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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

V. Petrovsky: The Helsinki Process Experience as a Model for Northeast Asia

Over the past few decades, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has had a decisive influence on the nature of the economic, political and security arrangements in Northeast Asia. The unregulated nature of relations between the two Koreas and the extraordinarily high concentration of troops and weapons on such a small piece of territory result in a high potential for regional and sub-regional tension. Here, transparency arrangements and military and political verification measures assume a special urgency.

As the security agenda dominates in the inter-Korean dialogue, economic and political reconciliation of the two Koreas is hampered unless military and security tensions in the region are eased. However, economic, trade and cultural exchanges could facilitate the security dialogue. Thus, the indivisible links of military, economic and human dimensions of security, embedded in the common security and cooperative security concepts, could be keys to the solution of the Korean problem.

The common security concept, originally developed in the documents of Olof Palme and the Bruntland Commissions in the early 1980s, is grounded in reciprocity and non-confrontation, in line with the principles mentioned above. For example,

- Non-use of military force in conflict resolution; use of force only for self-defense.
Refusal to attempt to gain military superiority over other states.

- Appraisal of the fact that national security should not depend on the level of military power.
Reduction of military forces and arms control as basic principles of common security.

Common security has been viewed as an alternative to use of force in international relations. As Olof Palme put it, it is impossible to win a nuclear war that would mean mutual destruction and elimination. International security should be based on common survival, rather than mutual destruction.

Security and stability could be disrupted not by superior military might as such but because of an international environment that favors provocative and aggressive behavior. Common security is based on a certain code of conduct, which includes:

- Mutually beneficial international participation.

- Restraint from policies that could hamper interests of other states.

- Prevention of conditions enabling a state to get a one-sided advantage at the expense of others.

- Political will and resources available for international community to counter those breaking agreed-upon rules.

The cooperative security concept is very similar to common security and is often defined as a diplomatic cooperation between states in international security area. While traditional balance of power concepts deal with the possible behavior of states during confrontation, cooperative security accents preventive diplomacy and confidence-building measures, to set up regular channels of communication, mechanisms of consultation and security dialogue, shared decision-making, etc.

While a collective security system needs a common enemy to justify its existence, cooperative security is inclusive, rather than exclusive, and relies more on informal dialogue than on formal institutions. In terms of strategic military planning, cooperative security concentrates on preventive measures rather than deterrence and aims at reducing the risk of military conflict, especially those involving the weapons of muss destruction.

While most politicians and experts view the very development of transparency and confidence-building measures as a bilateral process between North and South Korea, no one disputes the thesis that genuine peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the eventual reunification of the two countries are possible only under the conditions of an effectively functioning, multilateral mechanism for regional stability.

The close relationship between the United States and its ally, the Republic of Korea, and the American military presence determine in many respects the character of the military and political inter-Korean dialogue, along with the prospects for developing transparency and verification measures. The roles of the regional powers concerned, such as China, Japan and Russia as well as of related international organizations (United Nations, European Union, Association of Southeast Asia Nations, etc.) are also vital.

The experiences of inter-Korean bilateral negotiations that resulted in the South-North Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation, signed on December 13, 1991, and the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, signed on January 20, 1992, are no less important. They form the political and legal basis for a transparency and verification mechanism on the Korean Peninsula.

The provisions contained in the above-mentioned documents for conventional verification measures, based on the rich experience of the CSCE/OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and successfully implemented in Europe over the years, might be adapted to the conditions on the Korean Peninsula, where large, battle-ready infantry, armor and artillery units face each other directly. These provisions are based on the principles of transparency and the limiting of military action, each of which reinforces the other.

In particular, Articles 12 to 14 of the Protocol provide for such transparency measures as mutual warning and monitoring of large-scale military exercises; peaceful use of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); exchange of information and military personnel; establishment of a telephone hot-line; and creation of a joint military commission for devising and implementing transparency and military confidence-building measures.

This is an exhaustive list and is lacking only in mutually-agreed procedures for implementing the measures discussed. With regard to limiting deterrent measures, these might also include:

  • Limiting the production and deployment of certain kinds of weapons;
  • Limiting the numbers and types of armed forces deployed in certain areas.

Of primary concern, here are certain categories of offensive arms, one of the leading sources of tension between the two sides. The South sees North Korea’s forward-based armor and motorized infantry units as a special threat to itself, along with Pyongyang’s special diversionary and storm troops, and the North’s Scud missiles aimed at large cities and industrial centers (Seoul, Kwangju, Taegu and Busan). The North fears the jet fighters and sophisticated electronic warfare, control and communications equipment deployed in support of the South Korean army.

In any kind of system for transparency and verification on the Korean Peninsula, measures to limit troop deployment in the Demilitarized Zone are bound to play an important role (more than 60 percent of the North’s strike capability is concentrated either within the DMZ or immediately adjacent to it). The mutual withdrawal of troops from the DMZ would allow a substantial reduction in the likelihood of both surprise attack and provoked hostilities.

A system of treaties on non-aggression and non-use of force, along with corresponding international guarantees, would help in the institutionalization of a basic sub-regional security arrangement. A six-party legal, negotiating and consultation mechanism could gradually develop into a system of security arrangements on a regional scale. Under this system, the U.S., Russia, China and Japan would continue to play key roles in the functioning and development of such regimes.

Such a trend had again manifested itself during the debates surrounding proposals for the quadrilateral negotiations on Korean settlement (later developed into the Six-Party Talks mechanism). The proposal provided for the creation of a “cooperative body” to develop confidence-building measures and lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula even before the signing of a peace treaty. This body could later become the basis for a multilateral regional organization along the lines of the OSCE.

The 1994 Agreed Framework Between the United States and the DPRK had taken the edge off the nuclear crisis and largely ruled out the chance for North Korea to make use of loopholes in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Skeptics pointed out, however, that the Agreed Framework was not a legally binding document and it was entirely up to the parties to comply with it. Besides, the special inspection of the nuclear waste burial site had been postponed, which raised serious doubts as to how efficient the International Atomic Energy Agency's new tool was going to be.

The South-North Korea Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation still constitutes the framework for the development of the inter-Korean dialogue. The KEDO experience [Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization] has shown the possibilities for the crisis management tools to address the economic concerns of the parties involved.

Many analysts believe that the Agreed Framework Between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea of October 21, 1994 failed not only because of North Korean stubbornness but also because both the Clinton and Bush administrations violated the letter and the spirit of the agreement. The U.S. also promised written assurances that it would not use nuclear weapons against North Korea, but the Bush administration’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review targeted the country, and George W. Bush in his January 2002 State of the Union address labelled North Korea as part of an ‘axis of evil.’

The recent crisis around the alleged North Korean nuclear program resulted in restrictive measures such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) adopted at the G8 Summit in June 2004. However, the linkage of the economic and security issues on the Korean Peninsula still do exist, most obviously represented by a simple, though vital question: whether Pyongyang’s belligerent behavior is economically motivated. If yes, then economic and technical aid, trade and cultural exchanges could compel the North Korean leadership not only to scrap the nuclear program but also to further develop the liberal economic reforms started in July 2002.

Unexpectedly, Pyongyang’s attempt at quasi-liberal economic reform resulted in a sharp decrease of living standards for several hundred thousand people, mostly industrial workers and city inhabitants. In fact, North Korea suffers the deepest economic and environmental crisis, resulting in the hunger and suffering of millions of people. In such circumstances, international humanitarian and technical aid projects concentrated on economic and agricultural reform, environmental rehabilitation of soil and water, etc., become, in fact, the only way for North Korea to survive.

The humanitarian dimension of security is also of a paramount importance. Respect for human rights, family reunification and people-to-people exchanges between the North and the South  are all pre-conditions and the expected results of the talks related to Pyongyang’s nuclear program and future joint economic development.

Moreover, the issues of military security, economic development, human security and human rights on the Korean Peninsula could be resolved only as a package deal, as a set of mutual obligations in these three spheres, each reinforcing other. Such an approach is likely to prevail at the Six-Party Talks in Beijing.  

To this extent, the experience of the Helsinki process in Europe could be the most helpful. The Helsinki Act of 1975 established the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and set forth the principles that have since become the common framework for mankind. It is a common understanding now that security is indivisible and comprehensive – you can not provide for your security at the expense of others, and that military, economic and human security are indivisibly linked.

The Helsinki process, culminating in the Helsinki Act, had led to the European détente, followed by the transformation of the bipolar system of international relations into the multi-polar (or post-bipolar) one. The application of the comprehensive security principles and practices to the Korean settlement (including the Six-Party Talks) could generate a durable and effective solution of the Korean problem, with Korean unification as a final goal. It could also result in the creation of a multilateral system of security and cooperation in Northeast Asia.

The principles of comprehensive security could also form the ground rules for international development projects aimed at drawing North Korea into the system of international political and economic relations both in Northeast Asia and Asia Pacific at large. International development assistance could facilitate infrastructure development projects in both Koreas, which would lay the basis for the future unification.

The experiences of German and Vietnamese unification, Chinese economic reform, and European integration could help design a model for Korean integration and future unification. Special attention should be paid to the involvement of external actors in the Korean settlement, such as the United States, Russia, China and Japan, as well as international institutions and organizations  (the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asia Development Bank, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, ASEAN, etc.).

The European experience proves that the issues of development and integration should not be overly politicized. The economic and human security issues involving South and North Korea should be negotiated and discussed, even if bilateral and/or international talks on military security do not bring tangible results.

Specifically, the experience of the European Union could be applicable here, not in the strict terms of the norms and principles of the European integration (based on common cultural identity, adherence to democracy, dialogue and compromise, etc.) but rather in more practical and instrumental terms. For example, the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, sponsored by the EU, could be a model for the same type of multilateral arrangement, involving North and South Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, as it could conventionally link the security concerns and economic interests of all parties involved.

Source: From a paper presented at a conference on "Innovative Approaches to Peace and Stability in Northeast Asia: Focus on the Korean Peninsula," May 26-28, 2005, Moscow, Russia, co-organized by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace and the Russian Political Science Association. Dr. Petrovsky is a member of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences and the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences.

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