The United States has downplayed the importance of including civil society in the peace talks between North and South Korea. However, civil society has a proven track record in this area: history and research show that by including civil society in negotiations, the strength and longevity of peace agreements are increased.
In The News:
“South Korean President Moon Jae-in this week issued a bold proposal for greater economic cooperation between the South and North, which unfortunately was met by skepticism in Washington.”
“What this skepticism fails to consider is that the Singapore Summit joint statementcommits the United States to establishing a new relationship with North Korea that reflects “the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.” This emphasis on the “desire of the peoples” speaks to the important role that civil society should play in negotiations to bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula. Indeed, civil society, including non-profits, faith leaders, and grassroots activists, has played a key rolein successful peace negotiations around the world. By democratizing the peace process, outcomes are more effective and sustainable. Research shows that civil society participation in developing peace agreements makes them 64 percent less likely to fail.”
“Thus, leaders on all sides of these talks would be wise to incorporate Korean civil society. As of yet, however, the US has largely failed to consider the implications of excluding Korean and US civil society in its nascent negotiations – a failure likely due to the US’ desire to seek North Korea’s total denuclearization, rather than the establishment of a peace regime as a means of securing the denuclearization of the entire peninsula. South Korean civil society was crucial to diplomatic breakthroughs with North Korea in the 1980s and 1990s. Civil society also helped foster cross-cultural exchange and better understanding between the two countries. For example, the first non-governmental meeting since the end of the Korean War was between Christian groups from the North and South. Because of its connections to the public and the government, civil society could both encourage public support for peace while directly advocating for the government to adopt a peace-centric policy towards North Korea.”
Support from Peace Science:
Supporting local agency and representation during peace talks is crucial to the strength and longevity of the peace agreement. Sustainable peace is rarely achieved through outside parties dictating the terms of an agreement.
Examples from Civil Society leaders in Colombia and Korea:
- Religious civil society leaders contributed to the Korean peace process in the 1990s.
- Civil society leaders have access to top-level (political) leadership as well as their grassroots constituents (vertical capacity).
- Civil society can use professional or religious associations to cut across the lines of conflict (horizontal capacity).
- Religious civil society actors can re-frame issues outside of the common conflict narrative.
- The interaction between advantageous structural conditions like a national peace process or peace movement and the individual agency of local leaders facilitated the emergence of civil resistance in Samaniego, Colombia.
Governments (either within the conflict or outside) often have a narrow understanding of the conflict compared to the understandings of local civil society leaders. In the context of the Kurdish conflict, research has specifically supported these theories:
- Nongovernmental/civil society experts have a more complete, homogenous, understanding of conflict than politicians do–where political divisions lead to a greater number of viewpoints on conflict among government actors.
- When there is general consensus on the cause(s) of a conflict, governmental and nongovernmental actors can more accurately direct services and attention to resolve the conflict.
- “Democratizing Peace On The Korean Peninsula” by Sarah Chin for InkStick Media. August 17, 2018.
- Peace Science Digest. Volume 2, Issue 5: “The Peacebuilding Role of Religious Civil Society Initiatives in the Korean Peninsula”; Volume 1, Issue 3: “Varying Success of Civil Resistance in Colombia“; Volume 3, Issue 1: “How Experts and Politicians Understand Conflict Differently”.