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J.H. Pak: Religion Serving Peacebuilding and Disarmament

Address at the Geneva Disarmament Seminar at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, September 23, 2009

It was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who first proposed the idea to focus on disarmament on the International Day of Peace 2009, and coming from Korea, like me, he knows very well the threat of nuclear warfare.

Can religion and religious leaders contribute to disarmament? You have all heard the quote, “Nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” It can be found in one of the oldest religious books. This is one of religion's earliest calls for disarmament. I know that religious leaders are not often invited to debates on disarmament. I am here today because I see that it is important to cross over into one another’s “domain” in order to support each other and act together, especially in such issues as involve the future of our whole human race.

We need experts in specific fields and we need effective input at all levels. I am not a nuclear physicist,nor an expert in international or human rights law, but in another important way, I and many religious leaders are trained in disarmament. Religion and true religious leaders promote integrity, honesty, and our common future under one God. These convictions build trust, and trust is the only deterrent to insecurity. Lack of security is the excuse for having weapons. We here today know that arms buildup is deceptive. It seems to defend against violence but actually prevents any real trust between nations. Our nations' leaders need our support to understand that. 

We have seen that cultural and religious values have been a source of misunderstanding and conflict throughout history. But actually, when properly understood, they provide a tremendous catalyst for cooperation across societies and nations. I’d like to propose a few reasons why and how I see that the moral authority of religion can serve the purposes of disarmament.

Let me again refer to a famous religious quote, this time from a teaching of Confucius. “When the mind is rectified, the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated; when the family is regulated, the state will be in order; when the state is in order, there will be peace throughout the world.”

Almost all religions instill in their members that:
1) We are one human family under God.
2) The highest qualities of human beings are spiritual and moral in nature.
3) The family is the “school of love and peace.”
4) “Living for the sake of others” brings reconciliation of the divided human family.
5) Peace comes through cooperation beyond the boundaries of race, religion and nationality.

I would like to take this opportunity today to make a few recommendations:

The United Nations has four main locations in the world, seating its key agencies and institutions: New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. One is on the American continent, two in Europe and one in Africa. I would like to propose that a fifth be created. The Asia Pacific Rim is the area that is the most densely populated and covers a vast surface of the globe. It is the root of ancient cultures and gave birth to the major religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity and yet has no major UN presence.

The issue of disarmament is so critical, and all the issues that surround it. Would not it be meaningful that a major UN Office be created in Asia, and even possibly in Korea, in the de-militarized zone? This area on the Korean peninsula has been virtually untouched over the past 50 years and could be hugely symbolic to dedicate this “No Man’s Land” into a United Nations Peace Zone. This could be a hub for research and a home for programs related to disarmament and the prevention of future conflicts.

I’d like to propose six components of this 5th major UN location:

1)    Disarmament & Peace Council. One of the most critical unresolved problems related to disarmament is in North Korea. Geopolitically, the Korean peninsula is centrally located for China, Russia, USA, and Japan.

2)    Religious Peace Council: As major religions have their roots there, we also find that the major religious conflicts are currently happening in Asia.

3)    Family Peace Council: The institution of the family is suffering throughout the world. As a result, we find increasing problems related to the youth, domestic violence, drugs, alcoholism, suicide, etc. The tradition in Asia has been and still is very strong on family values.

4)    Women’s UN Agency: The diligent and long efforts of women in the Asia-Pacific region for gender equality and empowerment of women could provide valuable resources for the new agency being considered by the General Assembly.

5)    Environmental Peace Council: Since 1950, the Demilitarized Zone has become an environmental treasure. Researchers from throughout the world could convene there to study in this symbolic microcosm of untouched nature.

6)    A “World Peace Park” could be built in the Demilitarized Zone, which would have the 5th United Nations Headquarters situated at the center. This transformation from an area so steeped in war, pain, and hopelessness could be a monumental site that represents new hope and combined effort for harmonized humanity and the environment.

In closing, I’d like to express my sincerest appreciation for the long work of the United Nations and its agencies and institutes such as the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. We are all astonished at the rate of developments in society and the potential opening to us to resolve elusive global problems. The United Nations, like all of us, is trying hard to meet growing needs. I hope that we can all open our minds to consider this new proposal for a 5th United Nations headquarters, bringing together some of the unique and most relevant issues of today.