A CHALLENGING CONVERSATIONS SERIES: NORTH KOREA IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

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by Cailen Rodriguez
Staff Writer

This event was sponsored by the Institute of Arts and Humanities, Transnational Korean Studies and UCSD’s school of Global Policy and Strategy.

 

The small room buzzes with excitement as people of all ages file into the horizontal rows facing the front of the room. At the panel sit three distinguished speakers- Benoit Berthelier, Hyun Lee and Martin Hart-Landsberg. Also in attendance is Professor Stephan Haggard.

Martin Hart-Landsberg launches into his talk first by discussing that the recent interaction between South Korea and North Korea seems positive, but that the potential of these talks leading to peace and normalization depends on the actions of the United States government. While U.S. news firms and outlets demonize North Korea, he weaves the story of a reactive North Korea reaching out to an unrelenting, and even double-crossing, United States. To describe that, Hart-Landsberg makes one startling point. After the dissolve of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost all of its trading partners as Eastern European countries adopted capitalism. It found itself needing to normalize relations with the other countries, especially the United States. However, despite multiples attempts to achieve that goal, just as an agreement was about to be made, had been successfully achieved or was already underway, the United States would either close itself off to a dialogue or move the bar outside of the agreed upon bargaining range. After this, movement toward normalization would disintegrate again. At the same time, the U.S. would isolate North Korea in its relations with other countries. This was exemplified in North Korea’s trying (ultimately unsuccessfully) to join the IMF in order to establish trading points with other countries. Martin then makes the point that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is defensive, rather than offensive. He illustrates this in a few ways, first by noting that South Korea has outspent North Korea militarily every year since 1976. In 2016, the figure was $40 billion per year and $4 billion per year, respectively.

Then, he describes the six times North Korea has exploded nuclear bombs. The common theme: “the U.S. shows willingness to negotiate, North Korea responds, the U.S. steps back in some way or another, and in order to get the U.S. to respond again, North Korea pursues nuclear capacity.” At the same time, he says, North Korean nuclear tests come at times to illustrate that “the U.S. has to be responsible with agreements we’ve signed” (as opposed to moving the bar in a set agreement or reneging on its part of the deal). As for current U.S.-North Korea relations, with the ICBM tests, North Korea threatens to attack U.S. regions or states. However, Martin argues that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal should still be regarded as defensive, especially considering that the U.S. has led and continues to lead multiple war games in which it acts out an attack on North Korea. Under the Trump administration, Martin predicts that even if war is averted, such escalation of tension has a very high cost. He points out that Trump, as Obama, has responded to every North Korea nuclear missile launch/test with deepening sanctions. This comes in the form of a 90% cut in refined oil products, gasoline, etc, in addition to other material bans. This not only “undermines democratic possibilities in North Korea,” he says, but “helps fuel greater military spending and militarization in Japan, China, and the U.S., therefore cutting funds to much-needed domestic programs.” Finally, Hart-Landsberg concludes with the fact that there needs to be a change in the dynamics that drive NK-U.S. relations. Of course, this will not be an easy feat considering that the media in this country rarely provides a true picture of things; it predominantly converges upon this idea that “we have to follow the present option with North Korea: condemn and sanction.” That’s not actually true according to Martin, who urges that the United States engage in direct negotiations with all options on the table, rather than simply dismissing North Korea as the hermit kingdom, ruled by crazy people, hell-bent on war, who can’t be trusted to follow through on promises.

The next speaker is Hyun Lee. She begins with an anecdote. She says she grew up in Seoul during a time when South Korea was ruled by a dictatorship. Every year, there was a contest to draw a North Korean, whose basic outline included devil horns and a pitchfork. One day, after completing her drawing, she asked her mother and grandmother, “Do they really look like this?” They responded, seriously, by saying, “don’t ever say that in school”, which really meant “don’t ever question the official narrative.” After this, she describes her visit to North Korea in 2011. “It was unlike anything-everything- I’ve ever been told about North Korea. Interactions with people broke stereotypes about the country. People are very funny- great sense of humor, very down-to-earth.” She remembers expressing surprise when the tour guide assigned to her group knew who Harvey Milk was and “admired him for his revolutionary courage.” Her trip made her question the distorted views about the country which we are told. She combats this “dominant narrative” throughout her talk. Describing the economic crisis in the late 1990s-early 2000s as leaving “the country on the verge of collapse,” North Korea saw significant signs of “almost implausible” economic recovery by 2011. She shows pictures of high school students frolicking on a beach at Wonsan, a lazy Sunday afternoon on row boats on the Daedong River, and a bartender at a restaurant tending to a fully-stocked bar. “How is this possible considering all of the U.S. sanctions? Even if China is not complying fully, is it rational to believe that it is carrying all the weight? Controlling all the strings of North Korea?” she asks. Then she poses this thought experiment to the crowd: imagine that your income is cut by 80%. How would that impact you and what would you do to restart your life? What if a cherished family member dies? What if there was also significant heavy rains on top of that? Well, that, she says, is what happened to North Korea. The USSR dissolved, a beloved leader passes away, and there were massive floods. For many years, extraction of coal and minerals halts as all mines are under water. In order to bounce back, North Korea needed to pump out water to normalize production, but they didn’t have fuel (because of sanctions). Without fuel, they couldn’t irrigate their rice fields. Without coal, they couldn’t produce fertilizer. Agriculture was at a standstill. It took 15 years to restore the coal mines and restore production. She says that while North Koreans express pride in actually surviving the period called “the Arduous March”, they are reluctant to discuss those hard and turbulent times.

Hyun Lee argues that key policies provided salvation: first, North Korea adhered to a policy of self-reliance (to solve one’s problems with one’s own resources, skills, and not foreign powers), and second, there was a great emphasis placed upon science and technology. This emphasis is exemplified by the fact that North Korean scientists solved the water and fertilizer crises (in order to restart production) through “the construction of hundreds of miles of waterways through rugged mountainous terrain” primarily done through human labor.  They also developed a new way to produce fertilizer by gassing anthracite- a plentiful mineral in North Korea. Third, North Korea implemented sustainable farming and local food self-sufficiency. A building block of, if not all, most of North Korean society, whether that be university or military unit or large construction site, each unit has their own small-scale livestock farms and greenhouses. This even extends to the Satellite Scientists Residential Complex in Pyongyang has multiple closed loop production systems embedded in their small scale farms. At the same time, North Korea is becoming increasingly powered by geothermal and solar energy, as exhibited in the Pyongyang Vegetable Science Institute, adding to its bounding leaps forward.

For Hyun Lee, while the economy has a long way to go, North Korea has shown significant resilience in a few ways. First is found in the resilience of the North Korean people, themselves, in the rebuilding their economy. Second, she shows the art etched into the Sepo Mound in the Gangwon Province, via flower growth, that reads “become youthful blessed Earth.” She tells the crowd that this area is becoming a “mega-ranch,” therefore creating grassland and raising grazing animals because while North Korea has met its grain production goals, it now seeks to diversify its people’s diets. Third, she points out that North Korea remains below the global infant mortality rate depicted by the World Bank- and even at the height of the Arduous March, North Korea never exceeded that global average. In fact, its numbers are closer to that of more developed countries. At the same time, life expectancy is almost on par with global standards. Finally, she describes that the biggest obstacles to further development in North Korea are “sanctions, constant threats of war by the United States, and the need for North Korea to spend so much on deterrence.” Her talk ends with a video- that shouldn’t be surprising, but is- of a woman and two very eccentric, young girls dancing in the park on a weekend.

In the last half-hour of the presentation, Benoit Berthelier and Stephan Haggard open the discussion up with their own questions, before the audience weighs in. The looming question the audience has is articulated by Haggard, who poses his question in the form of a rebuttal. “You paint this picture of American ineptitude and failure as one-sided. North Korea has had its own share [of failures], as well. The story can’t be told through the malfeasance of U.S. foreign policy.” Haggard has three points. First, per Tillerson, “robust sanctions on the North Korean regime, are not only for strategic purposes of coming back to talks, but limit their pursuit of nuclear tech.” Second, he asserts that, on the contrary, the U.S. is open to holding negotiations with North Korea. And third, “if the U.S. policy toward North Korea-South Korea relations is misdirected, then will they be brought into broader discussions? Yes, there’s the Olympics, but what happens after? Potential for nothing!” He then asks us to recall the “freeze for freeze”, in which U.S.-South Korean military exercises would be stopped in exchange for North Korea’s halting of their nuclear/missile testing. It wouldn’t have to give up its stockpile. “They [North Korea] aren’t interested.”

Martin responds with, “To say that is false. North Korea has always said ‘we’re willing to put that on the table as long as other things are on the table.’” Here, he says that a peace treaty, end to sanctions, and normalization are recurrent themes because they never got them. “They went through two negotiations, in which they were the only party that gave something up,” he summarizes. In reference to maximum pressure on North Korea by U.S. foreign policy, Martin says it is “not inept, but successful- the U.S. is doing what it wants.” He asserts that such a pressurized policy “serves a very narrow set of interests.” As for the embargo and war games, Martin notes that U.S. claims to just be “practicing”, but asks “what are we practicing, with such enormous military strength?” Ultimately, he reiterates, “North Korea has been willing to give up a lot without the U.S. giving up a lot, and without following through… North Korean nuclear tests have always come as a response to an unwillingness of the U.S. to meet them.” Similarly, Hyun Lee remarks that she is “not trying to romanticize North Korea (or South Korea or the United States), but that it’s true that the U.S. has been the most disruptive to negotiations. North Korea wants a change of policy, the United States doesn’t; North Korea may want to revisit Sunshine negotiations, and the U.S. disrupts. We have to look very carefully about what’s being asked.” In regards to events last year, she says, “North Korea doesn’t know if the war games are just an exercise or a prelude to the real thing- the whole country is militarized. This has been going on for decades. There needs to be a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy. We cannot ask North Korea to denuclearize- and does the U.S. have moral grounds to demand that, as the greatest nuclear power and the only one that has used them against another country?” Finally she adds, “You know, this is nothing new- war tensions and threat of war. Except this time, Americans are the one’s faced with it.”

Picture Reference: North Korea in the Age of Trump. UCSD, 2018.

GLOBAL FORUM REVIEW: ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS AND A DIVIDED JERUSALEM

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by Sneha Naren
Staff Writer

International House (I-House) is a residential community on UCSD’s campus that houses domestic and international students and organizes programs which foster multicultural curiosity and understanding. Global Forums which explore topics of international and local interest are held weekly in the Great Hall. The following information was discussed at the Global Forum on Jan. 31, 2018.

At International House’s most recent Global Forum, Professor Gary Fields, an instructor in UCSD’s communications department, led a discussion over his new book “Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror.” The book speaks about the nature of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, while also addressing the broader question of a country’s right to power. Fields’ talk came just months after President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decided to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In his book, Fields discusses the developments in the conflict which led to Trump’s decision.

Fields began by associating Israel’s takeover of Palestine with the idea of “imaginative geography.” This concept doesn’t necessarily entail lying or fantasy, but rather a difference in perception. Countries may perceive that a piece of land rightfully belongs to them, even if this notion has little factual basis. This creates a conflict of interest, in which multiple countries may believe that they have the right to own an area of land. In the case of Israel and Palestine, imaginative geography heightened tension between the two groups and eventually led to the crisis we know of today. According to Fields, this concept of rightful ownership is one which groups have fallen victim to for centuries. When observing how British expansion was justified during the colonial period, he cited John Winthrop, who stated that “if you leave natives sufficient land, then you can lawfully take the rest.” It was this justification that permitted British colonialism, and it is the same idea that is allowing the enclosure of Palestine.

A key aspect in Field’s lecture was to shed light on the unfortunate circumstances which the Palestinian’s had undergone since the war of 1967, which marked the beginning of Israel’s settlements into Palestine. This unorthodox opinion vastly contradicts the traditionally held view of the U.S., where 54% of the population supports Israel. The information which Fields provided further emphasized the failure of the two groups to co-exist together in an idealistic two-state society.

The injustice done to Palestine begins with the unlawful settlements over the West Bank and Gaza strip in 1967. Under the authority of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yigal Allon, the “Allon Plan” was formed. Here, it was stated that Israel would annex most of the West Bank, claiming that the establishment of Israeli sovereignty was necessary for Israel’s defence. While this area is technically controlled by Israel, it contains a Palestinian majority, making the settlement by Israeli citizens controversial. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention states that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its population into the territories that it occupies,” yet, this is exactly what Israel did.  With the help of a civilian run right-wing activist group, by the name of “Gush Emunim,” Israel was able to establish settlements in Palestinian majority terrority. The settlements started as Nahal settlements, which entailed first setting up a line of military defense to make it seem like these settlements were only temporary. They then expanded into full civilian settlements.

The first settlement was Kfar Etzion in 1967. The land was confiscated through military order, implying that it would be used for military use alone. However, it became a civilian settlement. Israel expanded far into Palestine under the guise of military order, until the Elon Moreh settlement in the mid-1970s. Here, the Palestinian civilians of Elon Moreh rebelled against the Israelis. The incident was taken to court, where the Israeli government deemed the act as unlawful, stating that while military order is temporary, a civilian settlement is permanent. This effectively ended the use of military order by the Israelis to settle in Palestine. However, unlawful Israeli expansion continued. The Israeli government began to take control of “dead land,”which was defined as areas in which less than 50% of the land was cultivated. As shown in Fields’ presentation, the geographical nature of Palestine creates land formations that hold a majority of dead land. The Israelis used this to their advantage and expanded deep into the Palestinian West Bank, essentially creating a Greater Jerusalem.

Fields, having pursued a career in urban planning, provided a unique and informative take on the architecture and structures of Palestine. Equipped with personal photographs of his time in Palestine, he was able to clearly illustrate the division of the state. The Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem are separated only by a highway, yet the standards of living between the two regions are vastly different. The Israeli-Palestinian governments established a joint committee, termed as the “Joint Water Committee,” whose goals were to regulate the use of water sources surrounding the area, and manage sewage related infrastructure. The committee, however, remains largely biased towards the Israeli government, thus limiting the development and expansion of Palestinian water infrastructure. It also leads to unequal division of resources between the two states, giving the majority of the water to the Jewish West side. Recently, the two states formed another deal, giving the West almost complete control of the water distribution in the state. This will have serious effects on the conflict, as the Palestinians must give even more power to Israel. Today, those on the Palestinian East side only receive an inflow of water every two or three days. The houses are thus marked with black water tanks on their roofs, where water is stored periodically.

The inequality within divided Jerusalem doesn’t stop with water. The Palestinians in the East face serious difficulties in receiving housing permits. In the state, each housing permit must be issued by the municipality to the landowner who is requesting it. Unfortunately, due to the Israeli power in the state, most of the Palestinian applicants get rejected for housing permits, for no reason other than political bias. Because of this, Palestinians are  forced to build their houses illegally, thus leading to the unjust demolition of their houses.

By the end of Fields’ talk, the audience was left wondering who to support in the conflict. On one hand, we were presented with numerous facts of the injustice Israelis committed against Palestinians. On the other hand, Fields consistently brought up the idea of imaginative geography as a kind of self-justification of the Israeli acts.

When asked whether he thought that the conflict over Jerusalem was simply a battle over Israel’s strong belief in their right to ownership, he said yes. “I think the reason imaginative geography is so formidable is because the parties truly believe in it.” Fields strongly supported the notion that people don’t lie about their imaginative geography, but rather, they believe the justifications which they form. If both nations do believe in their right to the land, then is anyone actually in the wrong? Where do we draw the line between what we “deserve” and what is “right”? Finally, is it ever possible for two conflicting nations to co-exist in a two-state society?

These are all questions that swarmed my mind after the discussion. While we may never fully know the answers, the forum did aid in proving that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-layered phenomenon that expands much further than the black and white picture that it is painted to be.

THE SUN SETS ON ISIS’S MOSULI CALIPHATE

 

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Bailey Marsheck
Staff Writer

Exploding car bombs and ill-advised U.S. airstrikes have demolished the streets of what was once the proud city of Mosul, ISIS’s last major stronghold in Iraq. What remains is a war zone and one that ISIS cannot claim ownership over for much longer. As the American-backed coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish forces inch ever closer to its goal of recapturing the city, the Islamic State’s worldwide ambitions appear headed toward an impasse. The integrity of its Northern Iraqi caliphate is waning as it lies besieged amid the narrow alleyways and IED-strewn choke points of western Mosul. Its forces have employed increasingly destructive defense tactics that threaten both the anti-ISIS coalition and the city’s own residents through its clawing and foot-dragging “scorch-the-earth” exit. Losing Mosul spells strategic and symbolic doom for the caliphate’s goal of uniting the world under extremist Muslim rule. Fitttingly, ISIS’s metaphorical sun dims exactly where the group rose to prominence two years ago: in the shadow of Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri.
Previously known for its historical significance and as a center of learning, Mosul became the heart of the Islamic State’s spread across the Middle East when the extremist group defeated Iraqi Army ground forces in 2014 and took possession of the city. At the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri in the center of Mosul, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed ISIS to be a global caliphate and installed himself as caliph. This has been subsequently followed by over two years of rule under ISIS’s extremist interpretation of sharia law. It was at this point that ISIS became a credible threat and one that fellow terrorist organizations like Boko Haram began allying themselves with. The city has served as a base for their operations, in conjunction with the caliphate’s Syrian headquarters in Raqqa, from which ISIS controls its territories in the two countries. The looting of a central bank for $425 million dollars and profit from Mosul’s lucrative oil fields have helped to fund the Islamic State’s weapons purchases and recruitment of new members. When the Iraqi army began coordinating with Kurdish forces in 2016 to converge on Mosul, it took over 3 months for the coalition to recapture the eastern side of the city. The Western Mosuli campaign finally appears to be in its final stages after seven months of heavy combat, with coalition forces now pushing into the last occupied districts. Iraqi Lt Gen Othman al-Ghanim recently predicted that the coalition could completely overtake the city in a matter of days.

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U.S. forces provide artillery support in the coalition’s fight against ISIS

Despite the recent positive developments, ISIS saw its destructive agenda completed and found a surprising ally through the questionable actions of the U.S. military. On March 17, a U.S. airstrike allegedly decimated buildings in hopes of helping coalition forces oust ISIS from its cover within the city. Over 150 civilians were killed in a single strike, making it one of the most fatal in U.S. history in terms of civilian casualties. Such casualties caused by U.S. intervention in the Middle East have shown time and time again to breed further extremism, feeding directly into ISIS’s anti-Western rhetoric and call to arms. There were never official designations over what caused the building containing these civilians to collapse, but U.S. military forensic units have strong conflicts of interests in investigating their own actions. Some within the U.S. defense sphere blame ISIS for blowing up the building and herding civilians inside in order to frame American forces. Indeed, ISIS has trapped civilians inside buildings to deter or incriminate American air support since then, but the anti-ISIS coalition is now wise to the ploy. Beyond the threat of U.S. bombings, the lives of common citizens are further endangered by ISIS’s guerilla tactics like the use of humans shields and the holding of civilian hostages. Aid to the city can scarcely get in without the threat of appropriation by ISIS. Additionally, the acceptance of Mosuli refugees runs the risk of harboring fleeing militants in disguise.

The offensive has been a tactical nightmare for the allied coalition. ISIS snipers, sarin gas, incessant car bombs and an intensified media spotlight have contributed to slowing the allie’s advance in Mosul to a hesitant crawl. When anti-ISIS forces reclaimed parts of the city that had been previously under the Islamic State’s control, they discovered holes created between houses and tunnels beneath the streets that allowed personnel and supplies to move without aerial detection. The allied forces also discovered a garage which specialized in outfitting vehicles for suicide bombings, altering them to be bulletproof and avoid surveillance. These factors lead to difficult decisions regarding how much time and how many soldiers’ lives the coalition is willing to give up in order to capture Mosul. The respective cost in delaying progress, however, is larger still. ISIS has become more indiscriminate with its use of force as its defenses have failed. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin reports that civilian collateral casualties per week are, “in the hundreds with evidence showing that’s increasing.”

Without Mosul, ISIS would be without its biggest source of prestige, economic support and coordination center. Control of Mosul is central to the group’s legitimacy as Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s jumping off point. The caliphate’s official title as the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” would lose both its accuracy and its sense of attraction among certain circles due to the group’s inability to control any significant portion of Iraq. This would be a major hit to ISIS’s recruitment abilities, despite being counterbalanced by potential anti-American sentiment following the mass civilian airstrike. Without a means of bringing new recruits into the organization, the group’s influence would likely dwindle and dissipate. The group already lost control of the city’s oil fields earlier in the campaign. ISIS fighters have reportedly stopped receiving payment as the organization has run out of money. The extortion of civilians within Mosul, not uncommon in similar situations, is difficult when there are battles to fight and the city is essentially starved.

Mosul’s strategic position in Northern Iraq once made it invaluable in controlling the group’s territories in Northeastern Iraq and Northwestern Syria. The city’s close proximity to the Syrian border was useful in working in tandem with ISIS’s remaining major city and new de-facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. But what was once an advantage is now a liability, as the city’s position between the northern Kurds and southern Iraqis encouraged the formation of an opposing coalition that was otherwise unlikely. The loss of Mosul will shake the group’s very identity and serve as a huge blow to ISIS’s chances of establishing the globe-encompassing Islamic state that it seeks.

As the tides continue to tip in favor of the Iraqi coalition, the focus of these forces will soon turn towards Raqqa, where another offensive is already underway. There is much speculation over when ISIS may be defeated and what the terrorist group will look like in the aftermath of this defeat, but these estimates carry wild degrees of uncertainty. Halting ISIS’s caliphate goals isn’t likely to end the threat of terrorism that occasionally penetrates the West. If anything, ISIS grows harder to deal with as its extremist foreign fighters disappear back into their native populations and sow fundamentalism back home. The relative clarity of a defined battleground will soon be lost; a reality that the coalition is already preparing for.
The next challenge after Mosul falls will be in identifying the enemy fleeing among the Mosuli refugees. Islamic State members have already begun abandoning Mosul in what appears to be an acknowledgement of defeat. They may resurface elsewhere in attempts to establish control in other parts of the Levant, land the group claims as its religious right. Increased terrorist activity may become a top priority due to a lack of having a solidified sphere of influence or they may simply refocus on resource acquisition as they regroup. What seems to be most certain, however, is that the loss of Mosul will spell the beginning of the end for ISIS’s sovereign state and will bring about the liberation of innocent civilians that have been starving and dying under ISIS’s oppressive rule.

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Of the many reasons to liberate Mosul, the well-being of its people is perhaps the most compelling

Images courtesy of:
Staff Sgt. Adam Kern and the 621st Contingency Response Wing of the United States Air Force
Expert Infantry
DFID – UK Development for International Development