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Opinion

Korea in the UN Security Council

Korean Serenade - Lee Sang-Hwa - The Philippine Star

The United Nations holds a special place in my heart, a connection forged in the crucible of history and diplomacy. I embarked on my journey as a career diplomat in 1991, a year marked by the momentous membership of both Koreas in this august organization. This pivotal moment ignited my profound interest in the UN. In 2001, I was detailed to the ROK Mission to the UN, my first foreign assignment.

My path later led me to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, where I had the honor of working under Mr. Ban Ki-moon from 2007 to 2014. This period offered me a unique vantage point, allowing me to observe the intricate workings of the world body from both within its hallowed halls and from a global perspective.

Among all the sanctuaries within the UN, I am particularly fascinated by the Security Council chamber, a place where history is crafted and the fate of nations debated. Arguably the most important room in the world, the grand horseshoe-shaped conference table allows those around it to sit face-to-face as equals as they look at each other in the eye. It signifies the importance of parity and dialogue among nations in their common pursuit of peace. The large mural in the chamber, featuring a phoenix rising from the ashes of the world, illustrates efforts to emerge from a dark part of human history to achieve a brighter future.

With my mind wandering this historic chamber in flashback, I wonder how the current geopolitical landscape would be perceived and judged by the founding fathers of the UN. The war in Ukraine revealed the chronic paralysis of the Security Council. When I was at the UN, critics often lamented that the Security Council, responsible for maintaining international peace and security, had become part of the problem instead of the solution. So this mind-boggling reflection is especially relevant as world leaders gather for the Summit of the Future in September.

The inaction in the Council, amid deepening fault lines between democracies and authoritarian regimes, has created pockets of vacuum for other players, including the so-called Global South, to gain traction and influence. The elected members of the Council are also keen to break the impasse and make changes for humanity’s public good. The Republic of Korea, sitting in the Security Council for the third time for the term 2024-2025, assumes the presidency of the Council in the month of June. Korea’s journey from post-conflict devastation to a robust economy and vibrant democracy with the UN’s assistance could serve as a living example of what we can achieve together if we unite and rise to challenges as one. Korea is determined to make the Security Council live up to expectations.

Matters relating to the Korean Peninsula are, of course, the foremost priority for Korea. The Security Council met on May 31 to discuss North Korea’s latest military reconnaissance satellite launch on May 27. A number of Council members condemned Pyongyang’s continued provocations, noting that North Korea has launched well over 100 ballistic missiles since 2022. The Philippine government issued a strongly-worded statement on May 31 in which it condemned North Korea’s reckless behavior. In this regard, the Council’s failure to extend the mandate of the 1718 Committee’s Panel of Experts on the DPRK sanctions regime is deeply disappointing. For the past 14 years, the Panel had provided valuable information and recommendations on the implementation of sanctions against the world’s most serious nuclear proliferation threat, while conducting credible, fact-based investigations of Pyongyang’s unlawful weapons programs and sanctions evasion efforts. Under any circumstances, all UN member-states are obliged to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions. Back in 2016, the Philippine government set an exemplary precedent when it seized the North Korean ship Jin Teng in Subic Bay in line with tightened UN sanctions. It was the first reported instance of enforcement of UN sanctions against North Korea.

As the world faces pressing challenges, Korea is focusing on thematic issues such as peacekeeping and peacebuilding; cybersecurity; women, peace and security (WPS) and climate and security. I am confident that Korea and the Philippines can jointly deal with these issues head-on.

Our shared experiences from the Korean War have uniquely positioned the Philippines and Korea to nurture a strong partnership in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In 2010, Korea enacted the “UN Peacekeeping Operations Participation Act,” which allows it to establish and operate standing armed forces in support of UN peace operations. Korea also assumed the chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2017. The Philippines has been actively engaged in UN peacekeeping operations since 1963, deploying over 14,000 Filipino peacekeepers to 21 PKOs and special political missions. In commemorating the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on May 29, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines announced its plan to host a high-level international conference on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in October, highlighting the important role that women play in the maintenance of global peace.

The presidency of the Security Council allows a country to set the agenda for the world while giving it significant convening power. Such stewardship was demonstrated by the UK in 2007 when the Security Council held the first-ever debate on the “Impact of Climate Change on Peace and Security.” As Council president, in June, Korea will also bring the issues of our time to the forefront by convening a high-level open debate on cybersecurity chaired by Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul.

The last time the Philippines held an elected seat in the Council was for the term 2004-2005.

In a 2022 speech before the UN General Assembly, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged other nations to support the Philippines’ bid to enter the Security Council again, citing the success of its peace deal for BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). Given the Philippines’ proven record as a peace-loving country and its valuable contributions, coupled with an unwavering stance to uphold a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region, I believe the Philippines deserves a seat in the prestigious chamber again soon.

Korea’s commitment to enhanced roles and responsibilities in the Council aligns with its vision of becoming a Global Pivotal State. From the war in Ukraine and the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas to multiple crises such as a global pandemic, climate disaster, energy transition and food insecurity, the world faces unprecedented uncertainties.

Let me take a page from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall,” which envisions human solidarity in the darkest moments: “Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d. In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.” Now, more than ever, it is time to reinvigorate unity – unity of minds and unity of purpose.

 

 

Lee Sang-hwa is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines.

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