NAPCI: Solving the Asian Paradox

Remarks by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative Forum, Seoul, Republic of Korea

  • 28 Oct. 2014
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  • Last updated: 28 Oct. 2014 08:25

Amb. Alexander Vershbow, Deputy Secretary General of NATO

It is a great pleasure to be in Seoul and a great honor to speak here at the first Forum of the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative.  As you know, I served for three years as the U.S. Ambassador to Korea  up until 2008, so it’s wonderful to be back in this great country and dynamic city.  During my time as Ambassador, Korea was just beginning to establish itself as a major actor on the international stage, and to help transform the ROK-U.S. Alliance into a force for peace and prosperity around the world.  I am pleased to see that “Global Korea” is now not just a slogan, but a reality, and that Korea is leading the way in developing innovative ways to enhance security and stability in Northeast Asia and beyond. 

In my capacity as a NATO official, I would like to start by noting that as one of NATO’s global partners, The Republic of Korea has made many valuable contributions to our shared security.  You have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan; you led one of the most effective Provincial Reconstruction teams in Parwan, and are now running an important medical hospital there.  And as NATO shifts from a combat mission to a supporting role, Korea has generously pledged aid towards both the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghanistan’s future economic development.  Korea has complemented NATO’s counter-piracy efforts as well, providing naval escorts to merchant vessels passing through the waters off the Horn of Africa.  This country has not shied away from its responsibility to provide security, even well beyond its own region.  And I offer a sincere gamsahamnida (thank-you) for that strong commitment, from NATO and all 28 Allies.

Regrettably, the security situation has not changed that much since my time as Ambassador here on the Korean peninsula.  Although the leadership has changed in Pyongyang since my time, the DPRK continues to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, rather than fulfilling its commitment to denuclearization, and to foster tensions in the region.  And despite the close economic relationships among the major powers in Northeast Asia, political tensions and historical disputes continue to impede security cooperation in the region. 

That’s why this forum is so important.  Just as Korea has led the way in science and technology, in film-making and in music, I believe NAPCI can become a catalyst for international dialogue and cooperation – and I am proud to be here at this Forum to encourage nations to take up the challenge.

This brings us to what President Park calls the “Asian paradox.”  In Europe, political and economic integration have grown in tandem over the past seven decades – driven forward by organizations like the European Union, the OSCE, and NATO.  However, in Asia, and especially in Northeast Asia, countries have enjoyed tremendous economic integration and growth without a similar degree of political integration.  That’s not to say that Asia is without multilateral organizations – there are many – but none have fostered real political integration or systemic military cooperation.

Military cooperation is being addressed through another Korean initiative, the Seoul Defense Dialogue, where I will speak on Thursday.  But without closer political cooperation, as President Park said, a rising Asia could someday become a clashing Asia.  That would be a disaster not only for this region, but for the world.

Today I would like to give you my perspective on the lessons I’ve learned through multilateral cooperation – with some perspectives from my time in Seoul, in Washington, and in Brussels.  And I believe that two examples may hold particularly useful lessons for NAPCI.

The first is NATO. You probably know that NATO is a regional security organization built upon the principle of collective defense.  But NATO is also a community of shared values that fosters political cooperation to complement joint efforts on security issues.

Moreover, since the end of the Cold War, the Alliance has also become the hub of a global network of partners, including the Republic of Korea, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Mongolia.  Our flagship partnership initiative, the Partnership for Peace, began in 1994 to build trust and understanding, and to help partner countries in Central and Eastern Europe to meet the difficult challenges of reform (and for some, to prepare for NATO membership). 

Today, NATO has more than 50 partners all over the world.  We have different regional formats like the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Mediterranean Dialogue (with seven Middle East and North African states), and  the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (with four Gulf states).  These allow NATO Allies and partners to come together and share views, identify areas of mutual interest, and cooperate on a practical level – whether on crisis management or energy security, cyber defense, interoperability, fighting corruption, or countering terrorism.  By engaging partners in political dialogue and practical cooperation, we have helped to preserve peace, reinforce stability, and promote progress, across and even well beyond the Euro-Atlantic area.

Russia is an example where cooperation with NATO has not led to the peace and security we would like to see – at least not yet.  Although we can point to many bright spots in NATO’s cooperation with Russia (bringing peace to the Balkans, countering terrorism and proliferation), the picture today is very gloomy.  With its reckless actions against Ukraine and its intimidation of many of its other neighbors, Russia has left the path of cooperation in favor of confrontation and aggression.  And we very much regret this.

Our long-term objective still remains to encourage Russia to act responsibly and opt for cooperation; to be a country that works within the international community to solve common problems.  But to do so it must come back into compliance with the rules and it must respect the sovereignty of other nations, including their right to choose their own destiny – even if Russia disagrees with those choices.  Until such a time, Russia must know that it is isolated.

My second example of multilateral cooperation is one that President Park herself has often mentioned – the Helsinki Process that led to the creation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In many ways, the Helsinki Process, and all the work that followed, is a good template on how to build a multilateral organization out of political dialogue.  It started with a decision by Allies in 1967 to accept an invitation by the Soviet Union to a series of summits, structured to address a range of security issues.  It led to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, with its statement of ten basic principles – The Decalogue – to govern relations between nations, and a list of specific confidence-building measures and cooperative projects.

Let me stress how vital it is to begin with an agreed statement of principles.  The Decalogue includes the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and the peaceful settlement of disputes among participating States – principles that Russia seems to have forgotten in its dealings with Ukraine.  It provides a baseline for predictable and peaceful interstate behavior.

And while disputes have arisen throughout the history of the OSCE, the creation and maintenance of permanent forums for dialogue has played a useful role in some cases in preventing wider conflicts in the region.  The Forum for Security Cooperation in Vienna has been particularly useful to address hard security concerns.

Importantly for NAPCI, the Helsinki Final Act created one specific confidence-building measure that formed the kernel for what we now know as the Vienna Document. This measure began as a way to prevent military exercises from being misinterpreted as preparation for war.  It led to a significant set of confidence- and security-building measures, including annual exchanges of information about national holdings of heavy military equipment, prior notifications of significant deployments, on-site inspections and evaluation visits, and other measures intended to prevent unintentional war and to foster dialogue when war seemed inevitable.

The Helsinki Final Act has taken us on a journey that few could have imagined in 1975.  It led to the establishment of a permanent secretariat, the Conflict Prevention Centre of the OSCE in Vienna.  Its activities have been overwhelmingly positive.  For example, the OSCE sends civilian observers to monitor elections in participating States, report on media freedom and investigate human rights violations.  Over time, the OSCE has allowed us to chart where democratic legitimacy has taken root, identify where it has improved, and address where it has declined.

The OSCE is a stabilizing forum for security concerns.  It is a place to negotiate, agree and implement confidence- and security-building measures, both soft and hard.  It has built practical cooperation on transnational issues that individual countries cannot address on their own.  These include organized crime, terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, environmental challenges, pandemics and cyber threats.  It has even helped to prevent conflicts through greater military transparency, minimizing misunderstandings, and building trust throughout the Euro-Atlantic region.

The Helsinki Process brought together countries that were as far apart, if not farther apart, in their view of the world as the countries of this region.  I hope it can serve as an inspiration as the NAPCI process moves forward.

Building new security structures in Europe took decades to accomplish, and is still a work in progress.  Strategic patience and a long-term perspective were required.  I know that the Republic of Korea hopes to establish greater trust in this region, step-by-step, through confidence-building measures focused initially on the “soft” end of the security spectrum.  This is a prudent way forward.  Encouraging more people-to-people contacts is often rewarding.  This can create the foundation on which to address harder, military concerns as well.  Ultimately, both are needed.  Otherwise, you run the risk of losing soft security cooperation as soon as the first hard security challenge appears.  Having an outlet for such discussions can act as a stabilizing influence that facilitates peaceful cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,  I began by mentioning that, in Europe, political and economic integration have proceeded largely in tandem. But that was not always the case. There was a period where European economic integration was great but political cooperation was small. It was precisely 100 years ago, when the two biggest trading nations in the world, and the two greatest militaries in the world, were also the greatest rivals and with no means of institutional political dialogue. 

Then, in 1914, those two nations, the United Kingdom and Germany, waged a deadly and futile war that plunged the entire world into darkness.

That war is an example of what can happen when trade and economic integration are not matched by effective political dialogue and cooperation.  The stakes are no less high for this region today.  If NAPCI can serve as the catalyst for a lasting multilateral dialogue on security cooperation, then the region can look forward to a brighter, more peaceful future.

So, once again, I commend President Park for her wisdom and her vision, and for extending her hand in friendship to the wider region through NAPCI.  I wish you all the very best success in your important work this week and the coming years.