Reflections on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia

Perspectives from the Ulaanbaatar Process

The Ulaanbaatar Process — Making a Habit of Dialogue.

Caution, distrust, suspicion, threats, fierce rhetoric and fears of military escalation — Northeast Asia remains locked in Cold-War-era political interactions which pose very real threats of devastating violence. Coupled with an increasingly volatile geopolitical environment, the US administration’s aggressive posturing towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as an unprecedented global power shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, unpredictability is the new normal. At the heart of the region’s instability lies the lack of sustained and committed engagement and a shared vision of a secure and peaceful future.

Launched in 2003, the Six Party Talks involve China, the DPRK, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia, Japan and the United States of America (US). The Talks are the closest alternative to an institutional mechanism for regional peace and security, and have been widely perceived to be the best available tool for peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue in Northeast Asia. Various rounds did achieve some results, demonstrating that progress in regional engagement is possible. Yet the suspension of the Talks since 2009 and increasing calls for hard-line responses have left little room for the resumption of dialogue on a governmental level.

Since the suspension of the Talks, Track II and civil society initiatives have taken important steps toward renewed dialogue. With a foundation for constructive dialogue already developed by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict in the region (GPPAC-NEA) and with a neutral platform and location in Mongolia to convene the different parties, the Ulaanbaatar Process, convened by GPPAC-NEA and Mongolian NGO Blue Banner, is uniquely positioned to serve as an effective regional Track II dialogue.

Crucially, the Ulaanbaatar Process creates space for civil society perspectives from across the region, including both the DPRK and the ROK, to be heard in the same forum. Each civil society participant in the Ulaanbaatar Process brings a unique perspective on the struggle for stability in the Northeast Asian region, reflecting the fact that each of their nations has its own stake in a prospective peace.

Two Ulaanbaatar Process meetings have been held to date — the inaugural meeting took place in Mongolia on June 23–24, 2015 gathering peace activists and experts from China, Japan, DPRK, ROK, Russia, the US and Mongolia for a two-day open and frank discussion on Northeast Asian peace and security issues and the role that civil society can play in addressing them. The meeting saw constructive debate and knowledge-sharing on issues of concern to the entire region, including the creation of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, the replacement of the Korean War armistice with a permanent peace treaty and the role that the women and men of civil society can continue to play in helping achieve these goals.

The second meeting of the Ulaanbaatar Process was successfully convened in the Mongolian capital on November 14–16, 2016. This provided an opportunity for further dialogue on promoting peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, with a focus on efforts towards establishing a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, and discussion of how civil society can contribute to reducing tension, expanding engagement and cooperation, and building peace and stability in the region.

Reflections on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia — Perspectives from the Ulaanbaatar Process is a collection of essays which capture the diverse and uncompromised opinions, concerns, tensions and contradictions of a region in turmoil at the time of the 3rd Ulaanbaatar Process Meeting held on August 29–30, 2017.

The first chapter, Northeast Asian Security and a Vision for a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, explores Mongolia’s audacious decision to declare itself a single-state nuclear-weapon-free zone and the impact that an expanded zone of this nature could have on Northeast Asian Security. It will also explore the contentious issue of nuclear energy within the region and the implications that this may have on the efforts to achieve military denuclearization of the region.

In the second chapter, Korean Peninsula Security Issues and their Impact on Regional Stability, we examine the current state-of-play of the peninsula, frozen in a fragile armistice with inter-governmental relations stalled in a geopolitical impasse. What opportunities does the new Moon administration in the ROK present in this context? Can a new vision of Shared Security or the diplomacy of larger neighboring powers help to carve a new path towards peace? What pre-conditions for peace are required from the often-overlooked point of view of the DPRK? These questions will be addressed in this chapter.

The third chapter, Civil Society Dialogue and Multi-Track Diplomacy in Peacebuilding in Northeast Asia shifts the focus away from what governments can and cannot do. We explore the successes and challenges faced by non-governmental organizations in the context of peacebuilding, with a focus on the role of women and youth. The chapter also looks towards the neighboring region of Southeast Asia — with its own share of historical animosities, inequalities, allegiances and tensions — for precedents, cautions and inspiration for conflict resolution.

In the Epilogue, The Implications of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty for Northeast Asian Security, we look forward at the consequences of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Now that 122 nations have decided that nuclear weapons are not only immoral but also illegal, what recourse is left to nuclear-weapon states and those that depend on their security assurances? What are the next steps required to ensure that the legal ban translates into a practical denuclearization movement? And what does this mean for this region in particular?

The papers contained in this publication serve as a snapshot of the realities, fears, tensions and aspirations of a region in flux in 2017. The styles, opinions and visions contained in this publication are as diverse as the Northeast Asian region itself and the fact that they have been offered to us, willingly, and in good faith, is a modest yet significant testament to the success of the ongoing Ulaanbaatar Process experiment.

The Ulaanbaatar Process aims to make a habit of dialogue. In doing so, there is hope that civil society can contribute towards changing the prevailing narrative surrounding the contentious geopolitical relationships in the Northeast Asian region by promoting communication and cooperation. The Ulaanbaatar Process and this publication aim to demonstrate that sincere and constructive dialogue is possible in Northeast Asia, by establishing a safe space for participation from all countries.

Over the next thirteen weeks, one article from this publication will be shared here every week on Wednesday. Each installation represents one point of view, a thread in the tapestry of Northeast Asian Relations. Please visit this publication page every week to read more.

Anjeli Narandran
Editor, Reflections on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia

On behalf of the Conveners of the Ulaanbaatar Process
August 2017