For This Year’s International Day of Peace, Korea Takes the Lead

 In Korea, North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, South Korea

(Photo: / Korean Culture and Information Service / Jeon Han)

This article was originally published on Common Dreams.

Today is the International Day of Peace, an unfortunately lightly observed day, especially in the perpetually-at-war United States. However, Campaign Nonviolence, spurred by the group Pace e Bene, is helping coordinate various peace actions in the U.S. and worldwide.

As one surveys the state of peace and war in the world, especially those wars in which the U.S. or its allies are engaged, the situation looks bleak. There is precious little peace, or near-term hope for it, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and countless other countries within our military tentacles’ reach. And the Trump Administration seems keen to threaten Iran with military action, despite its verified adherence to the multilateral anti-nuclear deal the United States, not Iran, withdrew from.

At home, our misappropriation of tax dollars to fund by far the world’s largest war machine robs resources we need for housing, transportation, infrastructure repair, education and building a sustainable, green economy. And our toxic stew of pandemic gun violence, racism, de-industrialization and for-profit incarceration keep many of our communities mired in inequality and despair. The Global Peace Index, which assesses domestic and foreign indicators of the level of peace in 163 countries, ranks the United States a dismal 121st. It’s surprising it’s not lower.

Who would have thought, a year after President Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” threats of nuclear war were reciprocated by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, that Korea would be a bright spot in terms of world peace?

But with this week’s summit between Kim and the brilliant peace-seeking South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it’s clear the peace train continues to roll on the Korean Peninsula (figuratively that is, as recently the U.S.-dominated UN Command, a vestige of the Korean War, preposterously nixed a joint South-North Korea test run of a railroad line in North Korea).

Next week, Presidents Moon and Trump will meet at the UN for an update on the North-South talks. Informed speculation is there may be another Kim-Trump Summit, perhaps as soon as mid-October, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely visit North Korea again in the next few weeks.

However, it’s far from clear the U.S. is committed to peace on the Korean Peninsula. The president tweeted his support for the outcome of the second Korean Summit, which was good to see. But his current policies are stuck in Cold War era thinking. The Administration keeps demanding North Korea denuclearize (while we maintain and are in the process of upgrading the world’s most fearsome nuclear arsenal) before receiving relief from crushing sanctions, a non-starter that stiffs North Korea’s understandable desire for security assurances. It is also inhumane as North Korea is experiencing a tuberculosis outbreak which could spread in the region, and UNICEF warns 60,000 North Korean children are at risk of starvation.

The U.S. has recently increased, rather than eased, economic sanctions, and has made it harder for non-governmental organizations with experience in North Korea to obtain humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions in order to travel to the North to assist with food and health crises. In addition to the preposterous blocking of the railroad test, the U.S. opposed the new South-North Korea liaison office, which the Koreas opened last week anyway.

If the U.S. is serious about supporting peace on the Korean Peninsula, it should immediately reverse these harsh policies in order to help, or let others help, the North Korean people. The U.S. should also support increased family reunifications between the South and the North, as well as continue to work with North Korea on repatriating the remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War.

Next, Trump should agree to the proposal to sign a formal declaration of the end of the Korean War, to replace the supposedly temporary armistice signed in 1953. North Korea seems prepared to continue refraining from nuclear and missile tests, and to destroy or close some of its key nuclear and missile facilities, in return for the U.S. and South Korea freezing or drastically scaling down their twice annual, largest-on-the-planet war drills the North understandably fears. This “freeze for a freeze” has held since last winter’s Olympic Truce.

That freeze could be codified in negotiations for a formal peace treaty, which would be subject to U.S. Senate ratification, as could drawdowns in both North Korean and South Korean/U.S. conventional and nuclear forces. All of this can help convince North Korea it does not need nuclear weapons for its security, but it will come from this maximum engagement, not from the present maximum pressure policy.

Koreans want to make peace, reconcile and reunite a society and peninsula that have endured an artificial division since 1950. This rare, historic outbreak of peace should be celebrated and supported by all the peoples of the world, including and especially Americans and our government.

Kevin Martin serves as President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with 200,000 supporters nationwide. He also coordinates the Korea Peace Network, comprised of peace, social justice, human rights, veterans, faith and Korean-American groups and individuals.

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