- Speeches & Published Materials
[Incumbent] Remarks at the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East (2.14.)
Remarks by Kang Kyung-wha
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea
at the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East
I would like to thank the United States and Poland for organizing this comprehensive forum to discuss ways toward a more peaceful and stable Middle East. I am very honored to speak at this luncheon, with a focus on the humanitarian dimensions of the conflicts at this lunch discussion. The humanitarian consequences of the conflicts are not just needs to be met, but the way humanitarian assistance is provided has implications for the way future peace and security shapes up. The foundation of peace and security in the region is peaceful and prosperous countries whose governments try hard and work together to leave no one behind, especially the most vulnerable, including the millions of refugees, internally displaced and others affected by the conflicts. They are not just caseloads for humanitarian assistance today, but must also be embraced as partners for reconstruction and development endeavors today and tomorrow if post-conflict peace and security is to be lasting.
Humanitarian challenges facing the Middle East
In my previous work in the UN in human rights and humanitarian assistance, I dealt with the human costs of the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq from their very beginnings on daily basis, visiting many hospitals and field operations, and I am deeply disheartened that the costs have only continued to climb year after year. I need not elaborate the details. Eight years of fighting in Syria has killed 350,000, collapsed its health care system, and flooded neighboring countries with over 5.6 million refugees. In Yemen, the conflict has pushed half its population to the brink of famine. Destroyed water infrastructure has led to a devastating cholera epidemic. In both, humanitarian assistance has become a tool for some of the warring parties that control access to population in need. Before Yemen, Syria was said to be the worst humanitarian nightmare of our lifetime. Now, Yemen is said to be the worst since WWII. Regardless of which is worse, this is shameful indictment on the inability of the international community to prevent and stop conflicts that generate such catastrophic consequences.
For humanitarians, it has been an endless catch-up game. Trying to do more every year as the needs continue to grow, only to see the gap between the needs and the assistance delivered widening even more. When I first joined OCHA in 2013, an appeal of $1 billion for a humanitarian crisis was an eye-popping figure. Now, we are about to launch a $4 billion appeal for Yemen. On top of the growing shortage in necessary resources, the daunting security obstacles and ravaged infrastructure have made the work eminently more challenging. Against these odds, international aid agencies and local actors are struggling. They must be enabled so that their work reaches those in need. The leadership of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator on the ground should be wholly supported, including by contributions to the country-based pooled funds and other innovative funding tools.
The Republic of Korea lies in another part of the globe, and we are not an influential player in the region. But my government’s commitment to the Middle East remains steadfast. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere. Since taking office, President Moon Jae-in has worked arduously to redouble Korea’s diplomatic, economic and cultural engagements in this region. We have consistently supported efforts to promote peace and security through political dialogue and reconciliation. At the same time, we have also prioritized humanitarian assistance and economic partnerships.
As foreign minister, I have taken particular interest in empowering local populations to rebuild their communities. My government is not a major donor yet, but we have steadily increased contributions to food and other humanitarian programs for Yemen and Syria. We have provided nearly 40 million U.S. dollars in humanitarian assistance to improve the lives of the Iraqi people. In 2018, Korea contributed five million U.S. dollars through UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) to support recovery efforts in the newly-liberated areas of Iraq.
Additionally, my government provided 14 million U.S. dollars last year to bolster the capacity of communities in Syria and its neighboring countries to resist ISIS. We have expanded assistance five-fold over the past five years – to 250 million U.S. dollars – to efforts to deal with the protracted refugee crisis in Syria and the region.
The challenges to peace and security in the Middle East are daunting, and may seem insurmountable. But they have become so by actions or inactions of successive leaders. Leaders must start to work the other way around. We witnessed such an attempt in the recent first-ever visit by the Pope to the Arabian Peninsula. Indeed, convention-defying leadership can change the course of history. This is happening in our corner of the world. Through bold, persistent leadership at the highest levels between South Korea, the United States and North Korea, we are on the cusp of opening a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula – after seven decades of conflict and hostilities.
My government looks forward to the second summit meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim of North Korea scheduled to take place in Hanoi in less than two weeks. We expect it to make significant strides along the road to realizing a nuclear-free, peaceful Korean Peninsula. That is a goal that all here will fully support, I am sure. And I do hope that the historical shift and the winds of peace blowing on the Korean Peninsula will remind all leaders to redouble our efforts to work towards a future of peace and security in the Middle East.