[Viewpoint] Security has its human side, too

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[Viewpoint] Security has its human side, too

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and ensuing demise of the Soviet Union and former Eastern European communist regimes brought an end to the Cold War between the Western and Eastern blocs.

It needs to be recalled that the Cold War, which lasted for half a century after the Second World War, did not come to an end by means of war, but rather through a comprehensive approach to security by the Western bloc which encompassed political, military and economic factors, as well as human aspects.

The path that led to the termination of the Cold War through the application of a comprehensive security concept including human rights was called the “Helsinki Process.” At a summit meeting in Helsinki in 1973, 35 states of the West and the East - including the United States and the Soviet Union - launched the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which adopted security concepts including human rights and basic freedom.

It provided grounds for the Western countries to intervene in human rights issues in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries and in the end, after several decades, brought about the collapse of the communist regimes. Conceptualization of human rights as a pillar of security was at that time an epoch-making security strategy that ran counter to conventional wisdom. It turned out to be a great success.

Can lessons learned from such an experience in the West be applied on the Korean Peninsula? Here, the European experience is distinguished by the following two features. First is a “multilateral framework” in which various players such as the states and international organizations take part. Second is a “comprehensive approach” through which consultations on security run the gamut of politico-military, economic and human issues.

With regard to the multilateral framework, there have been some attempts to establish a regional security framework in East Asia such as the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) and the six-party talks.

On the other hand, the concept of comprehensive security remains at a rudimentary stage in this region. While the concept of security for national populations touches upon human rights issues, along with other concerns such as poverty, epidemics and natural disasters, it has been considered only as a complement to state security, which, in turn, deals directly with human rights issues in the context of the comprehensive security concept.

Especially on the Korean Peninsula, human rights issues are not on the agenda of the Six-Party Talks, which mainly deal with the North Korean nuclear issue. The idea of a direct link between human rights and security is not yet widespread in Asia. Moreover, there were times when even raising human rights issues in relations with North Korea was regarded as taboo.

South Korea started participating in the CSCE activities in 1994 as a Partner for Cooperation with a view of learning from the European experiences and enhancing the international understanding of the security situation on and around the Korean Peninsula.

The CSCE transformed and expanded into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1995 in order to better respond to a newly changing security environment in the wake of the Cold War. It has since become the world’s largest security cooperation organization, comprised of 56 states including the United States, Russia and European countries, as well as 12 Asian and Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation.

Building upon the Helsinki Process, the OSCE takes a comprehensive approach to its three main dimensions of security, namely, politico-military, economic-environmental and human. The human dimension includes human rights, basic freedoms, democracy, rule of law and tolerance.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his speech at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on April 8 this year, advocated the view that there is no security without human rights. Today, it is generally accepted that human rights, as a universal value of mankind, is an indivisible element of security.

Even after the termination of the Cold War in Europe, so-called “frozen conflicts” still exist, which have arisen in areas of the former Soviet Union.

In order to prevent and resolve regional conflicts, as well as to strengthen its roles and functions in addressing new security threats such as terrorism, drugs and human trafficking, the OSCE has recently launched the “Corfu Process.”

It was named after the OSCE informal ministerial meeting held on Corfu Island, Greece, in June 2009, and reinforced the comprehensive approach to security that addresses the three dimensions of security.

The OSCE is convening an OSCE-Korea Conference on May 18-19, 2010, in Seoul. Regional security organizations such as the ARF and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia as well as the relevant NGOs are also invited to the conference.

Based on the comprehensive security approach of the OSCE, the conference will address the three aforementioned dimensions of security in greater detail. The human dimension session, for example, will touch upon women’s contribution to security.

This year’s OSCE-Korea Conference is expected to offer a meaningful opportunity to take a comprehensive approach to security in the Korean Peninsula. As I reflect on the situation there I feel the weight of Solzhenitsyn’s words more than ever: “It is time in the West to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is the Korean ambassador to Austria.

By Shim Yoon-joe
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