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Opinion Bold visions will bring permanent peace to the Korean Peninsula

Brian Mulroney is a former prime minister of Canada.

Editor’s note: The following is adapted from a speech at the Jeju Forum on “Re-engineering peace for Asia”, delivered on June 27 in Jeju, South Korea

“Re-engineering Peace for Asia” is an objective that is very much at the centre of world attention these days, and for good reason.

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The Singapore Summit was historic if only because it brought together the leaders of the United States and North Korea for the very first time. If you believe, as I do, that personalities can influence the direction of world affairs, you will undoubtedly agree that there is now hope that this beginning will create momentum for change and for re-engineering peace on the Korean Peninsula and the Asian region. Just imagine what a lasting peace would mean for the world as a whole.

Canada has a proud history of engagement – military, diplomatically and economically – with South Korea. The Korean War was one of the most significant chapters in Canada’s illustrious military and peacekeeping history. More than 26,000 Canadians served on land, sea and in the air during this bitter conflict, along with many others from 17 UN member states, most notably the United States. All operated under a formal UN mandate.

A total of 516 Canadians paid the ultimate sacrifice during the conflict. There are poignant monuments to their memory both in Ottawa and in Busan, not far from Jeju-do – where more than 300 Canadians are buried. Each monument depicts a volunteer Canadian solider and two South Korean children. The girl is holding a bouquet of maple leaves and the boy is holding a bouquet of maple leaves and roses of Sharon – South Korea’s national flower.

Before that conflict, Canada’s relations with Korea were quite limited, involving mainly missionaries teaching and providing health services. But, when the South was invaded in 1950, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent promptly chose to honour our staunch commitment to the United Nations and to the defence of peace and freedom.

I am proud to say that my government sustained that commitment fully from 1984 to 1993. During that period, Canada participated in all 16 UN peacekeeping missions and contributed more than 10 per cent of all troops assigned to those tasks.

Perhaps Canada’s most memorable engagement during the Korean War was in the Kapyong Valley during the spring of 1951. Along with Australian and American units, the Canadian infantry regiment held off advancing Chinese and North Korean forces in a gallant manner that earned a U.S. Presidential citation. That battle is commemorated annually at the National Cenotaph in Ottawa.

The Korean Peninsula is very much back in the global spotlight these days and we can only hope that the framework concluded at the Summit meeting in Singapore will eventually bear fruit for the good of the peninsula, this region and the world.

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After all, the nuclear threat to peace from North Korea is one of the most dangerous flashpoints for major conflict in the world today.

Just think what a better world we would have if bold leadership, vision and diplomatic skills can bring about a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

Canada stands solidly behind the efforts of President Donald Trump and we salute President Moon Jae-in for his tactful tenacity in nurturing this extraordinary summit.

The symbolic images from Singapore offer the promise of concrete progress but there is also reason for prudence. History compels us not to rush to judgment about the prospects because we have travelled this road several times with North Korea only to be disappointed when it failed to deliver on solemnly agreed commitments. That is why there is an absolute need for complete verification of any promises that are forthcoming. I will always remember U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s premise for arms negotiations with the former Soviet Union: “Trust but verify.” That principle is equally relevant today.

Simply by agreeing to meet, Kim Jong-un obtained an unprecedented degree of legitimacy, along with some relief on sanctions from his major supporter – China.

With the dialogue now under way, the “maximum pressure” which made it possible will inevitably wane. That is why we need to be clear-eyed and cautious about the prospect knowing that we are dealing with one of the most repressive regimes in the world, known infamously for the callous treatment of its own people.

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Mr. Trump observed, “This is a different time and this is a different president.”

It may be as well that Kim Jong-un is prepared to shift his country’s strategic goal away from a quest for more lethal arms – intended to ensure the security of his regime – to the pursuit of a more successful economy that would benefit his people.

Time will tell.

Several key elements – how to verify the pledge to denuclearization and make that agreement irreversible and when or on what basis the U.S. will lift economic sanctions are not yet clear. These are among the issues that are outstanding and that underscore the daunting challenges that lie ahead.

Another big question left in abeyance is how the interests of the biggest party not at the table – China – will become part of the negotiating process.

Mr. Trump says it will take six months or more to determine whether the effort will succeed. You might say he played his “trump” card – recognizing and legitimizing Mr. Kim in order to build trust on the agreed principles and generate momentum at the negotiating table.

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The United States does have massive economic leverage. That is, after all, what helped bring Mr. Kim to the bargaining table. Will the carrot of economic benefits be as convincing as the stick of sanctions?

Some foreign policy analysts were quick to point to what was missing as opposed to what was included in the agreement. Bruce Klinger, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation stated that, “Each of the four main points in the agreement were in previous documents concluded with North Korea – some in a stronger, more encompassing way.”

Nonetheless, I see reasons for optimism. No one would have believed 30 years ago that the Soviet Union would implode, that Eastern Europe would be able to embrace democracy and that Germany would be unified. It happened largely as a result of bold visionary leadership by key leaders at that time.

Astute political leadership can make good things happen. When there is a bold consensus at the top, pre-conceived obstacles to progress can be overcome. But the essential ingredient is mutual trust.

That is the key lesson I gained from direct involvement in those transformational changes in Europe almost three decades ago. Changes which few imagined possible at that time.

Never doubt what the oxygen of even a limited amount of freedom might do to unseal the craving of the North Korean people for relief from their hermetically sealed “Hermit Kingdom.”

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The yearning for peace, security and prosperity is palpable everywhere and the benefits could spread well beyond the peninsula.

Freedom is the essence of our values as democratic societies. It is what stimulates innovation and enables us to improve life for our citizens. It is, too, the most precious asset of our societies and what distinguishes our style of government from totalitarian regimes.

If the framework agreed at the Singapore Summit prompts a more productive dialogue, one that delivers tangible dividends in terms of real peace, the effects will be profound and have implications for the world as a whole.

In every sense, dialogue is more conducive to stability than the ever present threat of a nuclear holocaust. As Winston Churchill famously said: “Jaw, jaw is always better than war, war”.

As staunch allies, we should use every opportunity to impress upon the North Korean leadership the benefits they could achieve by becoming a more responsible member of the international community. Those advantages are apparent to anyone who can observe firsthand the dramatic differences today between North and South Korea.

Just imagine how much better the “Land of Morning Calm” could be if the hopes and aspirations inspired in Singapore were to become reality.

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This most noble endeavour offers the best hope for success and the best promise for a true peace since the end of the Korean War.

That is why there is every reason for us to be supportive of the goal.

That is also why the message from this Forum should be one of confidence and encouragement, urging the key players to be steadfast in using this symbolic opening to conclude genuine, verifiable commitments that will ensure a denuclearized, more peaceful and more prosperous Korea.

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