26 July 2018
Peace In Whose Time?
Korea, Japan, Russia… and Berwick-Upon-Tweed.
By Neil Tidmarsh
Tomorrow – Friday 27 July 2018 – will be the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice which brought the fighting in the Korean War to an end. The fighting, that is. Not the war itself. That can only be brought to a close by the signing of an official peace treaty, of course. So what we’ve had since 27 July 1953 is simply an extended ceasefire.
When they met on the border two months ago, the leaders of the North and South agreed to sign a peace treaty by the end of the year. That hasn’t happened yet, and although there’s still five months left for peace to officially break out, the equivocal stance taken by the North’s leadership since that meeting and the meeting with President Trump means that the Shaw Sheet would not suggest rushing down to the bookies and placing a tenner on it happening. So, technically, the war – which started in June 1950 – continues. Sixty-eight years and counting…
It’s not a unique situation, however. Israel and Syria have been at war since the foundation of the state of Israel (which Syria has never recognised) in 1948. There have been three outbreaks of armed conflict – the Arab/Israeli War of 1948, the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (not counting the current conflict which moved even closer to outright war this week with the shooting down of a Syrian warplane in Israel’s airspace) – but various armistices have ensured an uneasy cease-fire for most of the period. So that’s seventy years and counting…
And Russia and Japan have been at war ever since the latter stages of World War II. In August 1945, Russia entered the war against Japan on the side of the Allies, and the two countries have yet to sign a peace treaty. Various attempts have been made, but the disputed ownership of the Kiril Islands has scuppered the negotiations every time. The four Kiril Islands were Japanese before World War II but were taken by Russia in 1945. Japan insists on their return, but so far Russia has offered to hand back only the two smallest ones. President Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are due to meet for the first time this December, and the signing of a peace treaty is rumoured to be on the cards. (Interestingly, Shinzo Abe’s father – who was also prime minister of Japan – came close to pulling it off when he met Gorbachov in the 1970’s). So that’s seventy-three years and counting…
There is hope, however. History has a number of encouraging precedents.
The Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly were at war for 335 years, but peace was eventually agreed. In 1651, the Dutch Republic declared war on the islands because the English Royal Navy – based there during the English civil war – was harassing Dutch shipping. But this conflict was somehow overlooked or forgotten three years later and not included in the Treaty of Westminster which was signed by the Netherlands and the Commonwealth of England in 1654 to bring the First Anglo-Dutch War to an end. In April 1986, however, the Dutch ambassador visited the Scilly Islands and peace was at last officially concluded, no doubt to the great relief of the citizens of the Netherlands and the inhabitants of the Scilly Islands.
The town of Huéscar in Spain was at war with Denmark for 172 years before peace was eventually agreed. During the Napoleonic wars, when Spain was at war with France, the city declared war on Denmark when that country became an ally of France in 1809. Strangely enough, this declaration was ignored by the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1814) and the Congress of Vienna (1815) which brought the Napoleonic Wars to an end. It was completely forgotten until 1981, when a historian discovered the official document in a local archive. A peace treaty was promptly signed by the Danish ambassador and the mayor of Huéscar in November of that year, and thereafter the Danish nation and the people of Huéscar have at last been able to sleep soundly at night.
Montenegro and Japan were at war for 102 years before peace was officially agreed. In 1904, during the Russo-Japanese war, Russia’s ally Montenegro declared war on Japan. Montenegro never actually took part in the conflict, however, and wasn’t included in the peace treaty signed by Russia and Japan in 1905. Montenegro became part of Yugoslavia after World War II and part of Serbia following the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1980’s, but it became an independent state again in 2006 – and immediately signed a peace treaty with Japan.
Sadly, however, there has as yet been no resolution to the 164 year old state of war between Berwick-Upon-Tweed (population 12,000) and Russia. The inhabitants of England’s northernmost town believe that Berwick was specifically mentioned in Britain’s declaration of war against Russia in 1854 (yes, the Crimea, even then) because Berwick had always been mentioned separately in Acts of Parliament since the 1502 Treaty of Everlasting Peace between England and Scotland agreed that this disputed town was “of England but not in England”. By some oversight, however, the Treaty of Paris which ended the Crimean War in 1856 failed to include Berwick-Upon-Tweed by name, and so logically it was apparently excluded from the peace. The citizens of Berwick have been expecting an invasion ever since. Is President Putin aware of this? Did President Trump let it slip during his two-plus hours alone with Putin in Helsinki last week? Perhaps he did. Perhaps a sinister crowd of Slavic-speaking men, carrying arms and wearing mysterious uniforms without any insignia, is about to appear in front of Berwick Castle. Or perhaps peace negotiations are already underway in a secret location.
So, come on, you leaders of North and South Korea, of Israel and Syria, of Japan and Russia – and the mayor of Berwick-Upon-Tweed – get your diaries out, put your heads together and check dates; perhaps we can have not two but four long-awaited peace treaties signed in December. Let’s have some peace and goodwill for a change. Everyone free on the 25th, perhaps?