Reconciliation Means Having to Say You're Sorry

And other lessons Germany can teach Japan, China, and South Korea.

In late March, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Germany. While trade and investment were the main discussion topics, the remarkably coincidental visits of the two Asian powers are suggestive. In addition to new economic agreements, Germany may be offering something of even greater value to China and to South Korea: reconciliation with Japan.

Germany could help China and South Korea settle their decades-long disputes with Japan over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands in the East Sea, respectively, as well as other festering tensions over history and memory. The idea, bold as it may sound, arguably originated with China and South Korea, not Germany. Over the last month, Beijing has become outspoken about Germany's successful confrontation of its horrific role in World War II and the Holocaust, highlighting Japan's perceived inaction. China's ambassador in Berlin has compared Germany favorably to Japan, and Beijing reportedly asked Germany to emphasize its handling of the Holocaust during Xi's visit. Park did not discuss the Holocaust directly, but nevertheless argued -- before and during her visit -- that Japan could learn from Germany how to confront its history.

Germany prudently resisted Xi's and Park's overtures, preserving the country's role as a model for post-war reconciliation free of entanglements. Yet there is reason to think Germany may be receptive to serving as a mediator. It comes at a time when top German officials are calling for more engagement with East Asia. And Germany understands better than any other country how to confront complicated historical issues with neighbors and former foes. Germany could convene officials from Japan, China, and South Korea -- which dispute not only sovereignty over rocks and islets, but more so Japan's conduct during World War II -- in a neutral location, perhaps in low-key Bonn, where Germany initiated and developed its foreign policy of reconciliation more than 60 years ago.

There are several lessons that Germany could convey. The first is that reconciliation need not conform to the East Asian ideal. There is a tendency in East Asia to see reconciliation as perfect peace and harmony -- and therefore unattainable -- but Germany's was long, messy, and has not yet ended. Germany has shown a continuous, unyielding commitment to the survival, security, and prosperity of the Jewish state, for example. Nonetheless, since Germany first extended reparations to Israel more than 60 years ago, the two nations have had their share of disagreements and uncertainties, particularly over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Germany's relations with the Arab world, and policy toward Iran.

Second, Germany's reconciliation path shows that resolving territorial disputes need not be a threshold issue to cooling conflict. Before tensions flared in 2010, the Senkaku/Diaoyu question had sat on the shelf for several decades. It could be resolved now, or simply shelved again. The dispute over Takeshima/Dokdo has been recurrent, but a creative solution would be possible. In October 1956, Germany and France settled their dispute over the Saar, the territory of which had switched back and forth between Germany and France, through a referendum in which Saarlanders voted to join Germany. But Germany did not legally recognize Poland's western border until Germany reunified in 1990. And Germany and the Czech Republic still agree to disagree on when the 1938 Munich Agreement, through which Germany annexed the Sudetenland, became invalid -- the day the agreement was signed or the day Adolph Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. This has legal implications for the Sudeten Germans's citizenship and their ability to file claims for property confiscated by Czechoslovakia after World War II. Despite these disagreements, Germany enjoys deep political and societal partnerships with both Poland and the Czech Republic, which readily accept Germany as the effective leader of Europe. Reconciliation can thus resolve territorial disputes, but they are more easily resolved in broader processes that address historical and emotional issues. Territorial tiffs do not have to prevent more general reconciliation.

Third, Germany could provide key guidance on compensation. Japan insists the issue of war reparations was settled by the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations with South Korea and the 1972 Joint Communique with China -- and by subsequent economic assistance -- so it has rejected compensation claims from individual Korean and Chinese victims. Seoul and Beijing have highlighted the plight of "comfort women" -- sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army -- and forced laborers, who have received either inadequate or no recompense.

The German example demonstrates that both sides can address compensation long after the underlying crimes are committed, and without legal complications preventing resolution. Germany's understanding that compensation is a core element of reconciliation began with its Reparations Agreement with Israel in 1952, continued with domestic compensation and restitution laws for German citizens and former citizens, then extended to other agreements with Western European countries before German unification, and the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries thereafter. As late as 2000, Germany joined with private companies to compensate forced and slave laborers from World War II, mindful that their numbers were rapidly dwindling. Through it all, when domestic law or international agreements left some victims uncompensated, Germany established special funds and arrangements to rectify the exclusions.

Then there are the apologies. Japan's record is spotty: The 1993 Kono Statement on "comfort women," the 1995 Murayama Statement on Japan's need to learn from history, and the 2005 statement from then-Prime Minister Joichiri Koizumi on Japan's colonial rule and aggression are a good start. But they stand as islands in a sea of denial, not as markers in a consistent effort to face the past. None was followed by robust, concrete action. And later actions have undercut those statements, such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's April 2013 parsing of whether the term "aggression" should be used to describe Japan's wartime behavior and his December 2013 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where among millions of Japanese war dead, 14 convicted war criminals lie enshrined. Some Japanese right-wing politicians have called for Tokyo to revise or rescind the Kono and Murayama apologies. The Abe administration is reviewing the content of the statements, but with angry responses from China and South Korea and other international objections, Abe has resisted domestic pressure to change or dispense with them, at least for now.

Here again, Germany's success can be instructive. As early as September 1951, Germany acknowledged the crimes it had committed during World War II and recognized the suffering of its victims, beginning a process of repeated acknowledgement. Acceptance of the past was not always characterized by formal apologies sanctioned by cabinets or parliaments in advance. Instead, there were often statements of regret, either by individual leaders or in treaties and agreements, from German statesman Willy Brandt's 1970 kneeling at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial to the 1997 German-Czech Declaration.

The aggrieved party has usually responded with magnanimity and not forgiveness, often because there was a coordinated bilateral process of statement and calculated reply. For example, then-Chancellor Konrad Adenauer shared a September 1951 statement offering negotiations on compensation to Jews and Israel with Jewish leaders before he delivered it. All the parties could learn from the consistency and breadth of Germany's acknowledgement of its past. Comfort women and their supporters, whose concerns are high on Park's agenda, have demanded formal, official apologies. Acceptance of something more targeted, coming from someone who does not necessarily speak for all of Japan, might at least start a healthy process.

None of this will be easy. Although widely lauded now, Germany's reconciliation was almost always unpopular, both in Germany and in partner countries. Reconciliation requires visionary leaders in public and private spheres -- such as Adenauer, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, German President Richard von Weizsäcker, and Czech President Václav Havel -- willing to answer opponents and public opinion courageously and directly. Governments alone cannot produce reconciliation, but they can be instrumental in encouraging and channeling private energies, and responsive to initiatives from civil society that often occupies a moral space so necessary for cooperation after conflict.

It would be simplistic to assume that East Asia does not have or could not produce such leaders; they emerged when needed not only in Germany, but also in its former foes. Chinese, South Korean, and even Japanese practitioners and civil society actors have engaged with Germany to learn about the payment of compensation to victims and the work of bilateral textbook commissions, among other sensitive subjects. And both former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Park have referred explicitly to Franco-German relations as a model for what might be possible in East Asia. Sometimes, acute need forces visionary leaders committed to the future to emerge. In East Asia, that time is now.



America the Gentle Giant

How the United States can shape the world without boots on the ground and bombs in the air.  

Vladimir Putin's cynical efforts to annex Crimea and intimidate the fledgling government of Ukraine make it all too clear that naked aggression in world affairs is not a thing of the past. The United States and its allies must respond firmly when such aggression occurs. But there are other perhaps less dramatic instances of resorting to force of arms. These include unresolved disputes between states -- or ethnic, tribal, and religious disputes within states -- that degenerate into armed conflict.

In many instances these conflicts can be prevented, and there is every reason to try to do so. First, violent conflict has cascading security, political, and economic consequences in addition to offending universal values of justice and human dignity. Second, in most circumstances the use of military force alone provides no easy or attractive solutions. The United States, our allies and friends, and international institutions should therefore invest in equally effective means of preventing conflict, whether used in concert with or in lieu of force. These tools are necessary now. Trends such as the diffusion of global power, the rise of non-state actors, and the spread of potent technologies will only increase their relevance.

A strong national defense is essential to peace. But the use of force is costly, in both lives and dollars, and it is not appropriate to every task. When our nation does use force, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, the gains won by our troops are often best sustained using non-military means. Few things honor the sacrifice of our troops more than protecting what they fought for, and, wherever possible, keeping them out of war in the first place.

We urge the president, his administration, and the U.S. Congress to prioritize non-military efforts of conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution. Done well, such efforts can avert or reduce the need to use force while advancing U.S. interests in ways that are both potent and cost effective. They can help other countries resolve conflicts through politics and the rule of law rather than through violence, which devastates lives and livelihoods, and empowers extremists and criminals. They can help non-violent citizen movements address the drivers of conflict -- such as corruption and the violation of minority rights -- in their own societies.

Successful models do exist to manage conflict without violence and our nation should do more to support them.

The use of national dialogues, now being tried across the Arab world, has shown recent promise. To date, Tunisia is the clearest example of success, having peacefully transitioned from an elected Islamist-led government to a non-political technocratic government as the result of an inclusive national dialogue led by Tunisian civil society. We need to see this model applied elsewhere and determine whether outsiders can and should provide support.

Similarly, the 2013 presidential election in Kenya, a center of economic growth and a partner in the fight against extremist groups like Al Shabaab, might be a model. This election generally proceeded peacefully, despite violence during the previous election in 2007  that left more than 1,000 dead and 350,000 displaced. Kenyans, backed by an international coalition of governments, international organizations, and NGOs, engineered a massive "peaceful election" campaign that featured broad-based nonviolent coalitions that included religious figures, women, youth, and business leaders, among others. With key elections coming up in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Burma, we must see how to apply these methods to prevent electoral violence in these places.

Local efforts to contain rising extremism in Nigeria, a country with huge potential to become either the engine of Africa's future or a major exporter of violence and instability, have proven their ability to stanch radicalization. Mothers -- the ultimate front line of defense -- are learning to prevent extremism in their own homes and communities, and thereby prevent their children from falling prey to terrorist groups. We must invest in such locally-driven alternatives to violence so we can avoid the expensive military operations otherwise needed to fight a new generation of terrorists.

Consider efforts to digitize property records in Syria. We know from previous conflicts that violence can re-emerge when people displaced from their homes return to find them occupied and their ownership contested. And in Syria we know that extremists are actively seeking to destroy property records. For a relatively small cost, those records can be digitized by Syrian NGOs and stored outside the country, preventing new rounds of violence over property rights. If something this simple prevents lost lives, the approach is worth expanding, even as we consider more ambitious efforts to stop the horrendous levels of ongoing violence in Syria.

Non-violent efforts at conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution require not only greater support, but also a distinctive approach.

First, they require empowering others, particularly those in conflict zones, who can build the capacity to manage conflicts without sustained U.S. engagement. The goal is to help others help themselves, not to make the United States central to others' conflicts or to involve us indefinitely in foreign wars.

Second, they require deep knowledge of conflict zones plus expertise in how to prevent and mitigate conflicts. These are specialized skills that must be cultivated over a period of years, the same way we train our military forces well before they are needed.

Third, they require innovation and commitment to understand better what works and what doesn't in promoting peace. Peacebuilding must employ the same rigor that is now beginning to be applied in fields like global health -- and we need the self-discipline to abandon what is not working.

Fourth, they require public-private partnership and a willingness of government to support and act in concert with networks of businesses, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and universities -- especially those based in conflict zones. Peacebuilding must be a team sport.

Fifth, they require a sustained commitment of attention and resources. Complex conflicts rarely end quickly but a combination of politics, budget cycles, and the personnel policies of U.S. government agencies complicate efforts to take the long view. But a long-term, sustainable approach is precisely what these challenges require.

Finally, they require embracing exciting new tools for understanding and managing conflicts. Ushahidi, a Kenyan-based non-profit software company, developed crisis mapping tools widely used in Kenya during the last presidential election that are now embraced by groups ranging from the United Nations to the U.S. Defense Department. Advances in big data, combined with the rapid spread of cheap mobile technologies, are opening major new opportunities in peacebuilding. The United States should take the lead in developing and disseminating these new tools.

It is time to apply the same level of commitment and innovation to preventing, mitigating, and resolving armed conflict as we do to fighting wars. These are essential national security capabilities and enhancing them will save lives, conserve tax dollars, and reinforce America's image as a global force for peace. But we need to act now.

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