Talking Cents, Kevin McBride February 2013
Talking Cents is an ecumenical group charged by the Anglican Diocesan Council to promote an alternative to current economic and political thought, and to encourage debate within the church. Ministry units are encouraged to distribute these articles. This article is contributed by Kevin McBride of Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand
On the morning of Thursday 14 December, I was one of a group of delegates to a World Council of Churches (WCC) Working Party driving across the 38th parallel and into the Demilitarized Zone which still divides the Korean Peninsula into two vastly unequal countries. The Armistice which brought an end to the fighting in 1953 has, after 60 years, not resulted in a Peace Agreement, so in effect, the Cold War which led to the outbreak of hostilities, was resumed, not ended, by the armistice. Only the shooting stopped. This was dramatically brought home to us as we gazed across the border from the shelter of the public observation post into the bleak landscape to the North, aware that not too far away, North Korean observers were likewise gazing at us. In the -20C temperatures outside the building, it was not difficult to sense the continuing chilly division of the world into them and us, "good guys and bad guys", in an ongoing struggle for dominance.
The WCC Working Party had been called to develop plans for the next World Assembly which is to be held in Busan, South Korea, in October/November of this year. Its specific objective was to find ways to focus attention at the Busan gathering on the need to address ongoing issues relating to world peace and well-being arising from the continuing threats provided by nuclear arms and risky nuclear power. At the meeting, evidence was provided showing that a great number of the world's nuclear weapons are in the North-East Asia region together with the greatest number of operating nuclear power plants. This is a veritable time-bomb with the ever-present threat of both nuclear weapon use and, as the destruction of the Fukashima nuclear power plant showed, for damage from nuclear contamination. In spite of this, the situation is sustained by governments and corporations driven by what Pope John Paul II called "an overwhelming desire for profit and a thirst for power".
The sense of imminent danger has been intensified in the Asia-Pacific region over the first decade of this century by growing rivalry between US and China for dominance in the Pacific, by flare-ups over territory and resources (eg in the Spratley and Sensaku/Diaoyu islands) and by increasing awareness of the dangers provided by nuclear power plants, particularly in earthquake and tsunami-prone areas. Newly-elected leaders in both Japan and South Korea have taken more aggressive approaches than their predecessors, deepening fears of descent into a new Cold War in the region. Meanwhile, North Korea has done little to lessen the tension by successfully testing a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying its newly-developed nuclear weapons well into Japan and possibly further across the Pacific. This in turn, is used as an excuse to ship more US missiles into Japan and South Korea, the latter having 30,000 US troops to supplement the already extensive national military forces. "Immense resources are diverted from the basic needs of people to sustain armies and armaments on both sides of the demilitarized zone."
One of the issues which arose repeatedly at the Seoul consultation was the malign influence of outside interests on the lives of a nation of people. Some of the local people there had originated in North Korea and many had family and church connections across the artificial border. These families had lived through a history which saw an ancient, civilised and united nation invaded and dominated by Japan from 1910 until 1945 when it was divided between World War 'winners', US and USSR. Each of its competing dictatorial leaders, northern communist Il-Sung and southern capitalist Rhee, sought to re-unite the nation but only led it into a disastrous war, eventually halted by the 1953 Armistice. Following that, resources and support from the West developed the South into one of today's economic giants, whose 50 million people enjoy an advanced standard of living, with Seoul standing out as a thriving modern city. Meanwhile, as the USSR collapsed, China focussed on its own economic growth and international aid came and went, the 21 million people of the North have fallen into economic disaster, where harsh winters and famines have led to thousands of deaths and chronic malnutrition. What wealth has accrued has been diverted into countering a paranoic fear of attack by the West, particularly following US President George Bush including it in an "axis of evil" which, like Iraq and Iran, had to be excised. Currently, a nuclear-armed North faces a South "protected" by US weapons and troops and economically dependent on 24 nuclear power sites, some of which are considered beyond their use-by date. "In the midst of this insecurity, the people of Korea, in the North and the South, have stated their longing for a just and sustainable peace, normalization of relations on the peninsula, and the pursuit of peaceful steps to reunification." *
Somehow, all this 'us-them' confrontation was dramatically present on that chilly border on 14 December and brought to mind all the other 'us-them' divisions which rend and threaten our world. A recent visitor to Afghanistan brought back two quotations which illustrate this:"The powers will not let people live in peace" (Afghan elder in refugee camp 6 December 2012) and "Poverty is pushing people to take up arms" (member of Afghan Peace Volunteers). The experience of people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific would say the same.
In confronting such issues in Seoul, the WCC Working Party had two main challenges to put to the coming Busan Assembly and also to member churches world-wide: develop the concept of sang-saeng (living together in justice and peace)· initiate a process of exodus from the dangers and instability of the nuclear regime; exodus to the safety and shared human security of a nuclear-free world.*
Specifically, this would mean:
Developing an 'Exodus' concept as part of churches' understanding of nuclear threats, with special attention to the NE Asia context: exodus from nuclear dangers, threats and false security (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc); exodus to a world free of nuclear contamination and the risk of annihilation; an exodus from over-consumption and from lifestyles complicit with abundant energy production and pollution (widespread in Global North, growing in Global South); exodus to the freedom and responsibility of adopting safer, more just and more sustainable sources of energy; the need to abandon nuclear umbrellas and reject nuclear deterrence (Korea, Japan, Taiwan. Europe), while promoting cooperative security and advocating for more countries to join the growing nuclear-weapon-free zones. *
Currently, it seems that our churches too readily accept a world divided into us and them and thus condone the excessive expenditure on weapons and market values which promote profitable energy-production systems rather than utilising earth-and people-friendly options. We buy into the unsustainable status quo rather than seek alternatives which respect the integrity of Creation and the unity of humanity in all our diversity. If the recommendations of the Seoul Working Party are accepted, the coming World Council Assembly in Busan will challenge that position and lead us to take a far more proactive approach towards a nuclear-free, sustainable and peaceful world.
Maybe even to think of 'them and us' as 'we'.
*(WCC Nuclear Advocacy Consultation Working Party, Seoul 10-12 December 2012).
Received via Peace Movement Aotearoa