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[Herald interview] ‘Denuclearization efforts on peninsula opportunity for nuclear free world’

Ahead of the inter-Korean summit this week, all eyes are again on the Korean Peninsula, as South Korea, the US and major powers strive to achieve denuclearization.

If the ongoing negotiations to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons succeeds, it would boost the decades-old campaign to make the world nuclear-free, according to Alyn Ware, global coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament.

“Here, we have an opportunity in Northeast Asia,” Ware said during an interview with The Korea Herald last week. “This involves North Korea, and South Korea and Japan, which rely on extended nuclear deterrence, and involves China, Russia and the US, all of whom have nuclear weapons and use this fact as part of their power play in this region.”

“If it works, which I think it can, it provides a much stronger morale that this could work in other difficult areas,” said the peace activist from New Zealand, calling the Korean Peninsula the most immediate “flashpoint” where nuclear war could start by “unpredictable” leaders.

“If this process moves ahead, not only could it ensure we don’t have a nuclear war break out here, but it could also provide a really good model for how to move other regions to phase out their reliance on nuclear weapons," he said. 
Alyn Ware, global coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. (Korea International Cooperation Agency)
Alyn Ware, global coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. (Korea International Cooperation Agency)
President Moon Jae-in, who has played a role in brokering talks between the US and North Korea in June, is flying to Pyongyang on Tuesday with a tougher task -- facilitating denuclearization talks by helping North Korea and the US narrow the gap over the sequence of denuclearization.

Ware said that the rare opportunity was created by Moon, whom he called a “visionary leader” in seeing the value of dialogue and resolving conflicts, and by US President Donald Trump, whom he described as taking pride in “achieving deals.”

With the correct diplomatic approach, the North will give up its nuclear weapons programs, he said. But a “simultaneous, incremental” approach might be needed in dealing with North Korea, as the countries involved have deep mistrust in each other, he added.

“It is not just about weapons and pressuring North Korea to give them up. It (the negotiation) has to engage a security issue behind ... why North Korea decided to withdraw from nonproliferation treaty,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of getting support from the parliament as well as key countries --China, Russia and Japan -- for agreements from the inter-Korean summits and US-North Korea summits to have a more stable and lasting framework.

Ware, who contributed to efforts to rid New Zealand of nuclear weapons in the 1980s and achieving a ruling from the International Court of Justice on the illegality of nuclear weapons in 1996, was in Seoul for the 12th Seoul ODA International Conference held on Thursday to discuss why the sustainable future for the world depends on nuclear disarmament.

During his four-day visit, he also met with South Korean lawmakers across the aisle to gather support for his campaign to make the world nuclear-free through diplomacy. 

“Nuclear weapons are primarily a political weapon,” he said, adding that the key to eliminating nuclear weapons from the world would depend on a shift in the norm that nuclear weapons serve as a deterrence and source of national security.

In 2017, more than 120 countries signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. No nuclear-armed countries, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, backed the treaty. 

“But with deterrence, you could slip into a nuclear exchange by accident, miscalculation,” he said.

Ware said that the world has already come a long way as governments across the globe and the public perceive the use of nuclear weapons as illegal and catastrophic -- the reason he has “hope” for a future without nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think it is going to happen tomorrow. They (the nuclear-armed states) will not give them up until they are more confident that they don’t need nuclear weapons,” he said, stressing the need to develop the norm of “cooperation” and “interconnectedness” to enhance national security.

The idea you have security by building up weapons is flawed, he said.

“More holistic idea of security brings in human security. Security is not just about protecting borders. It is also about what happens to people within the borders.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (