Christine Ahn is founder and International Coordinator of Ploughshares Fund grantee and partner, Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War, reunite families, and ensure women’s leadership in peace building. She is the co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island. Women Cross DMZ is a founding member of Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End War. She recently wrote an essay in our new report: "Women in the Room Where It Happens". This is part of a series of interviews in which you can get to know the authors of the essays in this report, A New Vision: Gender. Justice. National Security.
How can nuclear war be avoided?
To avoid nuclear war, we must first agree that nuclear weapons — and militarization in general — do not make us safer and, in fact, threaten everyone’s security, regardless of who has access to them. Secondly, history shows us that we cannot deter the proliferation of nuclear weapons using threats of force or other means of violence such as sanctions, which can have dire humanitarian consequences. To avoid war, we must focus on establishing peace, and this process should include disarmament and demilitarization on all sides.
The feminist approach to peace and security prioritizes negotiation, cooperation, and the redistribution of resources in order to achieve long-term solutions to conflict. This requires democratizing the peace process. Research shows that the participation of civil society groups, including women’s organizations, makes a peace agreement 36 percent more likely to succeed. And when women participate in peace processes, the resulting agreements are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.
Including women’s equal participation in all aspects of the peace process and decision-making is key to supporting a peace and security agenda that protects all people.
What inspires you to continue this work?
Although I’ve been disappointed at how establishment Democrats continue to push a hawkish agenda when it comes to North Korea, I’ve been heartened to see that several progressive members of Congress have introduced a resolution calling for an end to the Korean War and the establishment of a peace process. Even some conservatives are now aligned with our work and are pushing for engagement and lifting sanctions because they recognize that “maximum pressure” hasn’t worked and, in fact, has just exacerbated the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
On top of that, our work has gotten a lot more attention and validation from the mainstream media in recent years, which reflects an overall shift in attitudes toward peace, and there’s a whole generation of young activists who are smart, motivated, and passionate about this issue.
I'm inspired by the #metoo movement, especially in South Korea which is one of the largest and most powerful worldwide. These feminists are challenging deeply entrenched patriarchy which will undeniably transform Korean society and culture away from war and militarism.
Finally, Women Cross DMZ, along with Nobel Women’s Initiative, WILPF, and the Korean Women’s Movement for Peace, recently launched Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War, a global campaign focused on ending the Korean War and including women in the peace process. We helped bring a delegation of South Korean Parliamentarians and civil society to dialogue with US members of Congress on pushing the Korea peace process forward.
How can someone support your work?
Those who live in the United States can send a letter to their representative urging them to support HR 152 as well as legislation to help reunite Korean Americans with their families in North Korea. US residents can also join one of Korea Peace Now!’s regional groups. Those who live in Canada can support the reactivation of diplomatic relations with North Korea. Everyone should sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to stay up to date on our activities and events. And, of course, donations always help.
Beyond that, we need more people to support engagement with North Korea because ending the Korean War is in the security interest of the United States — not to mention millions of Koreans — as it will go a long way toward eliminating tension on the Korean Peninsula and halting the arms race that has helped fuel the nuclear crisis.
How do you measure progress in this field?
In the last two years we have made enormous strides toward peace. In the case of North Korea, we went from Trump threatening “fire and fury” to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and holding two summits — the first time a sitting US president has ever met with a North Korean leader. Although the Hanoi summit did not end in an agreement, on the table was the prospect of ending the Korean War and lifting sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang dismantling Yongbyon, which Siegfried Hecker, the foremost nuclear scientist calls the “heart” of North Korea’s nuclear program.
When we were crossing the DMZ in 2015, we called for an end to the Korean War with a peace agreement. We would have never imagined that four years later, 25 members of Congress introduced a resolution to end the Korean War with a peace agreement and that Senator Sanders, a leading presidential candidate, would make this video calling for a peace agreement as the best path for American security.
Even more hopeful, last year the two Koreas declared “there will be no more war” and committed to ceasing all hostile acts against each other and transforming the DMZ into a peace zone. According to recent polls, 9 out of 10 South Koreans want an end to the Korean War, and only 5 percent of 87,000 South Korean youth polled by the government considered North Korea an enemy.
And it’s not just South Korea changing its relationship with North Korea. Fifteen of the seventeen-member countries of the UN Command (all but the US and France) that fought during the Korean War have now normalized relations with North Korea, and almost all of them have established embassies in Pyongyang.
There’s also increasing recognition of the importance of including women in peace negotiations. Both UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the US’s Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017 recognize the crucial role that women play in conflict prevention, management, and resolution. As of December 2018, 79 countries — including the US and South Korea — have adopted National Action Plans for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325.
In addition, several countries, including Sweden and Canada, have also adapted feminist foreign policies, which aim to change structures in order to enhance the visibility of women and girls as actors of change.
Who inspires you?
The social movements in South Korea working for peace, reunification and democracy. It was their persistent mobilization which fueled the Candlelight Revolution where 16 million South Koreans – 1 in 3 – gathered on the streets of Gwanghwamun Square in the dead of winter and demanded the ouster of President Park Geun-hye. Their demand for justice ultimately led to her impeachment and paved the way for President Moon’s election, which shifted South Korea’s policy towards peace, diplomacy and engagement with North Korea. Most Americans don’t realize how young South Korea’s democracy actually is – that the first true democratic elections took place in 1997—and that for almost half a century the United States backed dictatorships in the south.
Last summer, I traveled to Jeju Island off the coast of Korea and met a survivor of the April 3, 1948 Jeju massacre, which was a democratic uprising to protest US military occupation in the south and two separate Korean elections. Despite being red-baited and silenced for so many decades, the courage of these families to continue to seek truth and justice for what happened is truly awe-inspiring and a reminder of the incredible resilience of the human spirit.
How do you think including more diverse voices will affect your field of work?
Having more diverse voices is fundamental to strengthening our work and improving the prospects for peace. Last year, Women Cross DMZ participated in a Northeast Asia roundtable that was attended by women from South and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, US and Canada. We shared strategies for ending the Korean War and ensuring women’s participation in the peace process. We committed to working together and taking concrete steps to move peace forward. Without those diverse voices, we wouldn’t have that broad and informed view in our global coalition of women. The unresolved Korean War has been justified by all the countries in the region to further militarize; women from the region committed to healing the past for future generations.
As feminist peacebuilders, we prioritize building bridges and spaces for discussion so people of diverse identities and experiences can play their rightful role in decision-making and helping shape the responses that affect their lives and communities. It is inspiring to see Korean-Americans take greater leadership in educating their communities, the US anti-war and peace movements, and Congress. As a new US foreign policy agenda gets shaped, it will be ever more urgent to include women’s voices, especially women of color whose homeland countries have been impacted by US policies, from globalization to war to immigration. These women help us understand how US foreign policy impacts their extended communities abroad and how perennial investment in war and militarization depletes our coffers that could be re-invested in things that give us genuine security.
What is the best book you read recently?
My problem is that I read multiple books at once! But the two that I am reading are Korea: Where the American Century Began by Michael Pembroke, an Australian historian whose father fought in the Korean War. He recounts how the current conflict between the US and North Korea has historic roots, was the first war the US lost after WWII, and became the first modern conflict with China. Pembroke also shows how the Korean conflict is America’s oldest unresolved war and has paved the way for never-ending military expenditures which is driving the arms race in Northeast Asia. To balance the heady historical nonfiction, I am also reading Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, a historical novel about two women from Jeju Island whose divergent family histories –one from a Japanese collaborator family and another from a haenyo (sea diver) family – impact their friendship. Its about women’s friendship and resilience. And to be honest, the best reading is actually at bedtime with my daughter when we can read some of the best stories, including books like Rebel Girls about women who changed our world!