Transnational Anti-Asian Violence & the Model Minority

Liu Shaoyo was a 56-year-old Chinese national killed in his home on March 26, 2017 by police responding to a suspected domestic dispute call. While the French police claim that Mr. Liu was shot as an act of "legitimate defense" against "an assailant with scissors," Liu’s family told French media that he had done nothing more than open the door holding a pair of scissors he had been using to prepare fish. In response, France’s Asian and Chinese communities have taken to the streets in protest, leaving three police officers injured and at least 35 people detained. This most recent incident of anti-Asian violence highlights a long-existing insecurity among the French Chinese, reminiscent of the death of Zhang Chaolin--a 49-year-old tailor and father-of-two who died after being attacked by three teenagers in 2016. It also comes on the heels of the rising number of prominent hate crime cases in the United States.

France, undeniably, is a multi-ethnic and multicultural country. To address the increasing diversity, the French government utilizes a “color-blind” model of public policy that specifically bans the collection and computerized storage of race-based data. As a result, racial and ethnic censuses have been banned by the French government since 1978, resulting in a lack of data on racially-motivated hate crimes. For France’s Chinese community, the largest ethnic-Chinese diaspora in Europe, the lack of race-based data contributes to the rising frustration and anger against the state, which many claim have failed to protect them and their businesses.

France’s history with East-to-West migration may play a role in this increasing divide between more established migrant communities and ‘newer’ residents. France was the first Western country in which Vietnamese migrants settled due to French imperial rule over Indochina from 1885 to 1954. This led to the establishment of Vietnamese French and Southeast Asian communities that predate that of Chinese and other East Asian migrants. Unlike the Vietnamese diaspora in North America or Australia, the French Vietnamese and French Laotians are regarded as model minorities by media and politics due to a greater degree of assimilation as well as better cultural, historical, and linguistic knowledge of the host country. This starkly contrasts with the reported experiences of the French Chinese, who increasingly fear the looting of their businesses and brutalization of their bodies. The fear of mistreatment and outright anti-Asian violence exists among various Asian diasporic communities in other Western states like the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet, the lived experiences of ethnic-Asians drastically differ depending on the state, sometimes in such a fundamental sense that the notion of “Asian-ness” does not even refer to the same demographic.

According to the U.S Census Bureau in 2010, Asian Americans make up 5.6 percent of the total American population, with the largest ethnic groups represented being Chinese (3.79 million), Filipino (3.41 million), Indian (3.18 million), Vietnamese (1.73 million), Korean (1.7 million), and Japanese (1.3 million). Current data also indicates that Asian Americans have the highest household income and educational attainment of all minority groups.

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Yet, when disaggregated, this same data also shows that “success,” as defined by the two previously mentioned indicators, is concentrated among more established East Asians, particularly Chinese, Japanese and Korean Americans. South and Southeast Asians, in contrast, are likely to face color-based discrimination and are often confused with Arab and other Middle Eastern Americans. This was the case for Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Harnish Patel, Indian nationals who were killed in March 2017 by racially-motivated hate crime shootings. Even David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese American who was brutally dragged from a United Airlines flight by airport security personnel, was initially thought to be Chinese American. America’s predominantly East Asian understanding of Asia also stems from its experience with East-to-West migration, where many early Chinese immigrants worked as laborers on the First Transcontinental Railroad between 1863 and 1869. Memories from the bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War Two, and the unlawful internment of Japanese Americans have left an impressionable mark on the American psyche.

The opposite seems to be the case in the United Kingdom, where Asian identity is more closely associated to that of South Asia. Migration from Asia to Britain has roots in the East India Company, the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947, and the subsequent independence of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from colonial rule. For these historical reasons, 4.9 percent of the total population are South Asian (excluding other Asian groups) while the British Chinese only make up 0.7% of the population. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the word "Asian" or "British Asian" when describing people typically refers to individuals of South Asian origin. Given these historical and demographic circumstances, the British Chinese share similar fears and frustrations with the French Chinese. According to research in 2009 by Durham University professor Gary Craig, the Chinese population in the U.K. experiences "perhaps even higher levels of racial violence or harassment than those experienced by any other minority group" but that the true extent to their victimization is often overlooked because victims were unwilling to report it. In a following report published in 2013 by the British Chinese Project, almost half of 520 survey respondents stated they "did not trust the police to deal effectively with their case". All of this is exacerbated by the fact that even if all incidents were reported to police, ‘Chinese’ ethnicity is put into the category of ‘other’ in when it comes to data collection.

Because Asian communities in Western states typically make up no more than 5% of the total population, diversity within the group is often overlooked. The model minority label relies on the aggregation of racially-neutral success indicators like higher education and household income. However, in policy context, salient issues like police violence and hate crimes are rooted in ethnicity and a color-blind approach that fails to remedy the historical disadvantages faced by certain marginalized migrant and immigrant communities. Western countries with Asian diasporic communities naturally have different relations with its Asian citizens. However, the artificial pitting of established minority communities against the new migrant workers and immigrants occurs across borders and contributes to the sentiment that anti-Asian violence is trending.

The first step towards addressing these subversive issues is through data. Institutional solutions like more comprehensive data collection process and data disaggregation can help reveal how pervasive incidents involving anti-Asian sentiments are on a transnational scale. Similar to how France does not collect race-based statistics, the United States has neither a dataset nor an apparatus in place that can report national hate crime trends. While local authorities are in a much better position to document discriminatory hate crimes and violence, not all communities see such as a priority.

We must actively question and challenge the narrative that insufficient data on a particular issue indicates a non-issue, especially in the context of racially-motivated violence. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and many more unarmed Black men and women, the blatant profiling of and discrimination against Muslim Americans, and the disregard of undocumented immigrants have shown that law enforcement in the United States will not make race-conscious institutional changes until public scrutiny is applied and malpractice is exposed. Most of these re-structural efforts have been led by the black and brown community, which needs to be acknowledged and contributed to by Asian communities. Asian immigrants who enjoy greater degrees of assimilation and model minority status must remember that their counterparts in other countries may not receive the same safety from police violence, and that racial-neutral success indicators will never be enough to overcome the racism and discrimination.

-Samuel Kim

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

Reclaiming Democracy in South Korea

What had started with bizarre media headlines claiming that South Korea’s president was being controlled by a Rasputin-like shamanist cult figure is now a new socio-political movement that is sweeping across the country and catching the world’s attention in the process. Although frequently called “the Miracle on the Han River” for its unprecedented economic growth following the Korean War (1950-53), South Korea is still coming to terms with its rapid advancement. Economic and social disparities have become more and more apparent and only recently, democracy is being uprooted by the biggest scandal in modern Korean history.

President Park Geun-hye of the conservative Saenuri party, whose five-year term was scheduled to end in February 2018, faces her largest scandal involving a longtime friend and secret adviser, Choi Soon-sil. Numerous allegations are currently being investigated, such as the leaking of classified documents and/or state secrets concerning diplomacy and national security, unlawful involvement in major policy business, and unlawful awarding of government contracts. Park has suffered multiple scandals throughout her term, even before her election as president; for instance, public servants from National Intelligence Service (NIS) were accused of illicit online campaign activity in favor of Park leading up to the 2012 presidential elections. In November of 2015, anti-government protests erupted in response to Park’s business-friendly labour policies and decision to require use of state-issued history textbooks starting in 2017.

As of November 20th, Choi Soon-sil has been officially charged by prosecutors for intervening with state affairs (without a government position or security clearance) and coercing large business conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai to donate tens of millions of dollars to personally-owned foundations and businesses.

South Korean history is no stranger to political corruption as a majority of the nation’s past eleven presidential administrations, irrespective of political party, have been tangled in some form of scandal. South Korean democracy has been precarious at best, alternating between periods of democratic and autocratic rule since its founding in 1948. Furthermore, South Koreans face the highest levels of income inequality in the Asia-Pacific region, with the heavy burden falling on the working class and young people. According to Michael Hurt, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, “Class division and increasing income inequality adds to a growing sense that the old promises of sacrificing, working hard and simply getting by based on one’s blood sweat and tears, is from a time that is no longer relevant.”

All of these frustrations, on top of this new presidential scandal, are the driving forces of what appears to be South Korea’s newest democratic revolution, uncannily resembling the numerous populist movements gaining prominence across Europe and the United States. What had started as candle light vigils evolved into one of the most effective demonstrations of public organization and political activism in South Korean history and the world. Six straight Saturdays of protest have occurred demanding Park’s immediate resignation thus far and are only increasing in momentum with the most recent rally drawing an estimated 2.3 million people (approximately 3% of the population. When put to scale, the 1982 anti-nuclear protests in the United States, the largest political demonstration in American history, are only estimated to be, at most, 1 million people.

It was uncertain whether this scandal could catalyze a political movement strong enough to amount to any tangible change. However, Park’s influence-peddling scandal marks a new low in what is considered politically reprehensible, with her approval ratings at 4 percent overall and zero percent among Koreans under 30 – the lowest for any sitting president. An editorial by The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper and an influential conservative voice, makes a clear distinction that this is “…no ordinary lame-duck phenomenon” but rather a “…complete collapse of a president's ability to run a government.”

After three separate apologetic statements from President Park, which only angered the Korean people further, the acceptance of a “timely” resignation (which may not occur until April) seems more and more unlikely as pressure from all sides increases on the Blue House. In the National Assembly, the three opposition parties-- Democratic Party of Korea, People's Party, and Justice Party—have agreed to push an impeachment motion through the National Assembly on December 9th, calling on undecided lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party to participate in the vote instead of waiting for her resignation. One day following last Saturday’s historic rally, a bloc of 29 lawmakers (including former party leader Kim Moo-sung and ex-floor leader Yoo Seong-min) announced their willingness to “do [their] utmost to pass the impeachment bill," regardless of whether Park announces her voluntary resignation or not.

Considering South Korea’s familiarity with corrupted intuitions and leaders unwilling to yield power – notably Park Chung-hee, military general and president from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, and late father to incumbent president Park’s – the populist fervor and empowered sense of political efficacy demonstrated by these million-strong marches marks a much needed departure from the status quo; a movement takes the responsibility upon itself to reclaim democracy. The hard work and resolve of ordinary individuals–not miracles–never goes to waste and is what pushes countries forward. When public outrage is organized and focused on bringing people together instead of apart, not even establishment politics or bureaucracy can slow down the change. Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s impeachment vote, the cracks in Korea’s democracy are now exposed for the world to see, a painful but necessary truth that must be reconciled in the process towards a more just government and equal economic opportunity.

-Samuel Kim

[UPDATE: On 9 December 2016, Park was impeached by the National Assembly by a vote of 234 for and 56 against (with seven invalid votes and two abstentions), suspending her presidential powers and duties. The impeachment was then upheld unanimously by the Constitutional Court on 10 March 2017, formally ending Park's presidency. The 19th South Korean presidential election is scheduled to be held on 9 May 2017.]

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

Navigating NATO Within the Aftermath of the U.S. Presidential Election

During the three U.S. presidential debates and broader political campaign discourse, the issue of the United States’ involvement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was one of the biggest foreign policy differences between President-elect Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Despite their conflicting views, there is merit in observing what past precedent and data actually illustrates about NATO’s efficacy as a mutual defense mechanism and how much of a role the U.S. should take.

NATO was founded in 1949 to serve three specific purposes: (1) to deter Soviet expansionism, (2) forbid the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and (3) encourage European political integration. However, in the modern day, NATO’s most significant role is as a guarantee of collective defense, which is expressed in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: “armed attack against one or more of [member states] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Guidelines require all allies to contribute 2% of gross domestic product towards defense expenditure, but according to annual data provided by NATO, only five of the 28 NATO countries actually meet this guideline (United States, Greece, United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland). 

One of Trump’s cornerstone foreign policy positions is that the United States should reassess the dollar amount of its financial contribution to NATO. In a July 20 interview with the New York Times, he said that “If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries….then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.’”

Not surprisingly, Trump’s comments triggered alarms bells throughout Europe, casting unprecedented concern among allies over whether or not, under a Trump presidency, the United States would turn a deaf ear to a military threat against a NATO member and fail to uphold Article 5. This rhetoric is dangerously careless and needlessly inflammatory, especially bearing in mind that the U.S., in response to the September 11 attacks, is the only country in the organization’s 60+ year history to have ever invoked Article 5. There is no doubt that the United States and NATO share the same security objectives. This is especially important considering deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States, who have both recently held military exercises 150 miles apart from each other in Europe's southeastern Balkan region. This is not to mention Russia’s staggering aggression towards Ukraine. The balance of power in Europe relies on a fully capable trans-Atlantic alliance in which the United States plays a principal role. 

However, NATO’s significance warrants that we elevate our discourse beyond partisan lines. There are legitimate concerns in the international defense community, which predate Mr. Trump’s campaign for president, that NATO lacks the financial resources and military means to be a cost-effective mutually beneficial armed coalition. While Mr. Trump’s personal and business relations with Russia are dubious, he does highlight the diplomatic evasiveness seen in European allies that occurs when talking about money and how much money governments should actually allocate for hard-to-quantify objectives such as mutual security. According to Jonathan Eyal, the director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the other Baltic States “should lead by example” and increase their military spending to meet the 2% guideline

Just because NATO is the most successful military alliance in history, this does not mean that such concerns should be ignored or painted over with a broad brush. In terms of the U.S. election, Hillary Clinton could have done a better job in addressing these legitimate concerns to an American electorate that is concerned about domestic issues and wary of military intervention abroad. 

- Samuel Kim

 

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

Voting: The Stepchild of American Rights

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For something as fundamentally crucial to democracy as the right to vote, the current state of suffrage receives considerably less attention. While the convoluted politics and horse-race journalism that currently muddle American presidential elections are at times hard to see through, voting is the foundation upon which this system of governance is made prosperous and worthwhile. But compared to countries that have compulsory voter laws or just enjoy regularly high voter turnout (e.g. Belgium, Turkey, Sweden, etc.), the United States appears to be only a leader in political apathy. However, with the rise of a new cohort of eligible voters, Millennials are on the forefront of a larger movement questioning the integrity of voting rights and disenfranchisement in primary procedures.

Although amendments to the Constitution have been ratified to address voting requirements (e.g. the 14th, 15th, 17th, and 19th Amendments), specifics have always been ambiguous and under the discretion of state governments; therefore, state-issued voter laws are naturally more stringent than federal requirements. While protecting the integrity of the ballot box against potential fraud or corruption is critical to ensuring that the electorate’s will is accurately represented, overprotectiveness has proven to distort election results as well– in nearly all cases to an extent far greater than potential fraud.

Last month’s primary in Arizona is one of such disastrous cases. In order to save money on election expenditures, Maricopa County reduced its polling locations by seventy percent, equating to one polling site for every 21,000 voters. The result was obscene wait times, errors in voter registration, and a particularly noticeable burden on black, Hispanic, and Native American communities. In downtown Phoenix, hundreds stood in line for over five hours after polling places closed, only to have media project Clinton and Trump as the primary winners.  Despite assertions by Maricopa County officials that no intentional efforts were made to keep people from voting and that the circumstances were “just a huge miscalculation,” the Democratic National Committee, along with the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are suing the state of Arizona for disenfranchising specific demographics of Arizona’s electorate.

The over-preventative legislation implemented to combat the practically non-existent issue of in-person voter fraud has only hurt the integrity of the ballot it claims to protect. One would expect that if voting requirements are made more stringent, the government in all its ability will help the community meet those same requirements. This could take the form of improving access to the state’s definition of an acceptable form of identification, overhauling a bureaucratic voter registration system and database, or providing increased education and funding for specific communities that suffer from lower election turnout. Instead, legislation passed by North Carolinian Republican majorities in 2013 broadly cuts back early voting, restricts private groups from conducting voter-registration drives, and eliminates election-day voter registration, making it one of the strictest voter ID rules in the country. When roughly five percent of registered voters still do not have an acceptable form of government-issued ID to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential primary, it becomes obvious that necessary post-implementary steps are not being taken. The responsibility of governing does not stop when legislation is passed; it continues past implementation and until the impact of such legislation is an objective improvement for the community in which it affects.

This undue burden on the specific parts of the community is apparent in Wisconsin, where new voter ID laws were estimated to affect at least 300,000 people before its hotly contested primary in April. Voters, such as the elderly who have expired driver's licenses, younger voters who may or may not attend university, and the poor, are feeling increasingly overlooked by the quasi-democratic electoral procedures of their respective parties -- a political move Sanders calls “not only shameful” but, “un-American in the deepest sense of the word.”

While disagreement over the specifics of voting eligibility seems split between left and right, the frustration with current electoral procedures transcends party division or political ideology. With the rise of Donald Trump and his popularity among disgruntled Republican and conservative voters, the ballot’s effectiveness as an intermediary between ordinary people and government is under newfound scrutiny – this time from the right. After losing all of Colorado’s delegates at the GOP assembly in Colorado Springs to Ted Cruz, Trump levied heavy criticism of the state’s caucus-style primary, calling it "a rigged, disgusting, dirty system” and that “great people being disenfranchised by politicians”. Using rhetoric reminiscent of Sanders’ anti-establishment platform, he also asserted during a campaign rally in Syracuse, New York that the Republican nomination process “is worse than [the Democrats]” because Americans “are not even voting, the bosses are picking the delegates”.

While knowing and campaigning within the given parameters of a pre-existing primary system is an unavoidable and necessary measure of running in a presidential race, the feeling that the “game is rigged” is important to address– especially considering the lack of national discourse on the state of voting rights. The federal government has a moral obligation ensure that voting remains as accessible and efficient as possible without compromising the integrity of the ballot. By continuing to relegate the right to vote as a kind of stepchild in the family of American rights, the result is a discouraged electorate skeptical of a hyper-partisan system too out of touch with the needs of ordinary Americans.

- Samuel Kim

 

 

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

A False Choice: Immigrants vs. Veterans

LA Times

LA Times

As the recent attacks in Turkey and Belgium yet again demonstrate, international acts of terrorism continue to have polarizing effects on domestic immigration policy.

This contentious debate of balancing  between accessible borders and national security heightens during election years, as it has on the campaign trail leading up to the United States’s 2016 presidential election.

Amidst this policy conversation exists an underlying frustration that the United States unfairly puts first or favors illegal immigrants over veterans. For instance, in a 2014 ad attacking his opponent, Senator Bill Cassidy (R–LA) directly addresses the camera:

“What would you choose? To fund benefits for veterans or for illegal immigrants? I would never put illegal immigrants ahead of veterans. But Mary Landrieu did. Instead of fully funding veterans’ benefits, she voted to give benefits to those here illegally…” 

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump expressed similar sentiments last year that “illegal immigrants get treated better than many of our vets — it’s a disgrace what’s happening in this country.” While a surprisingly noble call to action for the inadequate medical and financial support U.S. veterans currently receive, this strategy of pitting two seemingly disparate demographics of the U.S. population only further polarizes any meaningful immigration or veterans affairs reform. Furthermore, illegal immigrants and veterans are not as mutually exclusive as politicized rhetoric makes it out to be.

According to data from the Department of Defense, more than 65,000 immigrants (non-U.S. citizens and naturalized citizens) serve in the armed forces on active duty. While it may not be apparent to politicians or the American public, executive orders have historically allowed noncitizens to become U.S. citizens through military enlistment. In a July 2002 executive order, President Bush specified that noncitizen military personnel serving on or after September 11th, 2001 were eligible for expedited citizenship. The success of immigrant recruiting programs, such as the U.S. Army’s Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), only further illustrates that “the U.S. military needs smart and talented people like these immigrants, who continue the proud historical tradition of immigrants…”, according to retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel Margaret Stock. As a result, the notion that supporting illegal immigrants takes away federal funding for veterans is counterintuitive and does not do justice to foreign-born individuals who only desire the legal status that faithfully serving under the American flag should entail.

However, bureaucratic processes are unevenly applied and it is not uncommon for military recruiters to mislead enterprising service members and claim that citizenship will be automatic. Veterans who do not go through the process of becoming citizens can be deported, if they get into legal trouble later on, just like any other noncitizen. In fact, many are unaware that the United States even deports military veterans. Advocates estimate there are now at least 2,000 veterans living in northern Mexico, many in border towns such as Tijuana and Juarez. The Deported Veteran Support House, a small storefront in eastern Tijuana, is one of the few existing organizations that provides any type of aid or advocacy for stranded veterans.

The fact that this type of diaspora even exists, illustrates the harm unconditional immigration policy and congressional partisanship can have on the people it claims to help. The false vilification of illegal immigrants for the inadequate treatment American veterans receive—who unjustly languish in hospital lounges waiting for appointments—is blatant when deported veterans (legally eligible for VA benefits and medical treatment from injuries suffered during their service) equally carry the burden of an ineffectual Department of Veteran’s Affairs. As long as politicians continue to paint the complex issue that is immigration with such a broad rhetorical brush, any meaningful reform is unrealistic.

- Sam Kim

 

 

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

Dismantling America’s Nuclear “Axis of Evil”

A significant development regarding North Korea’s recent nuclear test was revealed in late February, with the Obama administration secretly agreeing to talks to try to formally end the Korean War. In a distinctive diplomatic gesture, the U.S allegedly dropped the longstanding precondition that Pyongyang first must take steps to demonstrate its willingness to dismantle its nuclear program

This motion represents a larger foreign policy shift concerning the United States’s involvement in the nuclear proliferation of two rogue states: Iran and North Korea. While geographically disparate and seemingly unrelated, these two countries share similar struggles and ambitions – yet, the seriousness and urgency in which the U.S. addresses them could not be more different.

Take for instance, the United States’ nuclear agreement with Iran. Adopted in October 2015 amid a national discourse of hyper-partisanship, fear-mongering, and skepticism, this historic diplomatic effort consolidated the support of nuclear physicists, military officials, non-proliferation experts, and more than 100 countries across the globe to significantly dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. As of January 2016, Tehran completed the necessary steps to ensure that its nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful, and subsequently had its oil and financial sanctions lifted.

While an apparent diplomatic victory for the United States and the international community, the focus naturally shifts to North Korea, the sole survivor of what President George W. Bush designated in his 2002 State of the Union Address, as the “axis of evil.” Originally composed of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, this informal axis was the centerpiece to the United States’s War on Terror. While the grouping of these three nations seems unrelated misguided, North Korea’s ever escalating eagerness for nuclear advancement can be traced back to Pyongyang’s interactions with and observations of its Middle Eastern counterparts.

As early as the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the birth of an Islamic Republic, Iran and North Korea cooperated in educational, scientific, and cultural spheres, including Iran’s early nuclear program. Since the 1980s, North Korea has become known as a reliable supplier of arms to other countries, with increased weapons sales between Pyongyang and Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war. The two nations are bound by their long history of antagonism toward the United States. 

In 1991, Pyongyang watched in dismay as the United States destroyed the Iraqi military — a military that in weapons and numbers that is reminiscent of the North Korean People's Army. Considering the escalation of U.S. military presence in the Middle East following the Gulf War into the Iraq War, as well as the Bush administration’s all-or-nothing strategy of refusing any talks whatsoever with Pyongyang (particularly during the early months of the 2002 nuclear crisis), it is unsurprising that recent exchanges between American and North Korean officials failed to make any progress with Pyongyang conducting its fourth nuclear-bomb test a mere several days later. 

The White House should be wary that its refusal to recognize Pyongyang’s desire for legitimacy and an equal seat at the negotiation table can and will elicit harsh backlash from a nation whose very survival depends on explosive power of its nuclear arsenal. Unlike Iran, North Korea has little incentive to dismantle its only shield against retribution – a nation no stranger to crippling economic sanctions and U.S. - R.O.K. military exercises right on its border. While President Obama has pointed to the Iran deal to signal to North Korea that he is open to a similar track with the regime of Kim Jong Un, this longstanding condition of demanding action on the DPRK’s part as a mandatory precursor to even informal talk is unrealistic and reflects an archaic policy of isolating nations that Americans prefer did not exist. Thus, perhaps it would be more practical to first dismantle U.S. policymakers’ affinity for absolutisms when approaching nuclear talk within the Axis of Evil, before expecting our adversaries to unilaterally dismantle their only form of leverage. 

- Samuel Kim

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

The NDAA: America’s Misunderstood 1%

       Photo: Washington Times

       Photo: Washington Times

On Tuesday November 10th, the U.S. Senate joined the House and passed a revised version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the Department of Defense to appropriate a total budget of $607 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. The original version, which passed with considerable bipartisan support, contained an extra $5 billion in funding. Some cuts to the new version included $250 million to Obama’s Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, $250 million to Army readiness, and a little more than $1 billion in fuel savings.

Like many previous versions of the NDAA, this year's bill increases funding in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), an emergency account originally designed to fund the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Pentagon spending caps legislated under the Budget Control Act of 2011 were imposed to reduce the funding of discretionary programs ($1 trillion between the years 2012 and 2021), the OCO’s status as a nondiscretionary defense fund allows it to increase the overall defense budget without violating across-the-board budget restrictions. As a result, the White House has heavily criticized the “slush fund” as a gimmick to flout budget caps.

Even while other areas of the budget remain hotly debated, the NDAA has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support and has been passed for 53 consecutive years. Therefore, Obama’s unprecedented veto of the bill (as well as publicly signing the veto statement before a pool of White House press), suggests that the threat of sequestration imposed by the Budget Control Act, was not the main impetus for his veto.

Instead, a provision in the original 2016 NDAA that would further the ban on transferring any Guantanamo detainees into the United States seems to be the White House’s primary interest. In the past, President Obama has threatened to veto each of the previous six annual authorization bills of his presidency in response to Guantanamo transfer restrictions, but this is the first time he has followed through. In his veto remarks released by the Office of the Press Secretary, Obama criticizes the bill’s “failure to remove unwarranted restrictions on the transfer of detainees”. While the revised bill still contains these restrictions, and the White House’s lack of response indicates that a second veto is unlikely, this brief quarrel reflects Washington’s larger tendency to play the supposed “military card” – a self-bolstering attempt by a party to antagonize the opposition as “anti-military” and thereby appear more understanding in comparison. 

The White House and Congress often claim that they have the best interests of American troops in mind. For instance, in response to the President’s decision to veto the original 2016 NDAA, then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) equated Obama’s prioritization of “domestic agenda” with the refusal “to put our troops first”. Despite the bill’s inevitable passage, the White House’s last ditch effort to avoid defaulting on its promise to close Guantanamo Bay Naval Base unnecessarily compromises the legislative process, and unfairly ties the military’s readiness with the administration’s broader foreign policy objectives. Congress’ insistence on increasing OCO funding – money that only escalates the strain of sequestration on the discretionary defense budget – is barely an improvement. This “putting the troops first” justification of political agendas illustrates the true disconnect between the people who fight America’s wars, the political class that dictates U.S. foreign policy, and the greater civilian public.

For instance, Americans who support increased domestic initiatives (i.e. education, infrastructure, and the economy) over military spending, often cite that the U.S. already has a defense budget larger than that of the next seven militarized countries combined. This sentiment is clearly reflected in the Budget Control Act; half of the cuts mandated by sequestration fall on the military’s one-fifth share of the federal budget, while entitlements and other mandatory programs remain almost untouched. At a recent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Angus King (I-ME) observed: “The growth in the budget right now is in mandatory programs, and particularly in health care costs: Medicare, Medicaid, Children's Health Program. That's what's driving the federal deficit. It's not defense.” Yet, the public dissatisfaction from the U.S.’s inefficiency abroad has resulted in the false vilification of defense spending.

Therefore, the result of this politicized argument over emergency war funds and national security measures is a failure to acknowledge those who are most immediately impacted by this incessant budget debate: American military members and families. While Washington plays its game of budget balancing, the military families are receiving pay raises below the Employment Cost index, are receiving reductions in Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and are experiencing TRICARE pharmacy co-pay increases. Sequestration forces the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to dismantle the fine art programs of children in military households, and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) to raise basic groceries prices. These demands for realistic wages, affordable healthcare, and greater educational opportunities are no different from the demands of the American public. Yet, since all of these expenditures fall under the broad nomenclature of “defense spending,” financially supporting the troops is confused with financially supporting the proliferation of the U.S.’s military complex or its actions abroad using U.S. tax dollars.

Considering that less than 1 percent of the American population has been on active military duty, compared with 9 percent of Americans who were in uniform in World War II, the gap in mutual understanding between civilians and military has increased. In light of Veterans Day and Military Family Appreciation Month, the greatest way to thank someone for their service is to obtain a better understanding of the U.S. military and those who serve in it. Supporting the troops does not require support of the establishment in which they belong, the foreign policy of their Commander-in-Chief, or the conflicts in which they fight. While the way the U.S. conducts and finances war will always be heavily debated, we must never let that debate overshadow the one percent of Americans that are immediately impacted. After all, although U.S. foreign policy decisions and domestic legislation have higher influence, American military members are people who are more than deserving of our understanding.

- Sam Kim

 

 

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

The Lack of Humanitarian Efficacy of U.S. Airstrikes

Photo: Gawker

Photo: Gawker

Of all the political and military complicities that currently exist in the Middle East, the strategic efficacy and practicality of U.S. led airstrikes does not seem to be a hotly contested foreign policy issue in the United States Intelligence Community. The Pentagon often touts the effectiveness of coalition airstrikes at undermining extremist leadership, including the deputy leader of the Islamic State who was killed in an American airstrike in August and a top al-Qaeda financial operative who was killed in northwest Syria this past week, going as far to claim that “our coalition airstrikes are the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare.” Furthermore, public support for aerial intervention has not been stronger; a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 71 percent of Americans support air strikes against the Sunni insurgents in Iraq and nearly two-thirds support expanding airstrikes into Syria. According to new figures released by the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in the last month alone have swelled to record highs, with a total of 2,828 weapons deployed against ISIS targets.

Despite how airstrikes are capable of eliminating American enemies without compromising the safety of U.S. military personnel, the same cannot be said about the civilians who are unavoidably caught in the crossfire. On October 3rd, an American AC-130 gunship attacked a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that intelligence mistakenly claimed was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity. Despite a rare apology issued several days later by President Obama, MSF’s claim that "the extensive, quite precise destruction” of the hospital makes U.S. military assertions that the bombing raid was a mistake highly unlikely.

Although no armed conflict is without noncombatant casualties, excusal of an error as costly as “collateral damage” seems duplicitous and overly sanitized. Individual investigations are currently being conducted by the Pentagon, a joint U.S.-Afghan team, NATO, and possibly the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which may or may not categorize the incident as a violation of international humanitarian law. Unfortunately, the United States is no stranger to the accidental attack of civilian facilities in its Middle Eastern peacekeeping endeavors.

For instance, in October 2001, American warplanes bombed the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul, Afghanistan only to bomb the same complex again ten days later – another mistake the Pentagon attributed to "a human error in the targeting process." However, no admission of wrongdoing is complete without attribution to faulty intelligence; a Pentagon statement claimed that "U.S. forces did not know that ICRC was using one or more of the warehouses," and that Taliban may have been using them to store equipment and military vehicles. This unfortunate theme of feigning ignorance as a means of alleviating responsibility has been all too common since the Persian Gulf War, when the U.S. bombed a civilian air-raid shelter in Amiriyah, Iraq because it fit the profile of a military command center, an assumption that killed 408 civilians. Brigadier General Buster Glosson, who had primary responsibility for targeting, later commented that the assessment wasn't "worth a shit”. Among U.S. aerial mistakes include the 1991 bombing of an Iraqi infant formula production plant mistaken for a “…facility for biological weapons”, the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia, and 2013 drone strike on a Yemeni wedding convoy mistaken for Al-Qaeda.

Yet considering Médecins Sans Frontières’ reputation as a European, Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, perhaps the level of international recognition and investigative urgency an incident receives does not depend on the severity of the atrocity, but the resources available to the surviving victims. Nearly half of all civilian deaths are considered “poorly” reported, meaning they consist of only a single-source claim featuring biographical or photographic evidence, or just contested incidents. As a result, the efficacy of aerial strikes becomes exceedingly questionable when we take into account all the stories that do not make headline news: the voiceless Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian lives that the U.S. military has ended, but cannot acknowledge due to a lack of source-able evidence. The line between war mistake and war crime, collateral damage and collateral murder, is a blurry one. President Obama’s recent announcement to leave 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the end of his term is a grim reminder that our role in the region is far from over. Thus, the American public should reevaluate its aloof acceptance of airstrikes to achieve ambiguous counterterrorism objectives when it is not willing to fully commit to the conflict. 

- Samuel Kim

 

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.

NYU Student Tries Hand at International Diplomacy

Photo: New York Daily News

Photo: New York Daily News

Summary: NYU Stern Junior Won-Moon Joo, A South Korean national and United States permanent resident, has been detained in North Korea since April after sneaking into the country from China. Released after 6-months, many details remain uncertain about his stay and the possible implications.

With the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Worker’s Party of North Korea this Sunday and increasingly strained tensions on the Korean peninsula, October 5th marks an unusually fortunate day in inter-Korean relations.

Back in April of this year, Won-Moon Joo – a South Korean international student studying at New York University – was detained after illegally entering North Korea from China. In a CNN interview conducted a month later at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, Joo made his first public appearance since being apprehended. In what appeared to be a prepared – and possibly coached – statement, Joo acknowledged his illegal entrance to the DPRK and expressed his hopes “that some great event could happen…that could have a good effect on the relations" between the two Koreas. When asked what kind of great event he was referring to, the response was light-hearted:

“I’m not really sure yet.” Instead, Joo optimistically focused on how his potential release would elucidate to the international community that the North is indeed capable of “generous treatment,” despite his clear violation of South Korea’s National Security Law (under the charges of entering the North without government permission and making pro-North remarks), as well as vindicate the utility of his seemingly purposeless escapade into the communist nation.

In response to Joo’s detainment, a ministry spokesperson from South Korea’s Unification Ministry stated:

“It is deeply regrettable that North Korea is detaining Joo Won-moon, who is a South Korean national, without any explanation to our government and his family. The government strongly demands the North immediately release Joo and return him to the arms of his family."

Considering Joo’s odd motivations and the rash unpredictability of North Korean foreign policy, the student’s fate was largely uncertain. Joo was the fourth known South Korean national apprehended in the country; two of those nationals were arrested in March on charges of spying (claims the South's National Intelligence Service called "groundless”) and subsequently sentenced to hard labor for life. Historically, the United States has been largely successful securing the release of its citizens despite not having a diplomatic or consular relationship with the DPRK, often at the expense of special humanitarian visits (i.e. New Mexico congressman Bill Richardson in 1996, former president Bill Clinton in 2009, former president Jimmy Carter in 2010). However, the repatriation of South Korean nationals is much more difficult and often unsuccessful, placing Joo in a purgatory of outcomes.

Five months after Joo’s arrest on September 25, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the sole news agency in North Korea, sanctioned a thirty-minute press conference in which Won-Moon Joo delivered an amiable statement all too typical of the agency’s ideological propaganda.

Making clear that his address was given in free will and intended to spread “the truth” about North Korea, Joo reasserted the North’s "humanitarian way" of treating him and professed the North as a "man-centered society where everything is for the benefit of the people." He described his positive observations of “North Korean college students conversing in English, watching foreign movies in theaters and even reading western novels on the computer.”

As a result, in what appears to be a conciliatory measure in currently strained inter-Korean affairs, North Korea repatriated Joo early morning on October 8th. Experts claim that the North’s rare instance of clemency may have been to “promote its regime as an advocate of human rights ahead of its anniversary.” Considering the pro-North content matter of Joo’s September press conference and his supposed desire to spurn a “great event,” these factors may have contributed to his sudden release. However, the student’s brief stint in the one of the world’s most isolated countries is still questionable. Three other South Koreans under much more severe circumstance remain detained, while the escalation of the North’s nuclear provocations perpetually increases the need for joint South Korea–United States military exercises.

While Won-Moon Joo’s return to the United States should provide further insight into his detainment and the veracity of the statements he made, this occurrence only substantiates the difficult and somewhat odd complex that exists on the Korean peninsula.

- Samuel Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment

Samuel Kim

Sam is a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Sciences pursuing majors in Politics and East Asian Studies, with a concentration in Korean language and civilization. Having grown up on a U.S. military base in South Korea, he is particularly interested in U.S. defense policy, international security, post-colonial Korea, and Asian American history. Sam serves as the president of NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition and the treasurer of NYU College Democrats. He is a former intern for New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and currently works at the Public Interest Center at NYU School of Law.