Christine Ahn is the founder of 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 organization's Executive Director, and a Ploughshares Fund grantee. In 2015, Ahn led 30 international women peacemakers from 15 countries across the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) from North Korea to South Korea, walking with thousands of Korean women on both sides of the DMZ. They held a women’s peace symposia in Pyongyang and Seoul and discussed the impact of the unresolved war on women’s lives. We are proud to share her answers to a few questions about her work and its impact on the reduction and eventual elimination of the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration in your work?
I'm incredibly inspired by the increasing calls for peace around the world by lawmakers, activists, and everyday people whose lives have been impacted by this long, unresolved Korean War. In July, there was a historic vote in US Congress as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, declaring that diplomacy is essential with North Korea and calling for an end to the Korean War. There was no opposition to this vote — which I believe is the first time Congress has ever made such a stance. Although we've still got a ways to go, it felt like a major breakthrough.
What can ordinary people do to further this cause?
Please send a letter to your representative urging them to support H.Res. 152, which calls for a formal end to the Korean War with a peace agreement. You can also join one of Korea Peace Now!’s regional groups to get involved with actions in your area. Everyone should sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to stay up to date on our activities and events. Of course, donations always enable us to keep building momentum and mobilize more voices calling for peace.
What progress has been made in keeping the world safe from the threat posed by nuclear weapons, no matter where that threat comes from?
Two years ago, Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea. Fast forward, Trump has met Kim Jong-Un three times and exchanged letters. Although there is understandable skepticism about this warming relationship, we're arguably far better off today than when they were threatening destruction. That said, we still haven't gotten to peace, and as a result, we're still seeing provocative US-ROK military exercises and North Korean missile tests.
Peace is the most important step toward denuclearization, and there's increasing recognition of that fact. Nearly 40 Members of Congress have co-sponsored a resolution to end the Korean War with a peace agreement, and Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for a peace agreement as the best path for American security.
Relations between North and South Korea have also improved markedly. 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. This put in motion the kind of steps toward peace that we had crossed the DMZ in 2015 for — soldiers from both sides shaking hands and removing guard posts, and the beginning of land-mine removal from the DMZ. The new reality is a tribute to Korean leaders and their determination to end the standoff that has separated their people for generations. But with talks stalled, the time is now for civil society and women’s groups to be involved in the peace process.
Studies show that whenever women are involved in the peace process, an agreement is both more likely and more durable. It’s why both the United Nations and the United States have passed resolutions calling for women to play active roles in conflict prevention, management, and resolution. As Gloria Steinem says, “We just need to get those agreements off paper and into action!”
What opportunity is there for progress in the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons?
All of the progress I mentioned above shows there is a huge opportunity to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. Much hinges on the US giving up its all-or-nothing demands for North Korea to unilaterally disarm before providing any sanctions relief, security guarantees, or other incentives. We need to agree to step-by-step, reciprocal, verifiable actions to advance denuclearization and peace. That includes building trust by, for example, agreeing to a freeze for freeze — no military exercises and no missile testing. We're building momentum toward this but we're not there yet. In the meantime, the US should steer clear of impeding progress in inter-Korean economic cooperation, which could also go a long way toward the eventual demilitarization and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Photo: Christine Ahn at a Ploughshares Fund "The Future of US Nuclear Policy" at the St. Regis, Washington, DC, November 14, 2018. Photo by Kaveh Sardari.