By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — A coalition of over 700 religious and civil society organizations (CSOs) is making a collective appeal to end the crisis in the Korean peninsula and avoid “military action provoking war”.
In a recently released statement, the coalition says: “We are here today in a great sense of crisis. The word ‘war’ feels closer than ever. Tensions are rising like never before as the military exercises of South Korea, the US, and North Korea continue for days.”
The primary signatories include the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), the Korea Peace Appeal Campaign and the South Korean Committee for the Implementation of June 15 Joint Declaration.
The campaign, launched October 27, is calling on all governments involved in the ongoing conflict on the Korean Peninsula to immediately cease all hostile actions and return to solving the conflict through dialogue and mutual trust-building.
The appeal includes the establishment of a peace agreement; a Korean Peninsula—and a world—free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threats; and resolving the conflict with dialogue and cooperation instead of sanctions and pressure; and breaking from the vicious cycle of the arms race and invest in human security and environmental sustainability.
The collected signatures were to be delivered to the UN and to the governments of the countries involved in the Korean crisis, including the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the United States, and the People’s Republic of China.
The coalition also warns that dangerous force operations have been repeated, keeping the safety of all lives on this land as collateral, but there is no exit in sight.
“At this rate, an unexpected armed conflict might occur due to a momentary lapse and war becomes a reality. If the military crisis and unstable situation continue, it will significantly affect society and the economy at large.”
“Amid the chaotic international order and an intensifying arms race, diagnosed as the New Cold War, it is difficult to predict what risks the crisis on the Korean Peninsula will lead to. The most urgent thing now is to escape from a flashpoint.”
Meanwhile the appeal for a peaceful resolution came at a time when North Korea continued to flex its nuclear muscles and launched a rash of ballistic missiles threatening both its neighbour South Korea and its longstanding nemesis, the United States.
The New York Times reported on November 14 that North Korea has launched as many as 86 missiles this year “more than in any previous year”, including 23 fired last week.
The Times said North Korea was also “rehearsing to fire a nuclear missile at ROK”.
“It not only tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile, under development, but also fired a flurry of short-range missiles to counter the US and South Korea as the allies stepped up joint military drills.”
The scores of missiles fired also triggers the rhetorical question: when will North Korea run out of missiles?
“The rising tensions in North Korea have to be understood in context,” said Dr Rebecca Johnson, a nuclear analyst and first president of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, who participated in negotiations on the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
She told IDN that denuclearizing North Korea cannot be just a finger-pointing exercise; it has to be done in the context of negotiations to demilitarize and denuclearize the whole Korean Peninsula and its surrounding islands and seas.
The United States, China, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia—the governments that participated in the ‘Six Party Talks’ of previous decades—need to respond to the heightened nuclear threats of recent years by engaging more constructively in regional negotiations on peace and denuclearization without preconditions.
“If they do this, they can open up better ways to prevent nuclear weapons production, threats and use. Utilizing the new multilateral tools for TPNW implementation and verification will also open up ways for the governments and people to rethink national security, enabling negotiations to go forwards on denuclearizing threatening regimes in flashpoint regions,” declared Johnson.
According to North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, the flurry of missile tests in October was carried out in response to large-scale navy drills by South Korean and US forces. Designed as a dramatic warning display, the tests simulate showering South Korea with tactical nuclear weapons.
Asked about the threat of “counter-retaliation” by a North Korean military commander, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on November 7: “Our response is what you’ve heard from us throughout this series of provocations: our commitment to the defense and to the security of our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK in this case, is ironclad.”
“We have taken a number of steps when to increase our defense and our deterrence posture, and we’ll continue to calibrate our approach and our activities appropriately,” he said.
Price also pointed out that there has been no change to US policy.
“Our DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) policy remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to be open to diplomacy with the DPRK. The complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has been our objective since the conclusion of our DPRK policy review last year. That has not changed. I don’t foresee that changing going forward.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in October that Secretary-General António Guterres was deeply concerned about the adoption [on September 8] of the Law “On the DPRK’s Policy on the Nuclear Forces” by the Supreme People’s Assembly. Increasing the role and significance of nuclear weapons in security doctrines is contrary to decades of efforts by the international community to reduce and eliminate nuclear risks.
“The DPRK, by pursuing its nuclear weapons programme, including its development of missiles using ballistic missile technology, continues to disregard the resolutions of the Security Council to cease such activities,” said Dujarric, citing the UN Chief.
The Secretary-General has been calling on the DPRK to resume dialogue with the key parties concerned with a view to achieving sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, the twenty-first iteration of the Republic of Korea–United Nations Joint Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues took place in Seoul, from November 3 and 4.
The event, organized by the Government of the Republic of Korea and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), focused on “exploring contemporary disarmament-related topics through candid discussions on issues of importance to regional and international security”.
The conference brought together a variety of national and international participants, including government officials, UN officials and representatives from civil society organizations including think-tanks and academia.
The participants included Park Yong-min, Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, along with more than 50 representatives of Governments and intergovernmental organizations, research institutes and think‑tanks, according to the UN.
Titled “Assessing the future disarmament landscape: space security and missile development,” the conference looked at the future—and addressed topics unfolding in the face of new and emerging challenges in the field of international security.
According to the UN, a growing range of threats to space systems and risks for miscalculations have raised concerns for the international community on the possibility of a new arms race in outer space and has further highlighted the need to develop norms, rules and principles to respond to these threats. [IDN-InDepthNews — 15 November 2022]
Photo: The Korean War Memorial in Pyongyang, North Korea, with the pyramidal Ryugyong Hotel in the background. C BY-SA 3.0