Written by William Timpson, SoGES 2013-2014 Global Challenges Research Team member for Biodiversity Case Studies, and Fullbright Senior Specialist, Peace and Reconciliation Studies, School of Education, CSU
Just 31 miles north of Seoul is the site for high stakes dramas that periodically crescendo. This week had one such moment. As reported in The Korea Herald (Tue. Mar. 4, 2014): “North Korea on Monday (March 3) fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea in its latest saber-rattling apparently to protest the South Korean-U.S. military drills, Seoul’s Military Defense Minister said. Seoul called the move a ‘provocative action’ that further raised military tensions on the peninsula and violated a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting any launch using ballistic missile technologies. The North fired four ballistic missiles last Thursday and four ‘KN-09” rockets into the East Sea about a week earlier (1).”
High drama indeed. I am serving this semester as a Fulbright Scholar at Kyung Hee University’s Graduate Institute of Peace Studies (GIP) and teaching a class on peacemaking. GIP has its own campus in north Seoul with a dormitory, cafeteria, gym, library, and administration building with a separate mediation hall, all on meticulously manicured grounds. Every morning we gather for a brief student-lead talk, meditation, walk and/or exercises.
Despite this “saber rattling” from the north, most here do not seem that worried. They do not believe the North Koreans have the capacity to defeat the South and their American allies although they admit that, if it came to war, Seoul would be vulnerable. These threats from North Korea have been repeated so often that they have lost much of their ability to frighten anyone here.
One of my students is new to GIP. He has been in the army for ten years and has achieved the rank of captain. Like others, he is not that worried about the North but is very appreciative of American sacrifices in fighting the Korean War and then providing troops—now at nearly 30,000—ever since to help secure the peace.
A question I have is this: To what extent do North Korean “hawks” use the presence of these U.S. troops in South Korea to reinforce the iron grip they maintain on their politics, budgets and people? This is the kind of issue they explore at GIP.
Another of my students has completed his required military service and sees a real “weirdness” here. He remembers visiting China and being at the Beijing airport, waiting in line to board a flight to another city in China, when he noticed another line nearby for North Koreans on that same flight. Here in China they could stand next to each other but never back home.
Given that, another question I have is this: What will normalization, reconciliation or reunification require, especially in the absence of ongoing communication at every level? Again, this is the kind of issue they study at GIP.
I feel very fortunate to have landed at GIP. Because my students here come from so many different countries and discussions are very rich. For its contributions, the GIP was honored with the 1993 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. Provost Gi Bung Kwon says that he welcomes any student who has the ambition to make the world a better place and he can offer a full scholarship for the two years of required study.
Final question: How do we get this kind of investment in peace studies in the U.S.?
Bill Timpson is a professor at Colorado State University.