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Issue # 1409      6 May 2009

Peace Conference in South Korea

The 17th annual conference of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (GN) was held in Seoul, South Korea from April 16-19. I attended as a member of the GN Board, together with Harpreet Kalsi from the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition. We joined about 100 delegates from Korea and 25 other countries.

Our first day was a bus trip to visit the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) along the border between North (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and South Korea. We arrived in the middle of the intense controversy surrounding the DPRK’s launch of a rocket into space. The US and Japan used the launch to justify their own deployments of “missile defence” systems in the region, which are ultimately aimed at China and the DPRK.

Militarist rhetoric was everywhere as evidenced by one right-wing commentator from the US who said: “The lesson of North Korea’s rogue launch is that America needs more missile defense not less. Militarily and technologically, our adversaries can catch up with us only if we chose to stand still.”

Our trip to the DMZ was led by well-known photographer Si-Woo Lee who spent two months in a South Korean jail accused of “taking pictures” of the DMZ. He fasted for two months in protest. His case generated national and international support and he was ultimately acquitted and freed.

Lee has also has fought to win the right to sail small boats up the Han and Imjin rivers, directly into the border zone. The armistice agreement apparently refers to the land but not to the waterways so reunification activists claim they can sail without breaking the law.

Reunification

One out of four families in South Korea has relatives in the North. Thus the drive for peaceful reunification of the country is deep in the hearts of the people. Unfortunately, the US is expanding its military presence in South Korea and trying to drive the two nations further apart, while 60 percent of South Koreans want American bases closed and the US troops to leave the country.

Our group was allowed to enter the restricted civilian zone. Tourists visit and farming continues in this 40 kilometre area but other South Koreans are not allowed to enter.

We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant run by a collective of local women. The meal was prepared almost solely from food grown locally, including homemade tofu and many spiced vegetable dishes.

After lunch we visited an observatory where we could see the competing massive flags of North and South Korea on either side of a UN observation post and also Panmunjon where the armistice talks were held.

Land mines

On the way back to Seoul, we stopped at a faming village where several residents have been injured by land mines. The US use of land mines around the DMZ is denser than any other area of mines by a factor of ten, and is much denser than the DPRK mine fields.

Our host, Mr Lee, had worked for the nearby US base. When he left he began farming in order to pay for his six sons’ upbringing. He became a double-leg-amputee after disturbing a land mine while farming. Because farmers are forced to sign a disclaimer before they may farm in the restricted zone, he and the other victims received no compensation.

Mr Lee is bitter that he could not give his sons better lives. However, he had recently been told that the disclaimer he had to sign has no legal force and he is now receiving international assistance to lodge a claim for compensation.

Conference

On April 17 the conference proper began with welcomes from, Global Network chairman, and Marte Hellema from Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.

Dave Webb described the Global Network saying: “…we are a truly global network of 155 local groups from the US, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and of course Asia. Some of these are small local community groups, some are large regional, national or even international organisations but they are all working for peaceful change and they all recognise the dangers of the growing militarisation of space, the urgent need to reverse this and to keep space free from weapons and nuclear materials.”

Then Bruce Gagnon, GN secretary/coordinator, gave the keynote address. In this he quoted a May 2000 Washington Post article which stated:

“The Pentagon is looking at Asia as the most likely arena for future military conflict, or at least competition.” The article said the US would double its military presence in the region and essentially attempt to manage China.

Gagnon continued: “The same article quoted Princeton University political scientist Aaron Friedberg saying, ‘I think that, however reluctantly, we are beginning to face up to the fact that we are likely over the next few years to be engaged in an ongoing military competition with China…’

“The current US military transformation underway in South Korea is indeed a key element in this regional offensive strategy to contain China while disguising the military expansion as containment of a ‘hostile and aggressive’ North Korea.”

Space technology

Gagnon went on: “The entire US military empire is now tied together using space technology. With military satellites in space the US can see virtually everything on the Earth, can intercept all communications on the planet, and can target virtually any place on the Earth.

“Using new space technologies to co-ordinate and direct modern warfare also enables the military industrial complex to reap massive profits as they construct the architecture for space directed warfare.

“The deployment of Aegis destroyers in the Asia-Pacific region, ostensibly to protect against North Korean missile launches, gives the US greater ability to launch pre-emptive first-strike attacks on China.

“For the past several years the US Space Command has been war gaming such an attack on China, set in the year 2016. Using new space technologies during the computer exercise, that are now under development, the US hits China’s relatively small retaliatory nuclear capability in the first-strike attack. The expansion of ‘missile defence’ systems in Japan, South Korea, Australia and on US military platforms near China cannot do anything but create more regional tension and instability….

“Already in Northeast Asia, the largest militaries in the world confront each other. The US, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea spend about US$1 trillion a year on the military. We must back away from this deadly confrontation that is now underway or sooner or later there will be a tragic outcome.

“Obviously ‘missile defence’ and Star Wars technology are key systems that could help trigger a war. Our friends around the world are now working hard to stop their nations from becoming a part of this rush to a new arms race….

We need each other

“We need each other. None of us can shut down this global war machine alone. None of us can successfully reject this dangerous military arm of corporate globalisation without the assistance of our friends on the other side of our Mother Earth.

“We can no longer live alongside endless war and massive expenditures for a new arms race in space. We cannot effectively deal with the coming ravages of climate change and at the same time put weapons into space. We cannot provide health care to the people of our planet and build ‘missile defence’ systems. We cannot have quality education systems and spend our national treasuries on expensive new generations military satellites.

“We are tired of the fighting, the killing, the environmental contamination, and the fear that flows from militarism. We do not want corporate globalisation to become the 21st Century version of feudalism.

“We’ve seen the people of the world say over and over again that we want peace, real economic security and a sustainable environment….

“Our meeting here is another step in the direction of global peace. We must push aside our corrupt governments and have the people join hands in declaring that war is a thing of the past….

“Together we must stop this madness. There can be no more important task for our lives.”

Pyeongtaek

Physical evidence of the Asian-Pacific acceleration of US missile defence deployments were witnessed by conference participants when we took a second field trip on April 18 to Pyeongtaek where the US military is dramatically expanding an existing air base.

There we saw multiple launch vehicles for the PAC-3 – the latest version of the Patriot missile system that is now being deployed in South Korea and throughout Japan.

We also saw, just a few kilometres from civilian houses, huge bunkers containing fuel, ammunition and other armaments.

We were given a tour of the surrounding area, much of it farm land, that is being gobbled up by the US base that will grow from 8,999 to more than 23,000 American soldiers. The US is moving troops away from the DMZ onto this giant Air Force and Army “hub” base.

Farmers and local activists from the Pyeongtaek Peace Centre have been vigorously protesting against this expansion for several years. However the US and the Korean government ignores them.

Mugeon-ri

Our third field trip was on April 19 as we headed north to Mugeon-ri where US and South Korean forces are expanding another military area – this time for tank and Bradley fighting vehicle training. The US has already taken a huge area and now wants 30 square kilometres of additional land that will displace hundreds more farmers.

Since 1980 local farmers have been organising to resist the use of their land for warfare training. The symbol of their struggle is the beautiful white crane whose nesting sites will also be destroyed if the military training base is expanded.

Because Mugeon-ri is near to the DPRK border, and has similar terrain, the military training that goes on there is viewed by the Korean peace movement as a preparation for an attack by the US. So not only do the farmers face losing their lands but they also face the reality that their lands are being used to train to kill their relatives in nearby DPRK.

In 2002 two 15-year-old local schoolgirls, walking to a friend’s birthday party, were run over and killed on a narrow street in the nearby town by US tanks. To this day no one has been held responsible for their deaths.

The roads around Mugeon-ri are lined with yellow banners proclaiming their message: “We want to live in our home.” The people have lived on this land for more than 400 years.

Massive military expansion

The GN conference made it clear that we must all become more focused on preventing war in the Asia-Pacific as the US doubles its military presence in this part of the world. At a time when we should be dealing with the global economic crisis and the coming harsh reality of climate change, we have a Prime Minister who is planning the biggest military buildup in Australia since World War II.

This will cost about $100 billion, to be added over time to the current military spending of $62 million every day or $22 billion a year.

The Rudd government’s Defence White Paper contains plans to double the submarine fleet and buy or build eight warships armed with anti-missile systems, 100 new F-35 fighter planes, anti-submarine helicopters and unmanned drones.

This huge naval and air power build-up is intended to contribute to US plans for encirclement of China and to give Australia greater power to control events in the region.

In his conference speech Global Network board member Atsushi Fujioka from Japan, a professor of Economics in Kyoto reported: “In Japan the US Navy and Marine bases are shifting to Okinawa, the closest point to China. I think the major target of missile defence will not be North Korea, but China and Russia.”

Cut military spending

While the world suffers under the growing economic recession, leading armaments corporations and military contractors are still reporting super-profits.

Lockheed Martin raked in almost US$5 billion in profits in 2008. In January 2009 Raytheon predicted continued growth in sales and earnings. The UK’s BAE Systems boasted a 93 percent profit increase in 2008 due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

High military spending takes money away from employment, public health, education, housing, clean water, environmental protection, infrastructure projects, etc.

More and more weapons make Australia poorer, not safer.

It’s time to cut Australian military spending by at least ten per cent.



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