the end of the Cold War, the unstable armistice situation of the Korean Peninsula has worsened. North Korea has developed nuclear weapons in response to its isolation from the international community and regime instability. Recently, the South Korean government has developed policies to make North Korea give in and enforce its changes by using South Korean’s superior power rather than seeking fundamental resolution for such situation.

The Lee Myung-bak administration totally ignored the June 15 Declaration and the October 4 Declaration that North and South Korea summit agreed. Instead, it has only paid attention to the possible contingency and taken a hard line on North Korea. Particularly, after the Cheonan Warship incident, the Lee administration has developed stronger and comprehensive containment policies such as disconnecting most of civil economic cooperation, militarizing islands of the Yellow Sea, and strengthening joint military exercises with the US against North Korea.

However, it is unlikely that the existing problems will be solved by ignoring North Korea’s arguments or denying agreements made with North Korea based on the subjective judgment of its instability or possible contingency. Such oppressive containment policies against North Korea provided justification for North Korea’s militarization which increased tensions in the Korean Peninsula. Hostility and military tension between North and South Korea have intensified while opportunities for socio-economic cooperation have deteriorated.

In South Korea, criticism is on the rise on what the government has achieved in the last five years by enforcing a coercive containment policy and maintaining a confrontational attitude against North Korea. Demands for strengthening economic democratization and welfare system, easing tensions and building a peace system on the Korean Peninsula are becoming critical issues for the upcoming presidential election in December.

On 26 July 2012, 490 prominent people with various backgrounds announced “the 7.27 Peace Declaration on the 59th year of the armistice agreement – Peace, the Choice of 2012”. It was organized by South Korean peace organizations including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea(SPARK). They declared that “It’s time to replace political, military confrontation and arms races with peaceful cooperation. It’s time to allocate social resources on economic rehabilitation and economic democratization.”

Endorsers of the Peace Declaration demanded to “△make efforts towards peace cooperation, which has never been seriously implemented for the past 10 years since the June 15 Declaration was made. △make the year 2013, the 60th year of the armistice agreement, as a turning point for making a peace system. △lift the May 24 sanction against North Korea of which we are suffering together. △restore the June 15 Declaration and October 4 Declaration and implement the agreed confidence building and cooperation measures. △be determined and active to reduce military provocations against each other, particularly offensive joint US-South Korea military exercises and armed protests.”

A campaign to “Put an end to the Korean War in 2013” has already been initiated by peace activists and some politicians in South Korea. We also ask peace activists around the World to stand with us in solidarity to make 2013 a turning point for a peace agreement.

Proposal 2. Toward the Nuclear Free Northeast Asia beyond the abolition of nuclear threat from North Korea

The nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula means a nuclear crisis in Northeast Asia. The Six Party Talks, which was formed to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, has been suspended since 2009. Recently, the phrase “nuclear-have” was added in the North Korean Constitution. Skeptical views were also raised that North Korea had never intended to discard nuclear power, and will not in the future. However, it does not matter whether South Korea and neighbouring countries recognise North Korea as a nuclear-have. A new approach should be taken to make North Korea enter into negotiations in order to resolve nuclear threats from North Korea.

More active and preemptive will to take action would provide a chance to find the new approach. Seriously considering a peace regime agenda which North Korea has been strongly demanding in addition to reopen the Six Party Talk would be a breakthrough. On 19 September 2005, the six parties agreed on the Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement, which “each party will take in the initial phase to achieve early denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and the establishment of Working Group on Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism. It also states that “the directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”

However, South Korea, Japan and the US are increasing their reliance on nuclear deterrence and the missile defense system rather than actively participating in a discussion to build a peace system. South Korea and the US have developed the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee(EDPC) against nuclear and missile threats, and strengthened the nuclear umbrella policy. They have also developed offensive military policies against North Korea such as joint military operation plans to occupy North Korea at a contingent situation in North Korea.

The US and South Korea are strengthening the nuclear umbrella with their absolute superiority in conventional arms and strategies. In this context, insisting on the abolition of North Korean nuclear program is unlikely to resolve the situation. South Korea, the US, Japan and other neighbouring countries as well as North Korea are not ready to abandon their nuclear deterrence policy. A nuclear deterrence policy results in another nuclear threat. The ineffectiveness of such unilateral measurement has been revealed in many cases such as nuclear tests conducted by North Korea and deadlock situations of the Six Party Talks. It is time to take another stance unless South Korea intentionally wants to provoke North Korea’s militarism.

Not only efforts to abolish the North Korean nuclear program, but also efforts to remove nuclear threats in Northeast Asia are required. Establishing a nuclear free Northeast Asia is possible only when neighboring countries including the US, China and Russia assure negative security assurance and no first use policy, instead of giving up nuclear weapons by North and South Korea, and Japan. This is a new and feasible approach to make North Korea give up nuclear development and make Northeast Asia free from nuclear threats.

South Korea, Japan and the US should take preemptive actions to overcome suspicion and fear. It is less difficult for them to make such preemptive peace actions because of their superior conventional weapons and strategies. Disbelief and fear of North Korea, or an expectation for contingency have justified excessive military spending, dependency on the nuclear deterrence policy and double standard nuclear policies. Now it is time to make the Nuclear Free Northeast Asia as an official agenda at the coming 2015 NPT Review conference and launch a campaign with concrete action plans for that.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster revealed that nuclear power plants which are located close to us could be a greater threat than nuclear weapons. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the potential costs of nuclear energy which are regarded as “cheap”. In South Korea, the public has started to change their stance on nuclear power plants after the Fukushima catastrophe, especially since several old nuclear power plants stopped the operation because of breakdowns. The Gori 1 nuclear power plant is merely 30km far away from Busan downtown, the 2nd largest city in South Korea.

In this regard, it is very disappointing that the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in 2012 did not discuss on how to make the world nuclear free or using alternative energy sources instead of nuclear energy while dealing with the security of fissile materials. The key point is the security from nuclear and people’s safety, not the security of nuclear power. It is also disappointing to notice that countries in the region including South Korea, the US, Japan and China are pushing new projects for nuclear power plant construction or expanding nuclear technology exchanges.

History says that strengthening nuclear deterrence against nuclear attacks instigates nuclear arms races rather than removing nuclear threats. Raising a question on “the peaceful use of nuclear” and reducing the number of nuclear power plants in neighbouring countries would save the world from nuclear threats. The nuclear disarmament movement and anti-nuclear power plant movement should go together, and this is especially crucial for East Asia.

Proposal 3. Bring peace and cooperation to East Asia Sea

After the post-Cold War era, economic, cultural and social exchange has rapidly increased in East Asia. At the same time, military tension and the security dilemma has intensified in the region due to territorial disputes. Most of all, tensions between China and Japan on the Senkaku Islands (by Japan)/the Diaoyu Island (by Taiwan)/ the Tiaoyutai Islands (by China), tensions between China and Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam or the Philippines on the Spratly Islands, tensions between Korea and Japan on Dokdo Island have continued to increase. Even though it has different nature to some extent, tensions on the Northern Limit Line (NLL) are grave as well.

Unfortunately, there is not any institutional mechanism to control and/or resolve such conflicts and tensions in East Asia. Situation becomes more complicated with China’s economic and military rise and the US’s ‘pivot to Asia’ foreign policy to China in check.

The 2020 United States Department of Defense’s New Strategy Guidance which was published in early 2012 can be summarized into two main points: 1) a shift in geographical priorities toward the Asia and the Pacific region while retaining emphasis on the Middle East 2) a shift in the balance of missions toward more emphasis on projecting power in areas in which U.S. access and freedom to operate are challenged by asymmetric means (“anti-access”) and less emphasis on stabilization operations, while retaining a full-spectrum force.

On 2 June 2012, Leon Panetta, the US Secretary of Defense, stated that “by 2020 the Navy will reposture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines”, during the keynote speech delivered at the Asia Security Summit (Shangri-La Dialogue) which was held in Singapore. Earlier on November 2011, US President Barack Obama declared “As a result, reductions in US defence spending will not – I repeat, will not – come at the expense of the Asia Pacific” during his speech to Australian Parliament.

However, it is difficult for the US to continue the arms race with China as it faces military budget cuts due to its financial crisis. Accordingly, the US tries to maintain its influence in the East Asia region by requesting its allies and partners to share costs and burdens to counter China’s growing military power. The US Government’s main argument is “the challenges of today’s rapidly changing region-from territorial and maritime disputes to new threats to freedom of navigation to the heightened impact of natural disasters-require that the United States pursue a more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture.” And overcome these challenges, the US is “modernizing our basing arrangements with traditional allies in Northeast Asia — and our commitment on this is rock solid – while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean.”

In fact, the US marines will station in Australian’s Northeast base around 2012, and the US also regained access to Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. The US also dispatched a warship to Singapore which is located in the Strait of Malacca. Also, it is known that the US puts efforts to gain access for US naval ship to Asian countries including Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Such efforts by the US exacerbate the relationship between China and Southeast Asia countries. Not only China but also allies of the US such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia have responded negatively towards the fact that US-led alliance navy gains power in East Asia.

South Korea and Japan quickly and positively responded to the US plan. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State stated that “Asia’s remarkable economic growth over the past decade and its potential for continued growth in the future depend on the security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military, including more than 50,000 American servicemen and servicewomen serving in Japan and South Korea.” The US tries to establish three trilateral military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, namely US-Japan-ROK, US-Japan-Australia, and US-Japan-India. Among these, establishing the US-Japan-ROK military alliance plays the most crucial role.

In the last few years, the US Pacific Command has emphasized that it is crucial to establish US-Japan-ROK trilateral security cooperation, and among all, logistics cooperation and missile defence cooperation are the most important. At the US-Japan-ROK Vice Minister meeting which was held on July 2009, Edward Rice, Commander US Forces Japan, complained that Missiles Defense is not carried out properly since information is shared exclusively only between US-Japan and US-ROK.

Meanwhile, the Lee Myung-bak administration which declared strengthening the US-ROK strategic alliance has actively cooperated and engaged with the US global maritime partnership including the Proliferation Security Initiative and combined task force in the Gulf of Aden. At the same time, the Lee administration has cooperated with the Obama administration who wishes to establish US-Japan-ROK trilateral security cooperation by accelerating the ROK-Japan military cooperation.

Despite the unpleasant history between two countries, the ROK-Japan Military cooperation is processed for the reason of defending themselves against threats by North Korea’s nuclear/missiles, blocking weapons of mass destruction, maritime security, and other contingencies in North Korea. At the 2nd US-ROK Ministerial Dialogue 2+2 Meetings which was held on 14 June 2012, both parties 1) agreed on exploring ways to strengthen comprehensive and combined defences against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats 2) affirmed the importance of trilateral security collaboration with Japan. The scope of US-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation will include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security, freedom of navigation and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The result of 2+2 Meeting came quickly. On 26 June 2012, right after the 2+2 meeting, the Lee administration opened a special cabinet meeting and passed the “Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Government of Japan on the Protection of Classified Information.” The ratification of the said agreement was postponed due to strong opposition of the public opinion and both ruling and opposition parties. On 21 June 2012, US-Japan-ROK trilateral naval exercises were conducted at the Yellow Sea and South Sea of Jeju Island for the first time. The US nuclear aircraft carrier also participated in the trilateral naval exercises. The South Korea Ministry of National Defence explained that trilateral naval exercises are for ‘humanitarian aid’ purposes such as searching and rescuing. However, the naval exercises also included maritime interdiction operations. According to the news release by the US Department of Defense, the US-ROK-Japan trilateral naval exercises “will focus on improving interoperability and communications with the ROK Navy and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’.

From this trilateral naval exercise, the geopolitical meaning of naval base which is constructed in Jeju Island became more evident. It is possible that not only US navy but also Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will enter the Jeju naval base during the US-ROK-Japan trilateral naval exercises. Even though the Jeju naval base is formally South Korean naval base, it is highly likely that it will be used as a joint outpost to counter China and a base for the US-ROK-Japan trilateral naval exercises, together with bases in Okinawa and Guam.

East Asia marine is now facing a crucial turning point. It can be a new space of cooperation and prosperity or of conflicts with reinforced militarisation. It is not advisable to use armed forces and strengthen military alliances to resolve territorial disputes or guarantee safe navigation. It is not realistic at all to mobilise military means by emphasising territorial sovereignty. Territorial disputes in East Asia are closely related to recent historical tragedies in the region. Reinforcing the US-led marine military alliance to counter China by exaggerating threats caused by China or North Korea will accelerate militarisation in the region. This will prevent peaceful solution and deteriorate a situation by provoking unnecessary confrontations.

A possible solution is to stop maritime militarisation in East Asia and to transfer conflicts and confrontation into cooperation and reciprocity. To achieve this, it is crucial to establish a East Asia common security cooperation system to resolve territorial and resource dispute, and political-economic conflicts in the region based on mutual understandings. Moreover, it is necessary to expand cooperation, dialogues and communications of various stakeholders including central and local governments, academics, civil society organizations and corporations to enhance understanding for peaceful solutions. ☮