Thursday, June 20, 2024

Mongolia and Korean Unification: a Bridge Between North and South

From Communism to Democracy Mongolia is the exemplar for positive political change

Since Mongolia transitioned from communism to democracy it has been quietly working behind the scenes as a peacebuilder serving as a convening location for numerous talks, dialogues, processes, workshops, and forums.  June was a busy month with several events including the Ulaanbaatar (UB) Dialogue and the Mongolia Forum. The UB Process for Peace in Northeast Asia is ongoing. In addition, the U.S., the Republic of Korea, and Mongolia held talks on north Korean denuclearization. All have a common theme: working for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.  However, the “Mongolia Forum for Peace and Development in Northeast Asia and Korean Unification” is unique in that it advocates for a free and unified Korea as a path to peace and prosperity. 

The Mongolia Forum (June 20-24, 2023) is a Track II event for scholars, practitioners, journalists, and prominent members from civil society in many countries including Mongolia, Korea, China, Russia, India, the U.S., Japan, and Malaysia, and was organized by the NGO Blue Banner, led by the indefatigable Ambassador Jargalsaikhan Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia, with conveners the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), the One Korea Foundation (OKF), Action for Korea United, the Mongolian Forum for Korean Unification, and the National Strategy Institute of the Chungnam National University.  

The forum began with a retreat for all the speakers and conveners in the Gorkhi-Terelg National Park. For three days the participants held small working groups, one on one discussions and a plenary session while enjoying Mongolian culture and hospitality.  Despite the complexity of ongoing strategic competition and war around the world, candid but collegial engagement led to greater understanding of the issues from opposite viewpoints.  Discussions were wide ranging from nuclear weapons and ongoing conflicts to human rights to environmental issues, people to people engagement, tourism, and the continued evolution of civilization. 

Dialogues were informed by a common understanding of “hongik ingan” defined as “living for the greater benefit of humanity” which is the founding philosophy of Korea. It is a central feature of Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon’s “Korean Dream” which is a vision of a unified Korea “led by Korean civil society as the only way to solve the security, economic, and social problems created through the more than 70 years of division.” Most discussions centered around Korean unification. The presentations and discussions concluded that a unified Korea would contribute to Northeast Asia peace and stability as well as economic co-prosperity. 

The main conference focused on three topics:

  • “A Free and Unified Korea: Catalyst for Northeast Asia Peace and Development”
  • “Lessons from Mongolia’s Peaceful Transition for Northeast Asia Peace and Development”
  • “Role of Economy and Tourism for Northeast Asia Peace and Development”

This was followed by a very important session:

  • Mongolia Youth Leadership Forum “Moral and Innovative Entrepreneurship” 

Speakers from throughout the world presented thoughtful, creative, controversial, thought-provoking, and constructive ideas based on deep experience and knowledge in their respective areas of expertise.

The presentations and discussions were inspirational and personally reaffirmed my belief that the achievement of a free and unified Korea is the only acceptable durable political arrangement that will end the human rights abuses being committed in the north and the nuclear and missile threats against the South, Northeast Asia, and the world.  In fact, it is the nuclear threat and the human rights abuses that have paralyzed governments from focusing on unification.  In my opinion the only way to overcome this paralysis is by reversing the conventional wisdom of denuclearization first and then unification someday and focus on unification as the path to denuclearization, peace, and security in the region.

70 years ago the military leaders who signed the Armistice Agreement understood that there is no military solution to the end the 1950-1953 war.  Paragraph 60 called on all parties to come together to create a political solution to the “Korea question,” which is the unnatural division of the peninsula. For seventy years the governments have not been able to solve this problem.  The time is now for civil society to engage with like-minded organizations to challenge governments to drive a solution to the “Korea question.”  

There are two areas that civil society can immediately affect: human rights and the demand for information for the Korean people in the north.  The Korean people in the north are suffering terribly and every effort must be made to help them obtain relief.  Civil society must support the recommendations in the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) and set an example for governments to focus on human rights.  Human rights are not only a moral imperative but a national security issue because Kim Jong Un denies the human rights of the Korean people in the north in order to remain in power.

One of the human rights abuses identified in the COI is the isolation of the Korean people and the denial of the free flow of information into the north and to all Korean people. Escapees tell us there is a high demand for all types of information from the outside world.  Civil society can make a tremendous contribution to this effort by using four principles of information.

First, the people need massive quantities of information from entertainment to news reports.  They need information about the outside world.  They will benefit from understanding life in other countries so civil society members should send information about their own countries and cultures since they are not exposed to any of them due to the regime’s Propaganda and Agitation Department strictly controlling access to information.

Second, the people need practical information that is not filtered through the Juche ideology so they can implement best practices in agriculture, science, and market operations. They need educational curriculum untainted by the Juche ideology. They must be exposed to such concepts as land ownership which will be a key element of the unification process. In addition, they should be exposed to methods of collective action so they can improve their lives.

Third, they must have the truth.  There is no need for propaganda.  They need objective information about life in the north and South and around the world.

Fourth, they need understanding – they must understand what are the universal human rights to which they are entitled just as every human being on the planet.

One of the ways to conduct effective messaging to establish a Korean Escapee (Defector) Information Institute to harness the expertise of key communicators from the North to shape themes and messages and advise on all aspects of the information campaign.

The most important message to transmit to the Korean people living in the north is there are people around the world concerned with their welfare and who are working to help Koreans in the north and South to achieve unification as a path to peace and prosperity.  It is natural that Korea should follow in the footsteps of Mongolia and make a major political transition. Korean unification can serve as modern global beacon and inspire political change around the world as civil society collectively works for peace and prosperity.

Civil society and governments should have a vision of the future of Korea.  On April 26, 2023, Presidents Yoon and Biden established the vision for that both countries seek: “The two presidents are committed to build a better future for all Korean people and support a unified Korean Peninsula that is free and at peace.”  The two presidents have provided strategic clarity for their policy makers, strategists, and planners.

Civil society should seek a similar vision.  It must begin with the realization that the only way we are going to see an end to the nuclear program and military threats as well as the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity being committed against the Korean people living in the north is through achievement of unification and the establishment of a free and unified Korea.  This new Korea must be secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government based on individual liberty, free market economic principles, rule of law, and human rights as determined by the Korean people.  This is the vision for a free and unified Korea or in short, a United Republic of Korea (UROK).

Members of civil society in the South combined with escapees from the north should resurrect the 1919 Korean Declaration of Independence to serve as a foundational document for a United Republic of Korea.  These words still resonate for the Korean peninsula: ““We claim independence in the interest of the eternal and free development of our people and in accordance with the great movement for world reform based upon the awakening conscience of mankind.” They should begin work now on a new Constitution for a UROK.  By drafting a new Constitution these young Koreas will become the founding mothers and fathers of a UROK.

Members of civil society from around the world should continue to meet in Mongolia as long as Mongolian leaders desire to be both a bridge between north and South and are willing to help achieve political change.  Mongolia should be the focal point for candid exchanges of views among countries that have political differences yet recognize the importance of Korean unification to their country, the future of the region and the world.

It is clear that the participants in the Mongolian Forum seek the peaceful unification of Korea.  I would challenge all who support unification, from private citizens, to businesspeople, to public servants and government officials to examine their work and continually ask a single question: How does this action support achieving Korean unification?  It is time to overcome unification planning paralysis caused by nuclear weapons and threats of war and develop the necessary synergy among like-minded members of civil society to bring peace and security to the region.  Working together civil society can support Korea in achieving unification and a United Republic of Korea (UROK) that will be a model for political change in the 21st century.

Author profile
David Maxwell

David Maxwell is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel and has spent more than 30 years in Asia as a practitioner and specializes in Northeast Asian Security Affairs and irregular, unconventional and political warfare. He is the vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy and a senior fellow at the Global Peace Foundation (where he focuses on a free and unified Korea) and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the editor of Small Wars Journal.

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