(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with Seoul Initiative, participants’ remarks)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) — South Korea pledged Tuesday to play a “leading” role in equipping U.N. peacekeepers with advanced technologies and medical capacity as it hosted a virtual U.N. peacekeeping ministerial forum meant to reinforce the global community’s commitments to strengthening their operations.
During the two-day 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, the country unveiled the “Seoul Initiative on Technology and Medical Capacity Building in Peacekeeping,” stressing its resolve to back the key U.N. mission in what it calls a complex, high-risk security environment.
The forum brought together foreign and defense ministers, and other senior officials from more than 150 countries as well as those from related international organizations.
“The Republic of Korea, in close cooperation with the U.N., intends to take an active leading role in supporting the advancement towards an ‘agile, data driven and, technology-enabled’ peacekeeping,” the document on the initiative reads.
The initiative came as Seoul has pursued a larger role to help foster sustainable peace in conflict-laden parts of the world on the back of its technological advancements at a time when the U.N. strives to make its peacekeeping operations (PKO) stronger, safer and more efficient.
In his opening remarks, Seoul’s top diplomat Chung Eui-yong underscored South Korea’s rise from the 1950-53 Korean War backed by the U.N. and its commitment to global peace.
“The 68 years that passed without outright conflict and the miraculous rise of the Republic of Korea from the ashes of war are true testaments to the value of the U.N. and a reminder of what its peacekeeping mandate can achieve for other conflict areas around the world,” Chung said.
“I hope our strong message for peace in Korea will resonate with others, where conflict is still ongoing, and give them hope that a peaceful and prosperous future is within reach,” he added.
Chung also highlighted Seoul’s dogged pursuit of lasting peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.
“An armistice can halt the hostilities, but it does not end the war nor establish peace. This is why my government is hoping to bring an end to this unnatural state of an ongoing 68-year armistice and replace it with a more permanent peace regime,” he said. “I believe that the Korean people deserve no less.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Suh Wook elaborated on Seoul’s plan for stronger commitments to U.N. PKO missions, including its decision to offer helicopters and promote a “smart camp model” aimed at providing a blueprint for “safer, more efficient and eco-friendly” U.N. units.
“Furthermore, we will contribute to medical training and medical capacity building for peacekeepers in areas that are experiencing continuous casualties,” Suh said in his opening speech.
“We will also proactively support capacity building of female peacekeepers and police officers, and increase their participation, which has become more important at the U.N. level,” he added.
In a congratulatory video message, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the participating countries to redouble their contributions to the PKO missions.
“As we face new threats and mounting challenges, I urge you to redouble your support for U.N. peacekeeping to succeed,” he said. “All of us must play our part.”
In the Seoul Initiative, South Korea has identified priority areas to maximize the potential of current and new technologies, and enhance the medical capacity of peacekeeping operations while urging U.N. member states to contribute to those areas.
The areas include supporting innovation of U.N. units to make them smarter in safety, communications, health care and other areas, and enhancing the medical capacity of PKO missions by providing financing, training and technology.
Among the in-person participants were three U.N. under-secretary-generals handling peace operations, operational support and management strategy — Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Atul Khare and Catherine Pollard, respectively.
It marked the first time for an Asian country to host the high-level PKO forum, which was launched in 2016 as a follow-up to the 2015 U.N. peacekeeping summit. The previous ministerial sessions took place in Britain in 2016, Canada in 2017 and at the U.N. in 2019.
The forum consists of key sessions on four major themes: sustaining peace; partnerships, training and capacity building; performance and accountability; and protection of civilians, and safety and security.
The first two sessions were livestreamed on YouTube and U.N. Web TV. The other two sessions are slated for Wednesday.
The Seoul gathering was initially set to proceed in an in-person format, but South Korea decided later to hold it virtually amid growing fears of the omicron COVID-19 strain.
The conference coincides with South Korea’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of its accession into the U.N. The two Koreas concurrently joined the world body on Sept. 17, 1991.