Trump’s Tweets fuel North Korean tensions, as Boston Global Forum scholars seek peaceful solutions

By Nguyen Anh Tuan,

Cofounder, CEO of Boston Global Forum

Scholars and international relations authorities gathered at Harvard University recently to urge a diplomatic solution to the US-North Korean conflict and an end to the maelstrom of threats and personal insults. The symposium, organized by the Boston Global Forum (BGF) and the Michael Dukakis Institute for Leadership and Innovation as part of its annual World Reconciliation Day events here and in Japan, was moderated by former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, who cofounded the BGF think tank in 2012.

Among the international relations authorities were Prof. Joseph Nye, Asst. Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration, who called for employing soft power diplomacy to reduce tensions with North Korea, and Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, Tufts University, who offered his analysis of North Korea.

Gov. Michael Dukakis told the delegates, when rhetoric overshadows reason, “a single misstep can turn political brinksmanship into a global conflagration. Nowhere is there a greater risk today than with North Korea.”
In keeping with the reconciliation theme, Nye told 20 delegates and journalists, “Reconciliation with friends means one thing, but in the case of North Korea, there is similar second level of reconciliation possible that means reduction of enmity, which is extraordinarily difficult when the President talks about turning North Korea into a sea of fire and fire and fury.”

Nye added, “We must be careful not to mistake reality for rhetoric. The North Koreans are not suicidal. North Korea is extremely rational — and has chosen a set of means to get to an objective of preserving the current regime.” He emphasized that while there is a low probability of nuclear war one must then ask. “is there a probability of conventional war?”

Historically, Nye added, “The temptation of escalation is always there. If you ask whether the Russian Tsar and German Kaiser intended a war in 1914 in which they would lose their thrones and their see their monarchies dismembered the answer is no. They expected a third Balkan war lasting for three weeks and never expected four years of armed conflict. Moreover, Japan did not act irrationally,” when it bombed Pearl Harbor. “If Japan had done nothing, the nation would have been strangled by a US oil embargo, so they hoped for short war believing it would be better than certain strangulation because of the embargo.”

While political hawks may be tempted, a decapitating strike against North Korea that seizes the nuclear weapons or kills Kim Jong Un does not seem realistic observed Nye, “Hospitality between North Korea and the US goes back to Kim Ill Sung who, in June of 1950, crossed the 38th parallel,” invading South Korea. Though hostilities ended 1953 with an armistice, both North and South Korea are technically still at war. “There have been seven decades of enmity with 100,000 North Korea troops remaining on the border,” and a highly militaristic society.

The hostilities over nuclear weapons began in 1993 when North Korea violated a treaty by reprocessing plutonium, which they at first denied and tried to cover up. When their deception was discovered, the country withdrew from the proliferation treaty rather than abide by its terms because North Korea believes nuclear weapons are the only way to preserve its existence. The North Koreans don’t believe America will treat them normally if they don’t have such destructive power. “So North Korea continues its tests, which included a thermonuclear bomb five-times more powerful than previous devices, and has a stated goal of miniaturizing the bomb so that, in a few years, they can credibly say they can hit the US.”

Is reconciliation possible?
Cultural commonality and exchanges can contribute to enemies becoming friends, or at minimum a reduction of enmity. North and South Koreans, for example, compete on the same soccer teams, and Kim Jong Un is enamored of American movies and presumably American popular culture.
Nye looked to other historical lessons, pointing to international security communities that have evolved to a point where there is no likelihood of war among, say, the Scandinavian nations or, in Western Europe, where war between Germany and France would be unthinkable today. “There are few examples of democracies, especially liberal democracies going to war. However, there is also no likelihood of North Korea developing into a liberal democracy.”
“in 1895 the US and Britain almost came to war,” says Nye adding that, “Britain accommodated the US because, with the rise of Germany and Russia, it could not accommodate instability in Europe and also police the Western Hemisphere. So the Brits swallowed their pride and accommodated the United States.”
Similarly, the US and China fought against each other in Korea in 1950 when China crossed the Yalu River and we demonized Red China. In 1964, the US, under Linden Johnsen, contemplated preemptive nuclear strikes against China, but finally by “1971 with Nixon’s visit to China, the US accommodated China to stem Russian influence and maintain the balance of power.”

Is it like the Cuban missile crisis?
“When The US and Soviet Union came close to war during Cuban missile crisis – the positive outcome was to demonstrate that the path we were on could potentially lead to disaster.” John F. Kennedy responded by delivering a speech in which he said we cannot continue on the path of extreme hostility with the Soviet Union and this resulted in the eventual signing of a treaty to reduce underground testing of nuclear weapons, followed by nuclear nonproliferation pacts with the Soviets such as the SALT and START talks. “While this led to a set of agreements that lowered tensions with Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, tensions have reversed with current Russian leader Vladimir Putin.”

To negotiate effectively with North Korea, the US needs a reduction of enmity to assess what is realistic. “Appeasement is not a bad thing per se and there is nothing wrong with appeasement if you have assessed your opponent’s objectives and found they are willing to accept the status quo rather the being a revisionist nation that wants to kick over the table.”

What are the goals of North Korea — status quo or revisionist? If we miss-assess the goals, we lay out greater problems for the future. We did not understand Hitler’s goals but with China we can compete and have strong differences by largely accepting the framework of the current order, Nye points out.
“Now if North Korea is interested in the status quo— if they really want weapons to prevent an overthrow of the regime, a peace treaty will let the country grow economically, the nature of their society will change and the matter is relatively easily resolved,” according to Nye, who is quick to point out, “If they really are revisionist, then given the nature of the region, a family dynasty of three generations and a belief that they are the heart of the Korean people and want to unify the Korean people under the North,” then appeasement is not possible.

Unfortunately, US knowledge and its ability to assess the situation in North Korea is limited. Nye, said President Bill Clinton believed a North Korean regime that was presiding over starvation while a nation across the border was prospering would last only a decade. “We were wrong and should admit we do not know much about what goes on inside North Korea. Additionally, we have a record of failure and of US presidents drawing redlines and Americans accepting the unacceptable.” Nye said, adding, “North Korea exploits the power of weakness and uses it to bluff and take risks.”

Nye said, “I don’t see much prospect in the use of force and we can’t wait and let them have a nuclear weapon. In 1994 we contemplated a strike, but the South Koreans said no. Sanctions may have some effect but not get to the core” of changing the behavior of a government willing to see ten-percent of its population starve.
Add that to the fact that China’s ability to solve the problem is limited because President Xi Jinping does not want to cause chaos on its border with North Korea, so the options are not impressive. “However, a China centric approach with gradual reduction of tensions over time could work,” says Nye. The US would assure China of our limited interest in deposing Kim Jong Un, and China would use its leverage to prevent escalating the North Korean nuclear threat. “The US would then gradually relax sanctions and expect North Korea to integrate with the world.”

As part of the agreement, the US would offer a peace treaty calling for North Korea to stop testing or exporting of nuclear weapons and for their eventual elimination from the peninsula. At the same time, US would retain its deterrence capacity if North Korea doesn’t live up to the agreement. The best argument, says Nye, “The current policy has failed for 30 years so we could take some risks to get a recession of enmity. I propose this as a way to go this but the administration is not likely to follow.”

Llewellyn King, a nationally syndicated columnist and host of the PBS program “White House Chronicle,” took a pessimistic view. He doubted the status quo would hold and suggested that there would be a “hard intervention” by the Trump administration. This, he thought, could be a missile shot down or some other action short of outright war. “Trump he said had been so belligerent in his remarks he must have directed the Pentagon to find a way of humiliating North Korea in the short term.”
Tufts University Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and an authority on the Korean Peninsula stated that he is not so sure Kim Jong Un will be satisfied with the status quo. “North Korea is a revisionist state whose greatest threat is the fact that across the border we have a legitimate, pleasant alternate Korea that serves as a magnet for 30,000 North Koreans who have escaped to the South. This enormous wealth disparity between two countries sharing a border is the challenge North Korea cannot overcome.”

Lee, who is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies at Tufts, added this trajectory does not favor North Korea becoming the legitimate sole government for a unified Korean state and “calls into question why North Korea’s continuing existence is necessary,” in an environment that has fostered South Korean economic development during seven decades of freedom and prosperity. “Most regrettable is the extreme suffering of the North Korean people and crimes against humanity committed by the Kim Jong Un regime, which according to a UN study, have no parallel in the world.” If these conditions are acceptable, then the status quo is extremely better than increasing the risk of war by a US preemptive strike. Will the status quo hold for the next decade and will more Americans reconcile to a nuclear North Korean state across the border of South Korea?

Lee said he expects North Korea to continue to menace South Korea, kill South Koreans, murder Americans from time-to-time such as it did with two officers they hacked to death when they went to trim a tree in the demilitarized zone or when, in 1969, North Korean jets shot down a US spy plane killing all 30 airmen aboard. We did not respond militarily at the time and then four months later the North Koreans shot down an American helicopter, killing three American military people.
Said Lee, “We have spoiled and conditioned North Korea to feel it can get away with murder. We have not put pressure on the regime sufficient to reduce its aggression.” The regime even managed to hold the US hostage by effectively censoring a satirical movie about the assassination of its leader. Sony, producer of the film The Interview, gave into North Korean demands after the regime hacked its computers by pulling the movie from theatrical distribution. In so doing North Korea was able to censor a nation that prides itself on free speech.

Post 9/11, the US Treasury found alternate ways to choke off the money supply to Iran by targeting the banks it dealt with in a bid to get their leaders to the bargaining table. The strategy worked and Lee suggested employing the same treatment with banks doing business with North Korea. Simply put, the US gives the bank a choice, continue doing business with North Korea or face the prospect of not being able to business in US dollars. The banks invariably agree to cooperate and those that cheat, face crushing fines.

Both the banks and North Korea favor the US dollar over other currencies giving the US tremendous leverage on this score and we have seen some progress on the financial front. Lee also believes China is likely to support these measures. “Awareness that this will work is no guarantor of sustained financial pressure. There is always the risk that Trump will accept political expedience over sanctions that will take at least three years to be effective.”
Though solutions to the crisis are not easy, discussions such as those being held by Boston Global Forum, in which cooler heads gather to develop and propose reasoned and peaceful solutions is a step in the right direction.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, author cofounded Boston Global Forum with Michael Dukakis

Established in 2012, The Boston Global Forum brings together, in an open and accessible public forum, an eclectic and engaging spectrum of highly regarded academic leaders, real-world experts, thought leaders, media experts and promising young leaders.

BGF’s mission is to identify emerging threats to peace and stability around the globe, suggest realistic solutions, and identify possible actions that can be taken to avert armed conflict. The Forum’s ultimate goal is to lessen tensions, promote peace and security, and foster conditions that lead to greater social justice and broader economic prosperity.

Delegates are available for media interviews and comment by contacting the Boston Global Forum press office at 617-959-4613 or [email protected]
Gov. Michael Dukakis, Chairman of the Boston Global Forum; Prof. Joseph Nye, Distinguished Professor of Harvard University; Prof. Thomas Patterson, Harvard Kennedy School; Prof. David Silbersweig, Harvard; Prof. Nazli Choucri; MIT, Prof. Ezra Vogel; Harvard, Prof. Richard Rosecrance, Harvard Kennedy School; Prof. John Savage, Brown; Mr. Llewellyn King, White House Chronicle Producer and Host; Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee, Tufts University Fletcher School of Diplomacy; Mr. Allan Cytryn, Former CTO, Goldman Sachs; Prof. Derek Reveron, Naval War College; Mr. Dick Pirozzolo, Media Liaison; Member BGF Editorial Board; Rokuichiro Michii, Consul-General of Japan in Boston, and Michael Pizziferri, Delegate of the Quebec Government Office in Boston

Learning from Example

In its September monthly meeting, the Boston Global Forum looks at successful labor-rights implementation models and ways to implement these models in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia .

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Photo: Arnold Zack (left) with Governor Michael Dukakis at the BGF meeting

The Boston Global Forum has been working feverishly to find pragmatic solutions that can ameliorate health and safety conditions of garment factory workers in Bangladesh. In order to prevent another disaster like the Rana Plaza collapse or Tazreen factory fire, we have garnered support from impassioned government and academic leaders who are committed to devoting their time, knowledge and insight to the cause. In BGF’s September monthly meeting held on September 18, 2013, Governor Michael Dukakis, Arbitrator and Harvard Law School Researcher Arnold Zack, Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch and Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Mr Nguyen Anh Tuan met in Cambridge, Massachusetts to share proceedings from the month previous and divulge ideas to accelerate the movement.

Chaired by Governor Dukakis, BGF’s monthly meeting opened with a discussion and analysis of the recent two-day conference held at New York University’s Stern Center on Business and Human Rights on the future of the garment industry in Bangladesh with reference to human rights issues. Major US and European retailers, governmental organizations, Bangladeshi officials and other key players were invited to participate in the conference. In realization of the need to both organize another round-table discussion and to ensure greater participation, Mr Tuan proposed an online conference, organized by BGF, in the coming months.

In this month’s meeting, the crux of the conversation was on the search for model third-world countries where international labor law standards have been successfully and sustainably demonstrated. Rising to the top was the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program. Formerly known as the ‘ILO Garment Sector Project’, Better Factories Cambodia rose out of a trade agreement between the United States and Cambodia in 2001 through which the US assured Cambodia access to its markets in exchange for improved working conditions in the garment industry. The ILO works closely with the Cambodian government, the Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia and international retailers to ensure safe and conducive working conditions in Cambodia.

Better Factories Cambodia employs multiple assiduous approaches to implement the highest possible safety standards in garment factories. Mr Zack said that the ILO uses a monitoring and evaluation procedure based on 500 different elements addressing fundamental issues like child labor and freedom of unions, and selective issues like over-time wages, maternity leave and protective equipment. The results then feed into extensive reports that detail levels of compliance of garment factories to these factors.

The success of Better Factories Cambodia also lies in its unique labor dispute resolution mechanism- the Arbitration Council. This national tripartite institution is made up of representatives from labor unions, the ministry and factory owners. All labor cases and conflicts are brought before the council that has developed a reputation for fairness and independence. The success of this form of mediation has made the council a model for judicial reform in Cambodia. Such is the triumph of Better Factories Cambodia that “factories from China are now relocating to Cambodia”, said Zack. He adds that retailers are proud of their association with ethical working conditions, in Cambodia, and are not discouraged by being held accountable to international standards.

Despite its success, the Cambodian model has been replicated in only a handful of countries, for instance in Lesotho. Thus far, it hasn’t been applied to Bangladesh. Troubled by the program’s limited expansion, Governor Dukakis raised provocative questions at the BGF meeting: “Why haven’t the U.S. and other interested countries been pushing it? Why aren’t we and others actively advocating for it?”  Upon consequent research by the BGF team, it was discovered that the answer might lie in the understanding the transition from a global system of trade quotas called the ‘Multifiber Agreement’ to the WTO’s quota-free trading environment.

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Governor Dukakis and John Quelch discuss future steps for the BGF

After deliberating over ILO’s Cambodian model, members of the Boston Global Forum steered the discussion towards other possible strategies to address the ‘Issue of the Year’. One key approach proposed was recognizing the importance of consumer education and pressure in maintaining international standards. Another approach suggested was for BGF to focus on work place safety under the larger aegis of worker rights. Professor Quelch introduced a broad-picture paradigm to the discussion by asking whether BGF should focus on Bangladesh alone or persevere for an all-ASEAN absorption of ILO standards? In support for the Cambodian model, he also suggested that BGF should research the reasons behind the success of the Cambodian model and publish its findings online as a statement of advocacy.

In closing, Professor Quelch reminded the BGF about the need to collaborate with experts in the field by inviting their participation through written commentary and statements on the website.  He also proposed actively reaching out to Michael Posner, Labor Rights Advocate and head of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights to demonstrate our willingness to aid his efforts on the issue.

The Boston Global Forum will work on these propositions in the coming month and will convene for another round of discussions in October 2013. If you wish to join our conversation or participate in our meetings, please send in your request to our Editor-in-Chief, Mr Nguyen Anh Tuan at [email protected]

Dialogue for Change

Boston Global Forum brings together leaders and renowned professors from Harvard and MIT to lead the discussion on worker safety.

Professor Richard Locke (right) addresses the group as Governor Michael Dukakis (center) and Professor Thomas Kochan listen on.
Professor Richard Locke (far right) addresses the group as Governor Michael Dukakis (center) and Professor Thomas Kochan listen on.

July 18, 2013 Boston- To propel discussions around Boston Global Forum’s (BGF) 2013’s ‘Issue of the Year’, a group comprising BGF Chairman Michael Dukakis, BGF Executive Director, Nguyen Anh Tuan, distinguished academicians from universities like Harvard and MIT, and representatives from non-profit advocacy groups met last week in Boston to discuss Minimal Standards for Worker Safety The infamous Rana factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1100 people in April 2013 is the inspiration behind BGF’s Mission for 2013.

Evoking the genesis of Boston Global Forum and its choice of mission for 2013, Governor Dukakis opened the meeting by reminding its participants that BGF was created to reach out to the entire world using information technology to initiate a global conversation around of the issue of the year.  This conversation, unlike most others, would be solution-oriented– one that results in a set of recommendations that could be “internationally enforced”.  He further added that there was a stark absence of international conversation around the issue of occupational safety, and hoped that the forum could leverage a dialogue “in a way that could build a body of law that is enforceable.”

The meeting addressed several aspects of international worker safety drawing upon examples of supply chain policies, private and public sector arrangements and trade agreements. Richard Locke, professor of Political Science at Brown University and author of The Promise & Limits of Private Power stated that the best success stories, in his understanding of the processes, lie in the combination of private and public sector interventions. While private enterprises are necessary to ensure efficiency (in keeping with their best interest), the government needs to enforce basic enabling rights for workers.   “Where you see that combination, that’s where you see success, “ adds Locke. He illustrated his theory with the Better Work Cambodia Program directed by the International Labor Organization (ILO). In this program, the United States used its markets as a “carrot” to drive improvements in working conditions and safety standards. The resulting improvement in worker safety which was made possible by the combined efforts of local governments, private business and the ILO.

The round-table, comprised of American luminaries, rebuked the response of American multinationals to the Bangladesh tragedy. “We’ve got to take advantage of putting pressure on the multinationals and the US multinationals have been slow relative to the Europeans,” said Thomas Kochan, Co-Director MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.  While European multinationals are putting pressure to change labor law in Bangladesh after the tragedy, American corporations like Walmart and Gap, are withholding involvement with trade unions on the ground or international alliances, he said. Jeffrey Stookey, former professor at Boston University augmented this idea by pointing out that European Union stopped bank loans to Bangladeshi companies that fell short of safety standards. John Quelch, professor at Havard Business School also pointed out that the US has failed in stepping up to this challenge- a behavior that is inconsistent with its reputation of a country that pioneered positive global interventions in the 20th century.

Harvard Business School Professor, John Quelch (left)  talks to MIT professors Richard Locke (center) and Thomas Kochan (right).
Harvard Business School Professor, John Quelch (left) talks to MIT professors Richard Locke (center) and Thomas Kochan (right).

The Rana Plaza factory collapse draws emphasis to the need to talk about a subject that hasn’t received enough attention. Quelch recalled his experience leading a business school in China to talk about the “less-than pleasant practices” that workers have to endure. He hoped that the Bangladesh tragedy could work as a “catalyst” to stimulate discussions on an often-overlooked issue. Professor Quelch went on to emphasize the need for legislation in bringing about any stringent change in worker safety. “Even with legislation, it’s often difficult to make things stick as well but without it I feel that, personally, it’s going be tough to keep the interest and momentum up,” he said. While addressing human rights concerns, Quelch pointed out that children have, unfortunately, been left out of conversations surrounding the Bangladesh disaster.  Rendered helpless by their vulnerability, children are often the worst victims of disasters and calamities.

Incidents like the Bangladesh disaster cannot be averted by enforcing legislation alone. MIT’s Thomas Kochan argued about the need for a bottom-up approach in addressing this subject. He stated that sustained enforcement of labor law could be achieved through the development of local institutions like trade unions, NGOs and coalitions resulting between them.

State laws within the US have attempted to ensure transparency and labor standards in procurement processes, sometimes with success. Liana Fozvog from International Labor Rights Forum  (ILRF) and Marcy Gelb from MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health)  described their findings stating that several states and cities across the country have joined a sweat-free consortium that should ideally be instituted at the federal level.  In Massachusetts, laws that require disclosure of factories and apparel to be union-made are not always upheld.

Moving Forward

The meeting culminated in dialogue about future actions for Boston Global Forum. Recommendations included a ten-point plan for the Commonwealth to help position Massachusetts as a ‘best practice state’ in the field of worker safety; networking to encourage American multinational companies to participate in future meetings on compensating victims of the Bangladesh disaster; bringing together various stakeholders and actors to talk about solutions that have worked and about governments, private institutions and other organizations that are making a difference; transforming the Boston Global Forum website into an information resource for interested audiences; garnering interest and representation from the State Department or the Department of Labor in BGF’s discussions; inviting Human Rights and Business expert Michael Posner, professor at New York University’s Stern’s School of Business and former official at the State Department to join the forum; and addressing local state laws in Massachusetts that are not being effectively enforced.