Peace

What happened in Singapore last week?

By Nick Mele
Pax Christi International Washington, D.C. Working Group

After his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, President Trump announced on Twitter: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Very few people agree that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, no longer poses a nuclear threat. There is understandable confusion about what actually happened in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

Coincidentally, a conference in Hiroshima, Japan, drew faith-based peace workers from Japan, Korea, the U.S. and other countries and opened with a prayer service for the Korean Peninsula on the evening of June 12. All were hopeful that Trump’s meeting with Kim would have a positive impact on the rapprochement between the two Koreas initiated well before the Trump-Kim summit. As the few additional details emerged over the following night and day, the Korean conference participants voiced both satisfaction and some concern. The President’s announcement that there would be no more military exercises on the Korean Peninsula seemed like an innovative way to begin reducing tensions in the region and a gesture toward North Korea’s long-standing fear of U.S. aggression. The lack, however, of concrete steps to realize the goals articulated by Kim and Trump in their final statement concerns many.

If real progress results from the Singapore meetings it will come from the affirmation of and support for the progress made by the two Korean heads of state in meetings held in late April and late May. The April 27 Panmunjom Declaration committed the two Koreas to four goals including the establishment of a structure of peace on the Korea peninsula and the denuclearization of the peninsula, and laid out concrete steps to achieve each goal. The Kim-Trump final statement laid out four goals as well, three of them parallel to the goals articulated earlier by the two Korean leaders. The Singapore Summit therefore looks to Korean observers like confirmation and affirmation of U.S. support for the agreements made by South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korea’s Kim. Seen from this perspective, the Singapore Summit Statement amounts to a U.S.-commitment to work with the two Koreas to achieve the goals that Kim and Moon announced in April.

President Trump’s meeting looks like a rare instance of the U.S. playing a constructive supporting role in two other nations’ movement from tense preparedness for war to the (gradual) establishment of peaceful collaboration. Although previous efforts by the leaders of the two Koreas have eventually failed, each attempt has built upon the previous ones. When both sides ceased broadcasting propaganda across the Demilitarized Zone recently, they were nodding to a prior attempt to reduce tensions. When they met on the South Korean side of the Panmunjom Joint Security Area, observers noted two steps forward: the North-South summit was held on South Korean territory for the first time, and the leaders met not once but twice. Similarly, the U.S.  has temporarily suspended military exercises in the past, but President Trump implied a permanent cessation of military exercises. Should the U.S. continue to follow Moon’s lead, the Singapore meeting may indeed be a major breakthrough.

After twenty five years as a U.S. diplomat, Nick Mele retired to pursue peace outside of government. A faith-based activist, he has worked as a nonviolence trainer for Pax Christi USA; as a founding staff member for the Nonviolent Peaceforce; and as the Pax Christi representative to the Inter-Religious Conference on Article 9, an international group working to reduce militarism and armaments in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

Peace

The North-South Summit: Why not hope?

by Nick Mele
Pax Christi International Washington, D.C. Working Group

Almost all coverage of the North-South Korean Summit on April 27, 2018, cautioned against expecting too much to come from the meeting of the two leaders or the joint statement released at the conclusion of their meeting. I understand the reasons for skepticism but I also hear the voice of a South Korean defense expert telling me almost 30 years ago that the only true statement about the North-South divide is that when it ends, it will be a total surprise. Those words resonated as I watched the video of Chairman Kim Jong-un inviting President Moon Jai-in to step across the line of stones marking the border of the two entities. Their little dance was a surprise to everyone, and their statement offers reason to hope for more.

The statement’s first set of points concern the improvement of North-South relations and connections. Much of this has been said before, but some good came of previous dialogues, including a number of carefully orchestrated family visits across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Other agreements are new though built on past progress, like the pledge to open a joint liaison office in “the Gaeseong region”, that is, the historically and culturally significant former capital of the Koryo dynasty which is a center of light industry and has been an area of South Korean investment in the North. The idea of dialogue between the two Koreas began to take shape in 1972 when South Korea’s Park Chung Hee secretly sent the head of the Korean intelligence apparatus to the North, the first in a series of meetings and summits leading up to this latest one. Previous agreements opened up the North to trade and investment from the South, allowed limited visits of families, and addressed other steps; each led to further dialogue. Inter-Korean relations have improved since 1972, and we should remember that progress came through talks like the latest summit.

The second point seeks to address ongoing military tensions along the demarcation line between North and South Korea. Propaganda broadcasts and leaflet scattering have stopped in the past, but the statement also promises frequent meetings between military authorities up to the two countries’ Defense Ministers. It again builds on past progress and could change the dynamic of the Military Armistice Commission meetings regularly held at Panmunjom by offering a second, Korea-to-Korea channel for dealing with disputes involving military personnel and actions.

The third area of agreement is to end the Korean War. The leaders of the two Koreas committed to work toward a peace treaty and to build trust through a series of confidence building measures, such as the proposed liaison office, the reopening of a rail line across the DMZ, and step-by-step disarmament. Commentators critiqued the idea of a separate peace, but neglected to mention that the joint statement addresses that issue directly: “…South and North Korea agreed to actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States and China with a view to declaring an end to the War and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.”

Finally, the statement talks about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The history of efforts to negotiate with North Korea is not as hopeless or one-sided as it is usually portrayed—the North Korean government has halted its program in the past, for example. From the initial White House reaction to the statement and the summit, it seems there is an opening for progress on the nuclear issue. Moreover, if the U.S. agrees to a peace treaty and offers written assurance that it will not peremptorily attack North Korea, it would support the inter-Korean cooperation and confidence-building measures outlined in the joint statement. So, with eyes open, why not hope for continued progress toward peace?

After twenty five years as a U.S. diplomat, Nick Mele retired to pursue peace outside of government. A faith-based activist, he has worked as a nonviolence trainer for Pax Christi USA; as a founding staff member for the Nonviolent Peaceforce; and as the Pax Christi representative to the Inter-Religious Conference on Article 9, an international group working to reduce militarism and armaments in the Asia-Pacific region.

Peace

What to do about North Korea

by Nick Mele
Pax Christi International Washington, DC Working Group

In his speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump stirred controversy and concern with pronouncements on a number of issues. His remarks on North Korea were most provocative: “…if (the United States) is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Leave aside the insult to the leader of North Korea; that is just a distraction. What got my attention was what Mr. Trump said just before threatening to destroy North Korea. He pointedly criticized other nations, clearly meaning China and Russia, saying, “It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict. No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles.”

His criticism is counterproductive, especially since both China and Russia are as averse to a nuclear-armed North Korea—on their borders—as the U.S. Note that Mr. Trump speaks as though it were possible to somehow talk North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons and, presumably, its nuclear research programs. This is simply unrealistic in the current situation. As the North Korean government has repeatedly made clear over decades, it is interested in nuclear technology for two reasons. The first is to deter U.S. aggression against the country and the second is to provide energy to generate electricity. The peaceful use of nuclear technology is often overlooked but it was a part of the 1994 Agreed Framework and deserves attention if only because  the Framework agreement aimed at treating North Korean and international concerns as comprehensively as possibly. Whatever one thinks about peaceful uses of nuclear technology, it is clear the North Koreans need non-fossil fuel energy sources.

More relevant to Mr. Trump’s remarks, North Korea said over and over in the negotiations before the 1994 agreement and in discussions since that its primary concern was to gain U.S. recognition of its right to exist as an independent nation and credible assurances that the U.S. and its allies would not attack North Korea. To date, the U.S. has not adequately addressed these North Korean concerns, although the Clinton Administration was moving in that direction when the election of George W. Bush resulted in a change in direction for U.S. policy.

Now might be a good time for the world to accept the reality that North Korea has joined the short list of nuclear-armed states and adjust policies to this new reality. What might that mean? Diplomacy and negotiation rather than threats, for one thing; U.S. actions to match new verbal assurances that we will not attack the North unprovoked; confidence-building steps, perhaps starting with establishing liaison offices in both Pyongyang and Washington; consultations and cooperation with China and Russia, as well as with Japan and South Korea; and to help forestall other nations that might follow the North Korean path, a renewed commitment to nuclear disarmament by the nuclear-armed nations, particularly China, Russia and the U.S.

For those of us working for a world without war, the time has come to act. For a start, we should inform ourselves about the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed and/or stockpiled by all the nuclear powers and then ensure full media coverage of those numbers and of the security, environmental and human costs of nuclear stockpiles. We should also take every opportunity, like Mr. Trump’s remarks on September 19, to talk with politicians, friends, family and neighbors and acquaint them with the facts, including the failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to prevent nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. Also, to make them aware that the majority of UN states have now adopted a UN Treaty banning nuclear weapons, that way giving a signal that they want the elimination of these weapons, while NATO states and its allies have opposed such progress. An information campaign is the necessary prelude to a popular campaign for nuclear disarmament. The Nobel Prize Committee’s choice of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize is another good sign that the time is ripe to raise the issue of nuclear disarmament. Let’s get to work!

After twenty five years as a U.S. diplomat, Nick Mele retired to pursue peace outside of government. A faith-based activist, he has worked as a nonviolence trainer for Pax Christi USA; as a founding staff member for the Nonviolent Peaceforce; and as the Pax Christi representative to the Inter-Religious Conference on Article 9, an international group working to reduce militarism and armaments in the Asia-Pacific region.