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13 March 2001

Northeast Asian consultation redefines "national security"

Meeting recently in Kyoto, Japan, an ecumenical consultation on Justice, Peace and People's Security in Northeast Asia has made a clear distinction between national security - traditionally defined as military security - and "people's security".

"From the perspective of faith", says the consultation report, "the security of all is judged by the shalom security of the poorest, the weakest, the excluded, the subjugated, the minjung... The plumbline of people's security is abundant life for 'the least of these' in a globalised world economy afflicted by extreme poverty, disease, injustice, environmental degradation and militarised hegemony."

The 26 February-3 March consultation, organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC), was attended by over 40 representatives of national Christian councils in Japan and Korea, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) as well as of ecumenical partners in Europe and North America - the Council for World Mission (CWM) sent both its moderator and its general secretary - and WCC staff. It was the third ecumenical consultation dealing with security issues in the region.

Already in 1977, a WCC consultation on militarism had suggested that "False notions of security blind the nations and they should be challenged. The peace we seek is... not merely the absence of war but... best defined in the biblical word shalom, which expresses a positive state of justice, mutual respect for differences, welfare, health, security..." This was a prophetic stance since, according to WCC International Relations programme executive Clement John from Pakistan, it foreshadowed what the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is saying today.

A landmark ecumenical consultation in 1984 focused on the nuclear threat and the division of Korea. It led the WCC to open a dialogue between Christians in the North and South on peaceful reunification. Over the years this dialogue has nudged the governments of the two Koreas closer to that goal. And although the Korean Christians' Federation (KCF) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea could not attend the Kyoto consultation, it sent warm greetings and encouraged participants once again to support peaceful reunification of Korea.

New Context
In its attempt to redefine "national security" in terms of "people's security", the Kyoto consultation noted both positive and negative changes in Northeast Asia since 1984.

On the positive side, repressive military dictatorships have been replaced by democratically elected governments; rapid progress in communication technologies has made it easier for civil society groups and people's movements to communicate and engage in common advocacy - what the consultation hailed as "globalisation from below". The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan drew attention to a growing number of transnational nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) working in the region and their positive influence for justice, peace and human rights.

Some of the negative effects of globalisation in the region - marginalisation/exclusion of workers, job and income insecurity - were highlighted by the CCC. Its report emphasised a need for common commitment to a better quality of life for all, and said that the economic benefits of globalisation should accrue to all, and that the environmental heritage must be protected for future generations.

Also on the negative side, the consultation noted that "Reliance on military solutions to human problems and divisions persists and, in some ways, has grown". It warned in particular that "Recent strategic directives coming from the US Pentagon have served to create new fears and insecurities in the region. New developments in missile defence (NMD and TMD), if implemented, will almost certainly lead to a new arms race."

In attempting to identify common understandings of the threats to their societies and at a time when the very notion of the nation-state is being questioned, consultation participants sought to identify ways to continue to consult together about alternative approaches to security in their region - alternatives that would replace reliance on nuclear weapons and military forces with new, people-based, security systems.

The consultation noted that such efforts fit within the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010 recently launched by the WCC, and determined that the Council should continue to provide a platform for dialogue and common action in high-tension areas like the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait.

"When you talk about people's security rather than military security", concludes John, "you begin to cover a whole range of issues... And addressing broad issues such as unemployment, that affect each country, brings these countries together to look at possible common solutions."

Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010)
At the Eighth Assembly of the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe, delegates representing more than 300 WCC member churches brought the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) into being. The Assembly declared that on issues of non-violence and reconciliation, the WCC should "work strategically with the churches... to create a culture of non-violence". The Decade, which was launched world-wide in February 2001, will build on already existing initiatives around the world, and offer a forum for sharing experiences and establishing relationships so as to learn from one another.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.