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평화군축센터    한반도 평화를 위해 비핵군축운동을 합니다

  • 칼럼
  • 2008.10.21
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2008. 10. 15
Park Jung-Eun (Chief Coordinator of Center for Peace and Disarmament, PSPD)


I am glad that AEPF has included in its agenda a focus and discussion on alternative visions on security. I believe this topic is rather new in many societies in Asia.

It is in countries in Northeast Asia, where South and North Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan(Province of China) are situated, that the logic of national security, military security is prevalent both on the governmental and social levels. National security is the mainstream discourse on security. Despite expanded trade and other forms of exchanges across borders, thereby deepening mutual interdependence among the countries and peoples, we still witness high level of arms race in the region under the logic of national security.

As you know, it is in Northeast Asia that is the biggest arsenal of arms and a ground for the most fierce armament competition. Behind this is the complex working of the colonial past, the US global strategy and military alliances, and deeply rooted nationalistic sentiment. And the very existence of the highly militarized super-powers gives strong justification for national security ideology and arms race. It is quite common in the region to describe one’s own military armament as defensive and the same of the other countries as offensive, in a mutual escalation of mistrust and arms procurement.

At the core of this kind of problems are the questions of who identifies and evaluates a threat and how. It is because the way of identifying, evaluating, and analyzing a threat directly affects how to deal with it. And because most of this threat interpretation is done by a closed circle of military-oriented experts, the remedy would most often involve confrontational military methods. This would only mean perpetual cycle of conflict and confrontation, not a resolution of a conflict. Unfortunately, Northeast Asia has been stuck in such a security dilemma for too long.  

However, more and more people are realizing that mega spending of public fund and human resources for the purpose of national security defies its original purpose of providing more security to the people. On the contrary, we witness on-going human rights violations, relative reduction of educational and social welfare budget, and public insecurity caused by repercussions of the militarist security policies of the state, internally and externally. It is tragic that the government spending on arms procurement is not properly questioned or addressed by the public in many parts of the region. 

Currently, the threats we face range far beyond the traditional threats, from the basic needs of daily life and basic education to unemployment, price hike, unsafe food, and energy crisis. The continued practice of the state authorities in violating basic human rights of its own citizens is still very serious. South Korea as an example shows the highest records of suicide rate among the OECD countries, most of which come from difficult living conditions. This has a strong correlation to that fact that South Korea’s military spending is about 2-4 times higher, and social welfare budget 1/2-1/3(half to one third) lower compared to OECD countries.

Such a size of the military spending means less provision of safety in other arenas of life. It also means that the peaceful livelihood of the villagers can be taken away any time if the state wants to build a military base in the area. In order to have a rational defense budget, first, the state should not exaggerate the magnitude of the military threat from outside, and second, the society should not neglect the increasing insecurity faced by individuals of less privileged classes. Military threat is just one of the many threats threatening diverse dimensions of safety, and the state is just one of the many objects for defense that include individuals, local communities, and other social groups.

When countries send their troops to other countries in the name of national interest, some people from the society should voice out that there are larger interest of human beings across border. This is the way we need for a new understanding of security.  

So I would like to stress again the importance of interpreting and addressing the issues of threat and security from a new perspective. This would be a new role for peace movement. Peace movement should advocate that national security or security of the regime is no more a proper way of understanding security, and that the security of the state is not equal to the security of the members of the state.

For this, we need a stronger civilian control of the military and security sectors, through various forms of participation by the public sector. In the case of South Korea, civil society actors have been stressing this type of control over the security institutions and succeeded in establishing defense reform commission and ombuzman system for the arms procurement agency. A few civilian can now able to monitor the official arms purchase and participate in the decision-making process in the defense ministry. As a new form of civilian control, the National Assembly is now required to hold a hearing for appointment of high officials in the defense.

But these are all small steps waiting for more institutional reforms. There is still much closure and secrecy in the security sector and people are very poorly informed. The Open Information Act of Korea has too many exceptional clauses for military and security affairs. Citizens are simply forbidden to know what their state is doing in terms of war preparation – what kind of weapons are being developed or purchased. The purpose of the realignment of ROK-US military and the cost to do it also have been closed by the government to block the citizen’s monitoring. These made it possible to distort and manipulate information and censorship of mass media report. It’s also background to neglect the improvement of human rights of soldiers and alternative policy for the objectors of military service.

So, in particular, civil society actors should be able to participate in the assessment of the threat from the very first stage. All the information in the process should be open and accessible, as a basic right of citizens. In this regard, my organization PSPD has been pressing the government to establish a government-NGO joint commission to determine the appropriate consensus on the perceived threat, and the level of military power, and appropriate means to address the major threat.

A mature civilian control over the military would involve changing the paradigm of defense and institutions at various levels for joint decision-making between the military and civilian representatives.

That’s the role of peace movement to realize and respond these problems. Civil society should call for the participation in interpretation of current threat and making-decision. The cooperation of civil society in international community should be done to prevent from developing inhumane weapons and arms trade. Because it’s not possible to overcome the logic of military security and expand alternative security vision by the efforts of only one country or civil society. 


이글은 아시아 유럽 민중포럼(AEPF)에서 발표한 글입니다.

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