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The Korean Peninsula: Moving from
the DMZ to a Zone of Peace (ZOP)



Johan Galtung, TFF Associate and Transcend


This is a speech given by Galtung at the international Forum on Development and Peace in Seoul June 23-24, 2005 entitled "21st Century Conflicts, the Korean Peninsula, DMZ and Gangwon-do." (Subheadings and italics added by TFF).



Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very timely conference indeed, and thanks for the invitation to place the Korean peninsula in the context of key conflicts in the 21st century.


The six most important conflicts and problems facing humankind - and the place of the two Koreas in them

The most important problems, by being global with frightening consequences and protracted, are in my view the following six:

[1] The hyper-capitalist formation with 125,000 dying daily from hunger and preventable/curable diseases;

[2] The killing/exploitation of women through selective abortion, infanticide and general abuse with 100 million missing 1980-1990;

[3] The nation-state contradiction, with 2,000 nations yearning for autonomy within 200 states out of which only 20 are nation-states, and with nations divided among states (like Chinese, Kurds, Mayas, Basques), with the possibility that regionalism will win;

[4] Christianity vs Islam, with the possibility that secularism ala Western Europe or China will win;

[5] The encirclement of Russia/China/India (and Iran, Pakistan?) by USA/NATO and Japan/AMPO with the possibility of World War III;

[6] The US Empire with 70 interventions and 12-16 million killed since World War II (240 from the beginning under Jefferson).

What is known today as "9/11" with the subsequent "war on terror" against an "Axis of Evil"+ is located in the conjunction between [1], [4] and [6].

The pressure on the "Outposts of Tyranny" to democratize is probably better understood in terms of [1], and [6] and may end up giving "democracy" a bad name as another word for a US client state. It may also play against the USA, vide Iran.

The Korean peninsula conflict, our focus in this conference, is located at the crossroads between [1], [3], [5] and [6].

Korea has much less of [2] than India, China and some Muslim countries, and is only marginally related to [4] through the participation of the Republic of Korea in the "Coalition of the Willing" supporting the illegal US/UK attack on Iraq, probably as a part of a bargain with the USA over the North-South relation in the peninsula.

Korea is certainly also party to older conflict formations. Thus, Japanese colonialism made Korea divisible by the victorious superpowers as part of a fallen empire. At the same time Korea, like Viet Nam and Tibet, is located inside the perimeter of Chinese interest defined, traditionally, by the Gobi desert, the Tundra, the Eastern Sea, and the Himalayas. An ambiguous position.


Towards closer relations between ROK and DPRK - the larger framework

This having been said, Korea is densely embedded in the major 21st Century conflicts. The capitalist formation enters at least in three complex ways.

Whereas ROK has successfully liberated itself from a periphery status both from the Japanese and the US dominated systems, it has also avoided making any particular country its own periphery, in spite of its very powerful economy. Its economic power is spread broadly and thinly.

There is little "Koreans go home" anywhere in the world, and thre are many grateful consumers.

The problem would be how to develop a future tighter relation between the economies of ROK and DPRK. Thus, bringing resources and labor from the North closer to the capital and technology from the South might create sharp economic class divisions inside North instead of, or in addition to, the present gaps in the autocratic, dynastic and Confucian DPRK system.

Photo Series by Jan Oberg from South Korea and the DMZ

The system, like China, is not "Communist"; it has as little to do with Communism as Germany under the Christian Democratic Union had to do with Christianity. After 10 years of Confucian respect paid to the father who passed away in 1994 Kim Jong-Il/DPRK seems now to move away from personality cult and juche, and toward a Chinese style of state- steered capitalism.

The country's small, but highly educated, elite is probably now retraining itself in that direction. A major problem is how to obtain capital and technology and not become a periphery in a capitalism run by Seoul and/or Beijing - after having fought both Japan and the USA.

One possible answer is to invite the less problematic No. 4 in the big power field surrounding the Korean peninsula, Russia, to play more of a role, particularly if Russian generosity in handing the Northern territories back to Japan could be matched by Japan handing much back to the Ainu.

And DPRK does not want fusion into a unitary Korean state for the time being. While the unification of the two states is ruled out at present the unification of the nation with increasingly open borders where goods, people and also ideas can flow is totally realistic.

The leaders of ROK might do well to see the problem from the DPRK point of view as a country that does not want to be overrun, and is as scared by the German scenario as is ROK although for different reasons. The leaders of DPRK have other goals than merely maintaining an autocracy doomed to loosen up anyhow.


Korea and the U.S. Empire - more problematic

Much more problematic, in my view, is the relation of the Korean peninsula to Nos [5] and [6] above. If the USA were only a big protector anxious to see a peaceful peninsula this is today within reach.

A confederation of North and South connected by increasing communication and transport, road, rail and air through and above the DMZ, and a bilateral balanced and verifiable process of demilitarization under international control could be on the horizon. This would free up enormous resources on both sides. A part of that, would, of course, be a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

For that to happen strategic decisions have to be taken both in Pyongyang and Washington; in Pyongyang to dismantle any potential or real nuclear capability, in Washington to withdraw any deployed nuclear capability, under international supervision. The two processes could be coordinated like in a Charles Osgood GRIT process. Any such process would augur very well for a century that easily might become as troubled, or even more so, than the 20th.

The probability that DPRK would accept this is probably about as high as the probability that Washington would reject any such proposal. To Washington any such formula is too egalitarian, looking like the two countries can be equated, which of course they cannot, and even making Washington look weak, which indeed it is not, even yielding under pressure.

And yet the anatomy of peace has equality as a major component. Formulas like "what you like your adversary to do you must be willing to do yourself" are good guides to peace processes. The logic of winning a war may be based on some kind of inequality, like superiority in destructive power, or in staying power. But the logic of building peace is equality - not superiority-based. An imposed or dictated peace is not worth that name. It is only a continuation of war logic by other means.

However, there may be other reasons why Washington would not like to de-deploy.

The nuclear capability in ROK may be a part of formations [5] and [6] more than a deterrent against any DPRK attack, whether it has worked that way in the past or not, and regardless of whether we see the Korean violent conflict as dating back to June 1950 or earlier, like the April 4 1946 Cheju uprising.

The US outposts may also be seen in the context of JCS 570/2 about permanent basing, and the MacKinder type geopolitics of [5]. (More about geopolitician MacKinder here)

This, however, does not mean that progress cannot be made in the direction of unification of the Korean nation, only that the process is exceedingly difficult for the many reasons mentioned.

A USA bent on world hegemony, seeing the control of Central Asia as crucial, joined by a Japan both as reliable client and with its own far from peaceful agenda, puts their ally ROK in a very hard place.

DPRK is a client neither of China nor of Russia. Talking with high level officials in Pyongyang there is no doubt that Pyongyang is talking on its own; in Tokyo one always hears His Master's voice in the background. That used also to be the case in ROK, but decreasingly so. ROK commands the balance in the 2+4 talks.

Those talks may well lead to some kind of agreement, but it would be surprising if it could merit the appellation "peace agreement".


A new approach in addition to the 2+4 talks: Parallel 2+3 talks and pointing towards an East Asian Community, EAC

And that begs the question: is there some other approach, in addition to the 2+4 talks? There is: initiating parallel 2+3 talks: the two Koreas with the other three confucian-buddhist countries, China (with Taiwan), Japan and Viet Nam; with the USA and Russia as observers.

Such talks would point toward an East Asian Community, an EAC bound to come sooner or later anyhow, as one more regionalization process, like the European Union, the African Union and incipient movements like the OIC, Organiziation of the Islamic Conference--with the "C" shifting via "Countries" to "Community", starting with a common market--and what is happening right now in Latin America/Caribbean.

If the EU has been able to accommodate former enemies, different sizes, and bridge faultlines, so can the East Asians.

North Korea may not be ready as East Germany was not; West Germany saw to it that they were not excluded as for sure South Korea will. Korea and Viet Nam might find cooperative security in this setting. Like for the European process a broader but less deep cooperative context serving as an umbrella would be useful.

Europe has, in fact, had two of them, the Council of Europe, CoE, today with 44 members, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, with 53 members + USA and Canada. For Asia/Pacific an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia/Pacific,OSCAP, would be very meaningful, covering not only East but also South-east, Central, South and West Asia, based on equality, one country one vote, and probably often on consensus.

It is worth noting that like all other regionalization processes an OSCAP would also be an implicit rejection of the highly undemocratic faultline between veto and non-veto powers so crippling for the United Nations.

We are talking of highly likely but also time consuming processes, with a time horizon of, say, 10-20 years unless some special events would serve as accelerators - like a major change in the foreign policy of Japan.

Needless to say, the USA may initially not welcome such processes, but like for the EC/EU process come to accept that these are processes other countries are as entitled to as were once the 13 colonies on the Atlantic Seaboard, and that equality might increase, not decrease equitable, cooperative, relations with the USA.

In fact, as an outside observer I am sometimes amazed by how quickly the idea of EAC is now catching on in the area, actually also beyond the 2+3 range.


Moving from the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone) to a ZOP (Zone of Peace) - From negative to positive peace

As mentioned, Korea is not alone in being a divided nation, nor alone in being a divided state. But it is alone in having a demilitarized zone between the parts, 248 kms long, 4 kms broad, 1000km2, 0.5% of the Korean peninsula.

Our concern in this important conference is to turn that bad thing, also dividing the Gangwon province, into a good thing for us all, as the Chinese say. How do we turn a demilitarized zone, a DMZ, into a zone of peace, a ZoP?

A 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/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. And 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.

Some years ago (1995-1998) I had as mediator the occasion to suggest a zone of peace as a solution to a contested zone of 500 square kilometres 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 1998 peace treaty--57 years overdue - between the two countries.

This is not so different from the Korean case. Up in the Andes there was once one Inca nation, with an overlayer of Spanish conquista. That multiple nation-hood, Inca and colonial Spanish, was divided by the struggle for independence, so we may actually 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, focusing more on similarities than on differences. One day this may also apply to other places like the Chile-Peru-Bolivia triangle.

By the classical logic of the state system 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 was 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 be in command.

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.


This is what a Zone of Peace would mean

First, the two states could mark the territory with both flags, together. There is important symbolism in flag coexistence. They might add to that a super-ordinate flag, like that of the UN, or a subordinate flag of indigenous people also living on the land.

Second, a major eco-park, with Man serving Nature, with UNEP of course, and an NGO like IUCN, the World Conservation Union with its Programme on Protected Areas, making the zone a model of Nature at its best, 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, ample camping facilities for youth, and hostels for others, from both countries would easily fit into a national park, like they do in any national park, and in this case facilitating some 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 be banned to preserve the character as a natural park, but most service industries would easily fit in. In today's electronic world that presents no major problem; moreover, the concept of factory is today 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 so as 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.

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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 parts of 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.

They may also prefer to keep the binational condominium character, depending on where they are in any peace process. Or - they could put parts of the zone at the disposal of an East Asian Community, also as an industrial and free zone with easy access both to China/Asia and to Russia/Europe.

Eighth, a compound for negotiating border (and other) disputes could be constructed for parties from anywhere in the world; some conference facilities, with easy access like a small airport or a 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 AU, OSCE) might be interested in the same constructive approach to border disputes--like Azerbaidjan- Armenia--and follow up, using such zones as staging areas for peace- making, peace-keeping operations, and peace-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 how the two Koreas could gain experience in deep cooperation on the way to the next stages toward a possible unification, probably via confederation and federation.

This is a list of 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).

And in all of this Gangwon-do will play a crucial role as the micro-arena for a macro- and mega-problem.

No doubt, next time we meet the northern part of Korea and Gangwon-do will also be among us.

Many thanks!


Photo Series by Jan Oberg from South Korea and the DMZ

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