Peace in North-East Asia International Seminar, Korea, 26-29 June 2005

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Introduction

War Resisters' International, the international network of pacifist organisations with 80 affiliates in 40 countries, founded in 1921, is cooperating with South Korean partner organisations for an international seminar on Peace in North-East Asia, to be held in South Korea in June 2005. The seminar will bring together about 100 peace activists and peace researchers from North-East Asia and all over the world, to discuss the present threats to peace in North-East Asia, and possible peace movement responses, based on War Resisters' International's more than 80 years of experience with nonviolence.

The international seminar can build on the past cooperation between War Resisters' International and Korean organisations, especially KSCO and SPR, with a focus on conscientious objection to military service. This cooperation goes back to 1999, and led to an international conference on conscientious objection to military service in Seoul in 2003. The seminar in 2005 expands the issue, and puts conscientious objection to military service into the broader framework of peace in North-East Asia.

Background

North-East Asia - North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan, is a region with a wide range of threats to peace, well beyond the issue of North Korea and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Despite being one of the world's most dynamic economic and political regions, North-East Asian security remains surprisingly dominated by the past. Half a century after the uneasy conclusions to massive conflicts that ripped apart China, Korea, and Japan, real peace in the region remains elusive.

Nearly 100,000 US soldiers are based in Japan and South Korea, with those in Korea on trigger-ready alert for war with the North. The region contains the world's second-most well funded military (Japan), one of its largest arms importers (Taiwan), and over 1.6 million troops facing off amidst escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Legacies of the Cold War continue to shape the world of war and peace in North-East Asia. Primary among them is the US "wagon wheel" system of bilateral alliances. Designed to contain the spread of communism, since the 1990s it has morphed into a strict realpolitik tool to assure no state challenges US supremacy in the region, with faint nods to the growing demands for autonomy and respect in Japan and South Korea.

The Cold War also left North-East Asia with two unfinished civil wars, both of which periodically threaten explosion into massive military conflicts with disturbing regularity. Ever since the US 7th Fleet interposed itself between China and Taiwan in 1950, China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province and so claims the right to use force if Taiwan ever formally proclaimed its independence from China.

In similar fashion, the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 dividing the peninsula for the first time in history locked the two sides into a zero-sum struggle over the right to rule a united Korea. As the South leapt ahead of the North during its economic boom in the 1980s and "socialist brotherhood" alliances with first the USSR and then China slowly evaporated, North Korea has come to rely upon belligerent bluster, a million person army, and a nascent nuclear programme to ensure its national security.

Anger with the oppressive US military presence, ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula and between China and Taiwan,and the human costs of Asia's economic boom, are all major obstacles to building a stable, just, equitable peace in North-East Asia. Security structures forged in the early days of the Cold War are inadequate in response to these challenges; new approaches must be sought out.

The militarisation of the societies on North-East Asia goes deep, and is a major factor preventing the recognition of human rights such as conscientious objection to military service, but also the full realisation of equal rights and equal access for women.

Cooperation between War Resisters' International and South Korean groups

The cooperation between War Resisters' International and South Korean groups goes back to 1999, when War Resisters' International was first asked for support by the then American Friends Service Committee's representative in Seoul. From then on, War Res isters' International provided information on the right to conscientious objection, to support the development of a movement for conscientious objection in South Korea.

In 2001, representatives from Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights and MINBYUN Lawyers for a Democratic Society participated in War Resisters' International's seminar "Antimilitarism and feminism in Turkey: practice and ideology" in Siğaçık in Turkey. This marked the beginning of direct cooperation between WRI and South Korean groups.

War Resisters' International first visited South Korea in December 2002, and participated in a workshop on conscientious objection. The visit was also important for the preparation of the first international conference on conscientious objection in Seoul, which took place in March 2003, and was supported by War Resisters' International. The situation of conscientious objectors in South Korea was also the focus of WRI's 2003 Prisoners for Peace Day campaign (1 December), and an intern from Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights supported the production of the campaign materials in the WRI office. In march 2004, WRI, MINBYUN lawyers for a democratic society and KSCO submitted a joint report to the UN Commission for Human Rights[1].

The participation of two South Korean representatives in WRI's international nonviolent action training in Israel in May 2003 (linked to International Conscientious Objectors' Day - 15 May) and in the WRI seminar on Conscientious Objection and Peace in Macedonia in June 2004, and the participation of a WRI representative and nonviolence trainer in the SPR peace camp in Korea in August 2004 strengthened the links between War Resisters' International and South Korean groups.

The cooperation now goes beyond the issue of conscientious objection to military service, and has broadened to general issues of peace and nonviolent action.

Aims of the seminar

The seminar has aims on several levels:

  • On a broader level, the organisers aim to raise awareness for nonviolent and peaceful alternatives to a military-based concept of "national security" in South Korea and Taiwan. Here, War Resisters' International is well equipped to provide expertise on nonviolent social defence and peaceful resolution of conflict[2], which are so far little known in the region.
  • On the regional level, the seminar aims to strengthen the links between peace movement organisations in the region, therefore furthering future cooperation and exchange on shared issues and problems, such as the issue of US bases or an increased participation of the region's military forces in conflicts outside the region, such as the deployment of Philippine, Japanese and Korean military in Iraq.
  • On the international level, the seminar aims to raise awareness for the problems in North-East Asia within the international peace movement, which is especially important regarding a potential escalation of the issue of WMD's in North Korea, which would leave the international peace movement with only little knowledge and partners in the region. In addition, the seminar will also improve the international network of the regional peace groups.

The international seminar

The international seminar will cover a variety of related topics over 3 ½ days, beginning on a Sunday evening, and ending the following Wednesday. It will consist of a mixture of panel discussions (with simultaneous interpretation), small workshops, and nonviolence training session, to explore the issues in a participatory way. In addition, the programme will allow for appropriate time for networking, especially via the provision of a social space.

The topics are:

Day 1: Peace in North East Asia (Opening Panel)
The opening panel will introduce the different security threats and peace related issues of the region to the international and regional audience and also introduce concept of non-violent resistance, which WRI has pursued so far, and will contribute to peace movement in this region. For this panel, we aim to get speakers from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and WRI members. The panel will set the framework for the discussion on the following days.
Day 2: Security issues
The concept of “national security” is a common justification for disproportionate military forces in Korea and Taiwan, but also serves as justification for North Korea's WMD programme. On this day, the seminar will look at issues of (national) security, and will develop a vision of security with non-military means, based on the experience and visions of the participants.
Day 3: Nonviolent resistance and nonviolent alternatives
Day 3 takes more time to develop themes previously dealt with on day 2 in the afternoon, and some of those on day 4 in the morning. Building on the last session of the previous day, the concept of Nonviolent Social Defence as a non-military alternative will be introduced. The day also includes a 2-session long Nonviolence Training as a workshop, and will lead to some examples of nonviolent struggle which will be used to draw out crucial elements of nonviolent campaigns.
Day 4: A Peace Movement Strategy for the future
The last day will build on the three previous day, to develop a strategy for the peace movement for the future. It is important that this again will be done in a participatory way.

A detailed prospective agenda can be seen here.

Organisers

War Resisters' International

War Resisters' International was founded in 1921 under the name "Paco". It was and is based on the WRI declaration:

War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war

War Resisters' International exists to promote nonviolent action against the causes of war, and to support and connect people around the world who refuse to take part in war or the preparation of war. On this basis, WRI works for a world without war.

Nonviolence

WRI embraces nonviolence. For some, nonviolence is a way of life. For all of us, it is a form of action that affirms life, speaks out against oppression, and acknowledges the value of each person.

Nonviolence can combine active resistance, including civil disobedience, with dialogue; it can combine non-cooperation - withdrawal of support from a system of oppression - with constructive work to build alternatives.

As a way of engaging in conflict, sometimes nonviolence attempts to bring reconciliation with it: strengthening the social fabric, empowering those at the bottom of society, and including people from different sides in seeking a solution.

No to war

WRI will never endorse any kind of war, whether it is waged by a state, by a "liberation army", or under the auspices of the United Nations, even if it is called a "humanitarian military intervention". Wars, however noble the rhetoric, invariably are used to serve some power-political or economic interest. We know where war leads - to suffering and destruction, to rape and organised crime, to betrayal of values and to new structures of domination.

More information is available on the WRI website at http://wri-irg.org

Myrtle Solomon Memorial Trust

The Myrtle Solomon Memorial Trust is an education trust set up by War Resisters' International to support the charitable work of WRI. The Trust's objective is to promote research into and the extension of knowledge in the field of compulsory military service and the social economic and legal questions effecting such service and in the field of peaceful resolution of conflicts.

More information is available on the Trust's website at http://www.myrtlesolomon.org.uk

Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection

KSCO was launched on 4 February 2002. It is now a coalition of 36 civil and social organisations including SPR, and many supportive individuals. Even before the official launch, it tried to give wider publicity about Conscientious objection to military service as a fundamental human natural right. It also embarked on activities such as legal aid for conscientious objectors, internal/international solidarity, and counselling of young people who are about to join the army. Now it is acting up to its principles by researching, analysing, and developing case studies of Alternative Civilian Services, and projecting and arousing public opinion. The website of KSCO is http://corights.net/.

Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights

SPR organised in May 1998, for struggling against peace & human right-threatening globalisation and militarism, and creating a culture of peace based on difference and solidarity. Now it has 6 staff and 100 supporters, and is operated by staff volunteering with supporters' spontaneous donations. It's focused on the CO movement, a culture of peace, and publicity about the right for peace. The Korean language website is at http://peace.jinbo.net/

World Without War

World Without War (WWW) organized in May 15, 2003. Its former self was a private meeting of Conscientious objectors and supporters called 'People sharing conscience'. It's a practical field for Conscientious objectors and supporters. More information is available on World Without War's Korean language website at http://www.withoutwar.org.

WRI Korea

WRI-Korea is an associated organisation of the War Resisters' International. It is a small group of Korean peace activists craving for a world without military and threats of war.

WRI-Korea was formed in 2003 to bring about radical social change in the heavily militarised Korean peninsula through nonviolent direct action.

WRI Korea has a Korean language website at http://wrikorea.wo.to/.

Linked pages

Notes

[1] wri-irg.org/news/2004/korea04-en.htm
[2] War Resisters' International organised several international seminars on this issue in the past, most recently in Bradford in 1990, and published several books. Several WRI affiliates focus on these issues, such as the German WRI section "Institute for the Peace Work and the Nonviolent Settlement of Conflicts" or the US-based "Resource Center for Nonviolence".

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