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From Demilitarized Zones to Zones of Peace:
A Transcend Perspective


By Johan Galtung, TFF associate, TRANSSCEND


A demilitarized zone, DMZ, usually a buffer zone between two entities that have been at war, is an important conventional measure to protect a ceasefire by keeping the belligerents apart, at least geographically. As such it is a symbol of war rather than of peace, or at best of a cold peace, a peace in the narrow sense of abstaining from violence; negative peace in other words. The two borders of this presumable no man's land would be heavily guarded, ideally by some third party, a condition not really satisfied in the Korean DMZ case.

A zone of peace, ZoP, is something quite different since it is supposed to be an enactment of positive peace. The idea is not to keep parties apart and have them abstain from something, but to bring them together and have them cooperate on something. The smallest ZoP is a person who has come to terms with him- or herself, the largest is the whole world. The idea certainly includes the absence of violence, but would add a number of other items; which ones and how many can then be discussed.

"From DMZ to ZoP" is a political program from negative to positive peace by gradually changing the character of a zone. The word "gradual" is important here. There is no assumption that negative and positive peace exclude each other. A process could be envisaged whereby fortifications gradually disappear or become ritualistic only, and the borders become more porous.

A DMZ would generally have two borders that may or may not run parallel to an original border or dividing line. The zone would be closed to anybody but authorized personnel. A basic change would be to open the Southern border to South Koreans and the Northern border to North Koreans and let them mix, under supervision. The next step would be to open the second border.

Some years ago (1995-1998) I had the occasion to suggest a zone of peace as a solution to the border problem between Peru and Ecuador. The proposal, briefly formulated as a binational zone with a natural park, was considered useful, and became a part of the peace treaty--57 years overdue--between the two countries. It should be kept in mind that this is not so different from the Korean case. Up in the Andes there was also once one Inca nation, Quechua and Aymara, with an overlayer of Spanish conquista. That multiple nation-hood, Inca and colonial Spanish, was divided by the struggle for independence so we may almost talk about two states dividing two nations.

Let us look at some of the reasoning put into the Ecuador-Peru case and then see to what extent it could apply to the DMZ.

By the classical logic of the state system now celebrating its 350th anniversary since the Treaty of Westphalia, each piece of land - clearly demarcated by a border - belongs to one and only one state. But what if two or more states claim the same piece of land, for instance because the border demarcation is not clear? The classical answer is a war to arrive at a "military solution", and this is what Ecuador and Peru did in 1941, 1942, 1981 and 1995. Another answer would be for somebody stronger, a big state or a community of states, to take over.

But an answer much more in line with our increasingly borderless world would be for the two states to administer the disputed territory together as a condominium. If both parties have reasonable claims, then rather than divide the territory define it as joint territory shared by the contestant parties. Rather than fighting it out, the joint territory may be used for cooperative ventures. But exactly what would that mean?

First, the two states could mark the territory - thinking of the "zona inejecutable", the zone where the Rio de Janeiro Protocol from January 1942 failed to establish a precise boundary so that the treaty could be executed - with both flags, together. There is an important symbolism in flag coexistence.

Second, they could establish a major natural park with the help of IUCN, the World Conservation Union and its Programme on Protect ed Areas, making the zone more untouchable, in the interest of both peace and environment. The park would be jointly administered whether a border between the two has been clearly marked inside the park or not.

Third, camping facilities for youth and others from both countries would easily fit into a national park, like they do in any national park, but in this case focusing on cooperation, not only cohabitation on a camping ground.

Fourth, they could establish an economic zone for joint ventures, inviting companies from both sides. Traditional polluting factories would have to be outside the zone to preserve its character as natural park, but administrative facilities could fit in. In today's electronic world that presents no major problem; moreover, the concept of factory is changing in a less polluting direction.

Fifth, the troops of the two countries would not only disengage and withdraw, but procedures would be established for joint security, patrolling, early warning of military movements, etc. This could best be done by a genuine UN policing entity.

Sixth, some work would have to be done adjusting the legal codes to each other, to adjudicate crimes and facilitate cooperation. The ZoP would be an entity of its own kind, there would be people in it, and human beings bring in human problems.

In short, two countries with a history of hostility could use conflict creatively to grow together at the disputed point, at the speed national sentiments would tolerate and demand.

But, seventh, they could go further and internationalize the zone, retaining joint administration and sovereignty between the two of them as a fall-back position. They could simply donate or lease the zone to such organizations as the United Nations (and in Latin America the Organization of American States), and run their flags alongside the national flags. UN peacekeeping troops would internationalize security, using contingents from the two countries, and others. But they may also prefer to keep the binational condominium character, depending on where they are in any peace process.

Eighth, a compound for negotiating border (and other) disputes would be constructed, for parties from anywhere in the world; some conference facilities, with easy access like a (small) airport/helipad. This does not presuppose step 7, and would in either case make very much sense for a purpose developed below.

Ninth, the area would be declared an international zone of peace, and a register for such zones could be established at the United Nations with emerging rules for a code of conduct. Regional organizations elsewhere (like OAU, OSCE) might be interested in the same constructive approach to border disputes, and follow up, using such zones as staging area for peace- making and -building.

Tenth, if intergovernmental organizations cooperate, so could NGOs, international people's organizations, in this case particularly from East Asia, staging an international civil society in the former DMZ, using the ZoP for their headquarters.

In short, possibilities are numerous if the courage is there, these are merely some indications. Of what? Of hoe the two Koreas could gain experience in deep cooperation on the way to the next stages toward a possible unification.

The reader now have ten components, emphasized above, in the concept of a zone of peace. There is nothing sacred about that number; the parties may decide to add, and to subtract. The basic point, I think, is the mutual agreement that the zone is not only demilitarized (negative peace) but is used for constructive, cooperative relations between the parties (positive peace).

I would like to add three elements for special consideration in the Korean case of two states, one nation.

[1] There is still time to build a football stadium for an all-Korean team playing in the World Cup in 2002. And the stadium would remain as an all-Korean facility.

[2] The broken Korean RR, rail & road, facility passes through the DMZ. Relinking is an obvious joint economic venture of prime importance and high profile politically. It could very well be combined with camping facilities for volunteers who could assist professional railroaders in building that link.

[3] Any peace in the Korean peninsula will depend on the surroundings; the four big powers, the whole complex context. Not that the OSCE, OAS and OAU have functioned perfectly, but they are better than their absence. And for Asia there is no such organization, no Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Asia, OSCA. A DMZ that had managed to become a ZoP would be a perfect venue for such an organization, next to a football stadium and a well functioning RR link that connects Asia (with Japan) and Europe. A realistic utopia.


© Johan Galtung 2000


Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies Director, TRANSCEND: A Peace and Development Network



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