Foreword – UBP Publication, September 2022

Background

The last two and a half years have seen several “once in a lifetime” global events that have sent shockwaves through every society, nation, system, and regime. Aside from the devastating direct public health consequences of the virus itself, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in large-scale interruptions to international supply chains, trade, and commerce; an almost complete halt in international travel and tourism; soaring inflation and flight to alternative currencies; disruptions to Track II and even Track I diplomatic processes, as well as the erosion of social cohesion, individual liberties, and human rights — especially those of women and children. Gross global inequalities have become more evident than ever as the developed world reopens its borders, having somewhat curbed the effects of Covid-19 through effective vaccination programmes, while the developing world continues to reel from the effects of the virus.

The pandemic has precipitated a shift in our global understanding of security threats and also a transformation of citizens’ relationships with their governments, many of which have adopted authoritarian approaches to curbing the spread of the disease. It has also eroded the public’s trust in international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN), in light of perceived failures to demonstrate adequate leadership in a time of crisis. While it can be argued that this “new” security threat has demonstrated the need for a global and collaborative approach to problem solving, the reality is that national interests have prevailed. Borders were shut, families were separated, food and drugs were stockpiled, and there was a sense that every nation was in a zero-sum game with every other.

Just as death rates started to fall and it appeared as if the two preceding years might have been some sort of anomaly and that things might go back to some kind of “normal,” Russia launched an attack on Ukraine. While the war will undoubtedly have an impact on Northeast Asian efforts to build peace, its consequences and outcomes are as yet uncertain as the situation continues to evolve. However, in the year 2022 we have already seen several events that seemed unthinkable just months before — an attack on a sovereign state in Europe, crippling sanctions on a global superpower, revision of military policy and spending by formerly pacifist nations, as well as overt threats regarding the use of nuclear weapons. 

A preventive, people-centered approach: GPPAC’s experience

These global shifts have also had necessary impacts on how civil society organizes, seeking creative ways to overcome limitations and restrictions, while at the same time innovating to maintain connections and dialogue within challenging circumstances. The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) is no exception. From the early weeks of the pandemic, GPPAC highlighted that now more than ever, it is essential to strengthen peacebuilding, human security, and global cooperation, as well as create innovative, responsive, inclusive, and multilateral conflict prevention strategies. The network mobilized to call upon governments, civil society, businesses, communities, and individuals to put inclusive peace and human rights at the center of all responses to the outbreak, and to enhance virtual connections between peace practitioners around the world to share experiences and best practices for implementation of such recommendations in differing contexts around the world.

Members of GPPAC’s Northeast Asian network, including the contributors to this publication, also recognised the need for a broader definition of security of states and peoples, to a human-centered approach based on the principle of prevention. Just as radiation and viruses know no borders, all states need to pool together their intellectual, material, and other resources and share accumulated experiences to jointly address threats. Peacebuilders in the region reflected that Covid-19 was initially reported in Northeast Asia, and recognised the need for a more robust civil society response and systems in our region, as well as the importance of sharing lessons learned for the common good.

As the world starts to look toward the “new normal,” peacebuilders recognise this as a chance to break away from the pre-pandemic status quo and instead seek opportunities to shape the world we want to live in: to end wars and build peace; recommit to international cooperation; realize a true shift to prevention; and build our collective infrastructures for peace and resilience to this and future challenges.

About this publication

It was within this context that this publication, comprising diverse contributions from GPPAC members in Northeast Asia, was produced. It aims to examine the current state-of-play of security relations in the region, present and emerging challenges, as well as the efforts, by both government and civil society actors, to diffuse tensions and build a lasting peace in the region. It is published as part of the Ulaanbaatar Process, a unique civil society dialogue for peace and stability in Northeast Asia launched in 2015 and since 2021 implemented with the support of the European Union. As a follow up to the 2017 and 2019 publications in the same series, this publication aims to focus on practical analysis of the situation in our region, with an emphasis on recommendations and positive next steps to support peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.

This publication is a collection of perspectives on the Northeast Asian region, which is still characterized by Cold War-era political interactions, charged with fierce rhetoric, and lacking institutional mechanisms for peace and security. Based on their rich experience as activists, thinkers, and academics in spheres including diplomacy, military strategy, the feminist movement, and youth engagement, among others, our contributors aim to shed light on the following topics:

  • How, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and in the shadow of a European war, can Northeast Asian civil society organizations carry out the important task of building peace?
  • What scope is there, at present, for regional or international cooperation on the challenges identified? 
  • What scope is there for a pivot towards peace in these circumstances?
  • What opportunities exist in the “new normal” to address not just emerging challenges but also the seemingly intractable problems that have persisted in the region?  

The first chapter of the publication, “Realizing a Nuclear-Free Northeast Asia,” examines the critical question of nuclear disarmament at a unique point in history. Through Russia’s invasion and nuclear threat, as well as resulting escalations, we find ourselves at the brink of a possible nuclear war. However, with the adoption of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the world has also never been more unified in eschewing these weapons of mass and wanton destruction. In this chapter, we learn from Mongolia’s 30 years of experience as a single-state Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone — commemorated at the time of publication of this volume — and hear from the frontlines of the nuclear weapons abolition movement on the occasion of the First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, held in July 2022. This chapter will also challenge the argument for nuclear deterrence and highlight the necessary conditions in which real and lasting denuclearisation could occur. 

Chapter 2, “Seeking a Lasting Peace on the Korean Peninsula,” focuses our gaze on the deepest fault line in a fractured region. The armistice on the Korean Peninsula is fraying at the seams. Old Cold War allegiances are resurfacing and the fruits of decades of dialogue, cooperation, and confidence-building measures seem to have evaporated over the last year. This chapter examines the root causes of this distrust and the critical failings of the international community in addressing them. In particular, contributors examine the global sanctions regime and question its relevance and efficacy, effectiveness, and indeed efficiency, to denuclearization and peacebuilding in Northeast Asia. We also examine the impact of the current Republic of Korea administration’s policies on the precarious state of deadlock in which the region finds itself.

The book’s third and final chapter, “Fostering Inclusion and Diversity in Peacebuilding,” takes a future-oriented approach and questions the prevailing framing of the notion of security itself. Can a re-imagined defense framework, with women and youth at the forefront, offer a viable alternative to the militarized security structures and relationships that dominate current policy and debate? What if we could shift from the notion of security as a zero-sum game to the idea that safety could be a common need and cooperation a common attribute? This chapter delves into the captivating idea of peace as commons. 

Looking forward

This volume is being published as Northeast Asia stands at a crucial crossroads. Yet, as illustrated in the diverse contributions, civil society in the region is striving to address the pressing challenges through innovative approaches and principled collaboration. As divisions between people and states are driven deeper, it is more important than ever to enhance regional frameworks for communication and cooperation beyond boundaries, both physical and otherwise.

It is our hope that this publication will contribute to an open and frank conversation, while also providing some hints for alternative ways to approach security and build genuine partnerships for building peace in this turbulent region. Together with the participants of the Ulaanbaatar Process, members of the GPPAC network, and partners, we will continue to foster more opportunities for such concrete initiatives, including through further capacity development, sustained engagement, outreach, and advocacy. We invite readers of this publication to join us in this journey, expanding partnerships and collaboration toward the common goal of a peaceful, sustainable, and nuclear-free Northeast Asia and world.

Access this publication, and other updates and information from GPPAC Northeast Asia, here: https://gppacnea.org/2022/08/29/ubp-publication-2022/

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