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Regional Peace Building: The Korean Peninsula and North-east Asia

10 June 2010, Centre for Asian Pacific Studies, Lingnan University

A Lethe of Peace in North-east Asia: Memories of Force and The Prospect for Reconciliation
Simone Chun
Assistant Professor, Suffolk University

War drives state formation and transformation…The only real answer is to turn the immense power of national states away from war and toward the creation of justice, personal security, and democracy. Charles Tilly

This paper will analyze and reflect on the relationship between memories of force, the present condition for reconciliation and the prospect for peace in North-east Asia with a specific emphasis on the Korean peninsula and greater East Asia. Why is the quest for regional reconciliation and peace in North-east Asia urgently needed now?

The post-9/11 world has witnessed an increase in war-making activities by states as well as non-state groups around the world. Many new institutions of force, coercion and terror have been created. Moreover, the existing global economic and inter-state system has been structured to support and reinforce such coercive institutions and war-making activities. As a result, struggles and competition for the domination have heightened.

While no region in the world is exempt from this ongoing global struggle for power, North-east East Asia in general and the Korean peninsula in particular play a central and strategic role with regard to this process. The issue is especially timely in view of prospect of the revival of six-party talks and possible diplomatic breakthrough between North Korea and the United States.

In thinking about the questions related to the concrete policy issues, this paper will go beyond the mainstream literature of security by taking a broad and interdisciplinary perspective in hopes of not only providing an alternative analytical framework and policies but also changing the way we think of creating conditions for peace.

This paper will be based on the premise of ethical realism that there are realities of human existence, such as war and oppression, which we cannot abolish them, but we can avoid them by another reality that is just and peaceable; and, war and peace are consequences of concrete actions taken by specific groups of people and/or nations utilizing mechanisms of coercion in that state, state institutions and interstate power struggles of the past and present are important causes of instability and oppression in the world.

The objective is to examine the issue of peace within the context of concrete power represented by the State, the capital and the machinations of interstate relations and seek conditions that allow human possibility and potential.

This paper will be based on historical, interdisciplinary texts and empirical data related to conflicts, memories of force and violence, reconciliation and peace in Northeast Asia, such as the primary and archival data related to colonization and war, the literature of international relations, enlightenment philosophy of Kant and recent policies related denuclearization in the Korean peninsula.

It will provide a historical genealogy and consequences of force and oppression, the present institutional mechanisms and power structures that buttress economic and political oppression and ongoing geopolitical power struggles in East Asia, such as how the global power of capital and militarism has shaped political development not only the Korean peninsula but across North-east Asia as a whole.

It will explore the extent to which a concrete opportunity exists for fostering an enduring peace in North-east Asia, particularly in the face of so many extant obstacles and uncertainties. The developments with regard to denuclearization in North Korea are examples that indicate such opportunities might yet exist. It will demonstrate that a reduction in the power of capital and the growth of militarism is imperative to the goal of fostering peace in North-east Asia. With respect to this goal, it will postulate the implementation of cooperative regional governance (i.e., via an East Asian Community) capable of countering coercive institutions, and offer a philosophical foundation specifically based on Kantian peace in hopes of fostering the rational, cosmopolitan and ethical foundations for reconciliation and creation of a just and peaceable world.

This paper will conclude with invoking the analogy of Lethe.  Lethe is the name of a mythological Greek river. The ancient Greeks believed that souls who drank its water would completely forget their past and become ready for reincarnation. The objective of this paper is to engender hopes that someday not only the Korean peninsula, but also region of North-east Asia, and indeed the whole world take on the character of a Lethe of Indefinite Peace that can help humanity forget memories of force, violence, war and oppression and to be able to at last utter: The Time is free.

Human life is made up of miracles…Since the state of war is not, in fact, continuous, it is not impossible that peace might continue indefinitely.” Simone Weil

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