Biodiversity in the DMZ Could Pave Way to Peace

Since the U.S. Navy shot down a North Korean vessel potentially carrying military cargo, it appears as though diplomatic relations are once again at a low point. Luckily, nature has provided the Korean peninsula a possible source of cooperation in one of the world’s most militarized spaces.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a 4-kilometer wide by 250-kilometer stretch of land that acts as a buffer-zone between North and South Korea. Since 1953, the DMZ has remained a restricted area for civilians from both countries; a no-man’s land between nations technically still at war. Due to its relative isolation, the DMZ is also one of the world’s most ecologically pristine spaces. This wilderness oasis should be used to form the basis of mutual cooperation in the Korean peninsula; both nations — and the entire international community — stand to benefit from a shared commitment to green politics.

Historically, the DMZ is a space defined by the countries’ tit-for-tat battle for military and diplomatic superiority.  Whether installing machine gun robots or waging small-scale skirmishes across the border, both countries view military build-up along the DMZ as integral to their national security. Former President Bill Clinton referred to the DMZ as “the scariest place on Earth.”

If there is a plus side to the DMZ’s hyper-militarization, surely it is the ecological diversity that flourished in the absence of sustained human contact for the past 57 years.

The DMZ is home to some of the world’s rarest species: white-naped cranes, Asiatic black bears, and possibly Korean tigers. However, the area is incredibly under-studied (despite its ecological significance) due to government restrictions on scientific research and the danger posed to scientists.

There are a number of dangers to the DMZ’s ecological health. Annual forest fires are assumed to be caused by animals triggering one of the 1.12 million landmines within the DMZ. Additionally, the DMZ will face increasing troubles as a result of South Korea’s population growth: deforestation from land development up to the administrative border is already causing flooding within the DMZ.

The DMZ represents the possibility of cooperation through equal commitment to environmental issues. If both countries acknowledge that the ecological diversity of the DMZ is worth preserving, it could provide a platform for future cooperation.

Ted Turner already suggested that North and South Korea need to work together to turn the DMZ into an international peace park. The 57-year standoff between the two countries is one of the last remaining symbols of the Cold War’s bipolar geopolitical confrontations; turning the DMZ into a symbol of peace would radically reverse this. With North Korea already a nuclear country, every avenue of cooperation is worth pursuing. By using the DMZ as a site of cooperation, perhaps the countries can find a common ground in the space that has separated them for so long.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Joshua Smeltzer

Joshua Smeltzer is interested in the intersection of violence, politics and geography. He is a senior at Colgate University, where he is majoring in Peace in Conflict Studies. In 2010, Joshua was a researcher for Colgate's Institute of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and spent the summer interviewing veterans throughout the United States for a project on military culture. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Joshua enjoys trail running and spending time outdoors.

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