Scholar Spotlight | Connecting communities in Texas

bringing Japan's high speed rail to Texas

Fairooz Adams asks a question at an SMU Tower Center lecture.

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Fairooz Adams believes in using local politics to shape a community. Adams ran for local office when he was 20 years old, and is now carrying out his senior practicum with Texas Central Partners to bring high-speed rail to Texas and revolutionize the way cities are connected in America. The SMU Tower Center sat down with him to discuss his experiences and his goals.

You ran for local office in Lewisville, Texas, as a sophomore at SMU. Tell us about your experience.

I’ve been involved in local politics around Lewisville, where I’m from, since I was 15 years old. I launched a petition to stop my high school class from being split into two different classes, and we were successful — since then I’ve worked on four campaigns. When I was 20 years old, I thought that if I wanted to do something meaningful then I could go back to the community and run, so that’s exactly what I did. I was worried people wouldn’t take me seriously, but I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case. Many people were enthused about my campaign and were supportive; we out-fundraised our opponent and that was a big success. In the end we came up short, but it was a good learning experience.

What did you take away from your campaign?

It’s very important to involve people in the local community in your campaign because it gives them a stake in your success, and it’s also very important to connect with people on a gut level. At the end of the day people vote with their guts, and you need to know whether people believe in you or not. You also have to genuinely care about your community. Our campaign wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t been consistently involved since I was 15.

Let’s switch gears to what you’re doing now. Your research project for the Tower Scholars Program is focused on bringing high-speed rail to Texas. What have you found so far?

I’m looking at whether high-speed rail would be able to connect different communities so that places with high economic activity can be connected to places with a surplus of labor. The idea came to me when I read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. He makes the argument that opportunity has left these communities behind and now they’re impoverished. The people there can’t afford to move and don’t want to. So what if you could connect these places to economic centers?

Dr. Hiroki Takeuchi and I interviewed people from several industries while we were in Japan (through the SMU-in-Japan study abroad program) — Central Japan Railway Company, Japan Airlines, J-Air, Toyota — to look at how those companies compete against each other and how they function. I learned there is a substantial degree of competition between the industries and not a lot of cooperation.

What was it like to ride the shinkansen in Japan?

I rode the train from Osaka to Tokyo. It was the smoothest train I’ve ever been on. I’ve taken DART, and it just does not compare in any way. It’s like being in an airplane, but without the noise – it’s so smooth. I couldn’t tell we were going 220 miles per hour. It accelerates and decelerates so smoothly, it’s amazing.

How has being an HCM Tower Scholar affected your college experience?

I’m very happy with the Tower Scholars Program. I don’t think I would be interning at Texas Central Partners if it weren’t for the Program and Texas Central Partners is an amazing place because it has a Silicon Valley feel to it, like a startup, but at the same time it’s a big project with a lot of funding behind it. It’s the best of both worlds because you’re doing something real that’s already big and important, but at the same time it’s still kind of a startup.

I’ve also met incredible people through this program, people who really care about America and our politics and making our country better.

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The Crackdown in Saudi Arabia: Former Amb. Robert Jordan weighs in

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman arrested as many as 500 people Monday in what he said was an action to rid the country of corruption. Today, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of an act of war.

Tower Center Senior Fellow and Diplomat-in Residence, Robert Jordan, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has weighed in on the newly aggressive crown prince. Read and listen to his interviews in:


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Student blog | Jerome Powell as Fed Chair Means More of the Same

All eyes have been on the Federal Reserve this year; investors and economists have been awaiting decisions on the direction the bank is going to take as the U.S. economy continues to recover. Wednesday, the Fed took center stage again when the White House announced that President Trump will indeed be nominating a new chairman, opting to replace Janet Yellen when her first term expires in February. White House officials reportedly notified Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell that he would be Trump’s choice. This is unprecedented, seeing as every chair has been reappointed to a second term since World War II.

So, who is Jerome Powell?

The 64-year old was appointed to the board of governors by President Obama in 2012. He spent time as a lawyer and investment banker before joining President George H.W. Bush’s administration to serve as Assistant Secretary and Undersecretary of the Treasury. He later became a partner at a New York-based private equity firm, The Carlyle Group, and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, all before joining the board of governors. Powell is expected to continue Yellen’s slow and cautious approach to monetary policy and financial regulations, though some on Wall Street are confident he can be an ally in the push to deregulate.

The announcement comes at an important time for the Fed, which just concluded its monthly meeting and elected not to raise interest rates yet. The bank began raising rates in December 2015, having kept them low since the recession to stimulate economic growth. Since then, there have been four rate increases and another is likely on the way in December. Powell is expected to stay the course, keeping an eye on inflation, which has been growing more slowly than anticipated, in addition to other indicators that may suggest the economy is ready for changes in policy.

He is also expected to continue with the plans to normalize the Fed’s balance sheet, which were announced earlier this year. These plans will take over at a consequential time, for they will test the central bank’s true power over the economy. Many institutions around the world, including the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan, will be watching closely to see if the U.S. succeeds in its attempt to be the first major economy to unwind the drastic measures taken during the recession.

Brian O’Donnell is a senior from Fairfield, Connecticut. He is triple major in Finance, Economics, and Public Policy with a minor in Public Policy and International Affairs. Along with being an HCM Tower Scholar, Brian is a Hilltop New Century Scholar and Francis Ouimet Scholar. Brian’s areas of interest include fiscal and monetary policy as well as globalization and international trade.

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Event Recap | How China Escaped the Poverty Trap

China's rapid economic development

Yuen Yuen Ang presents findings from her new book “How China Escaped the Poverty Trap.”

China’s rapid economic development has stunned theorists everywhere. After all, economic success isn’t supposed to be possible under a dictatorship, and yet over the past 30 years China has managed to pull 800 million people out of poverty through national development alone, while still maintaining its autocratic regime. In 1980, China was an impoverished country, with a GDP lower than traditionally poor countries like Chad and Malawi. Today, its global prowess has Americans worried about losing their number-one slot.

Yuen Yuen Ang, associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan, gave a lecture at the Tower Center to explain China’s success. In her new book “How China Escaped the Poverty Trap,” Ang credits China’s rapid rise to its use of “directed improvisation,” which she defines as the combination of top-down direction and bottom-up improvisation within the party state. Central authorities direct, while local authorities improvise local solutions to local problems. Within this environment, she explained that China’s development process unfolded in three steps.

Step one: Use weak institutions to build markets

China harnessed weak (by traditional Western standards) institutions to build markets at the local level.  For example, China had collective property rights instead of private property rights, partial regulation instead of impartial regulation, incentives for extraction, etc. Normally, all of these elements would usually be considered an awful start. But instead of importing best practices from abroad or attempting to modernize in one step, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) encouraged local officials to use their existing institutions, even if normatively weak, such as personal relations, to kick-start markets.

Step two: Emerging markets stimulate strong institutions

Once markets emerged, the goals of development evolved: from rapid, coarse growth to higher-quality development. Available resources change too. Ang argues that efforts to copy strong institutions found in developed economies without a sufficient level of economic development are typically fruitless. China pragmatically focused on adapting its existing institutions, including communist features and personalist networks, to build markets first.

Step three: Strong institutions preserve markets

This third step, Ang argues, is the widely accepted argument in “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. Acemoglu and Robinson concluded that economic success is driven by the presence of “inclusive and non-extractive” institutions. Ang agrees with this development theory, but points out that this is a theory that applies to advanced market economies. It took China 30 years to get close to this step. In the West and in the United States, it took centuries.

China’s ruthless pursuit for economic growth, however, has negative consequences. The environment is in ruin and not everyone benefited equally from economic growth. Ang argues that the CCP was aware of these shortcomings, but in the beginning, desired economic growth at all costs.

Ang concluded her talk arguing that this three-step development process is not unique to China. Nigeria, for example, built Nollywood, the world’s third largest movie industry, without established intellectual property rights, by using piracy to their advantage. Other weak states like Afghanistan, Ang believes, can also learn from the Chinese example by adapting their existing institutions, even religion and tribalism, to serve developmental goals.

For a detailed summary of Ang’s book, see Duncan Green’s review at the Oxfam blog.

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Tower Center Fellow Conducts Interviews in Norway

Tower Center Fellow Conducts Interviews in Norway with former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

SMU Tower Center Fellow LaiYee Leong met with former Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik for a project at the SMU Center for Presidential History.

Tower Center Fellow Dr. LaiYee Leong is conducting interviews in Oslo, Norway, as part of an oral history project for the SMU Center for Presidential History. The project focuses on transatlantic relations during the George W. Bush administration. This past month, she recorded conversations with Norway’s former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former defense minister Kristin Krohn Devold.

What was your biggest takeaway from your interviews?

Perhaps the main takeaway is that it is not easy being a small country caught up in big power politics! The post-Cold War international structure had not yet stabilized in the early 2000s. The US operated as the lone superpower but the EU was doing well and leaders there expressed a new confidence, notably in the opposition to the Iraq war. Some of the rhetoric that the Bush administration embraced rubbed Europeans the wrong way. It was a challenging time for smaller countries to ensure the tensions did not undermine shared security goals.

What role did the two individuals play in transatlantic relations in the early 2000s?

Norway had a profound interest in staying friendly with all parties. Norwegian leaders saw their role as continuing to engage the US and to demonstrate the importance of transatlantic alliances. Norway supported the war in Afghanistan from the start. And even though it opposed the invasion of Iraq, it later offered critical material support for reconstruction and played a big role in development aid. Norway was (and is) not an EU member, but as a NATO member, Norway worked to build common ground. It coordinated closely with other North Sea countries to reform its command structure and update its capabilities to align it with new strategic goals.

Did the interviews alter your perspective of the time period?

Scholars of US-European relations often characterize the early 2000s as a period of “transatlantic drift” after decades of close alignment. Secretary Rumsfeld famously referred to the emergence of an “old Europe” and a “new Europe.”

My conversations with Norwegian leaders show that those broad strokes do not capture the complexity of ties across the ocean. It is insightful to hear leaders talk about their interactions with US and European counterparts as well as their experiences of historical events. It makes one appreciate the role of personality in diplomatic relations and the importance of personal chemistry among world leaders. Ms. Krohn Devold, for example, offered specific recollections of how she learned to work well with Secretary Rumsfeld.

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Center Spotlight | Lessons from Bush 41

As a result of a massive 10-year declassification project at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, Jeffrey A. Engel wrote his new book, “When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War.” The Tower Center sat down with Engel, our Senior Fellow and Director of the SMU Center for Presidential History, to discuss his latest project.

Tell us how this book project came about.

Oh my goodness. That is a good story actually. So, my first tenure track job was at the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M, which of course is where the Bush Presidential Library is located. My department chair walked into my office and said “You know there’s a diary over at the library they just released. You might find it interesting.”  It was George Bush’s diary from when he was de facto U.S. ambassador to China in the early 1970s, and it was fascinating. He was much more interesting as a person who was thinking hard about the nature of the international system than I had anticipated, to be honest, and he also seemed like a fun guy. This led first and foremost to publication of the diary, which the president and I did together, and then subsequently and more importantly, it led to a deep interest in the end of the Cold War, which of course produced this book.

What did you find most interesting while researching this book?

The most fascinating part for me is that we think back on the Cold War in many ways as inevitable. We think that the capitalists will win, but also, that it was a period of joy and happiness and excitement. The truth is I think that we’re actually, as a globe, remarkably lucky to have survived. It is extremely rare in history for a great power to collapse without an ensuing great power war. It’s just the nature of the international system going all the way back to Athens and Sparta.

That didn’t happen at the end of the Cold War, and I contend that it didn’t just not happen, it was actually the active result of prudent and thoughtful and quiet diplomacy on the part of all the great powers, but in particular on the part of President Bush.

Professor Jeffrey A. Engel teaches class outside of Dallas Hall.

What insights are you hoping this book will offer in terms of the U.S.’ position in the current global sphere?

I did not anticipate Donald Trump when I began working on this book. I think even Trump supporters would concede that he is inexperienced on the international stage. He’s prone to shoot from the hip, rhetorically, and hopefully not otherwise.

“When the World Seemed New” is a book about a man who was as experienced as any president in the 20th century. He was particularly experienced internationally. He was calm and confident, and it’s that calm that was really the key to his success. So ultimately this is a book that tells us that what we want in the middle of a crisis is not a leader who is going to escalate the crisis, but a leader who’s going to deal with it quietly.

What could the United States’ current administration learn from your book and from watching Bush?

One of the things that’s really important about that is, and we know this from the declassification project, that throughout his administration, Bush was constantly criticized for not doing enough. Whether it be at Tiananmen Square, whether it be at the fall of the Berlin wall, or whether it be with the coup in the Soviet Union in 1991. At each point he was criticized for being too quiet, too cautious, too calm, not doing enough. We now know two things that are really important.

The first is that throughout that period in each of those crises he was actually working incredibly hard behind the scenes on the phone, with letters, with cables, trying to maintain international calm and international order at the highest possible level. That calming effect was really critical to keep things from going south.

The second thing that we know is that he was really aware that he was suffering in the polls, and he just didn’t give a damn. He said: “You know, saving the world is more important than my poll numbers.” And that is also something which I think the president of the United States today should consider.

Before President Trump took office, some people argued that the U.S. and Russia were entering a new Cold War. How do you think we got to this point?

That’s actually a big aspect of the book. There are two key reasons that Vladimir Putin and other Russian nationalists are upset with the West. The first is they felt they didn’t get enough aid after the end of Cold War and that therefore Russia went through a period of economic upheaval, which was terrible. And the second is that Gorbachev believed he had a promise that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not expand (and then it did). So, if you want to understand why the Russians are upset today, you really have to go back to this cold war zone.

However, I don’t think we’re necessarily in a new Cold War because I don’t think Russia is that intimidating. But they are increasingly an annoyance.

What would you consider to be George H.W. Bush’s biggest accomplishments?

The first is keeping us all alive. I really can’t stress that enough; how incredibly rare it is historically for that type of event to happen (the collapse of the Soviet Union), without a war, and this is the first time we had to deal with this kind of problem with nuclear weapons in the mix. Bush can really be considered the father of modern Germany and therefore the father of modern Europe, and consequently in many ways, the father of the modern international system. Because without his leadership there is no conceivable way that Germany would have gotten unified as quickly as it did and as peacefully as it did. And within NATO, which is really crucial. So if you like the Germans on your side, you have George H.W. Bush to thank.

“When the World Seemed New” is available for advanced purchase here and will be widely released Nov. 7.

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New scholarship for SMU students studying in Japan honors Dr. H Neill McFarland

Former SMU student Matthew Reitz during his SMU-in-Japan term in the summer of 2016.

The ORIX Americas Miyauchi Charitable Foundation has agreed to fund a scholarship for SMU students who participate in the SMU-in-Japan study abroad program at Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU). The grant will be $20,000 per year, beginning in 2018, for five years. The scholarship, founded in the SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program on Japan and East Asia, intends to commemorate Dr. H Neill McFarland’s contribution to U.S.-Japan relations by building ties between SMU and KGU.

“Through the ORIX scholarship, Dr. H. Neill McFarland will be honored for his contributions to expanding U.S- Japan relations over many decades,” said Hideto Nishitani, Chairman, President and CEO of Dallas-based ORIX USA Corporation. “ORIX is making an investment in developing young leaders that can shape the future of international relations and business. Through this exchange, students will experience a new culture and environment that will enhance their abilities, challenge their world perspective, and prove invaluable in our increasingly interconnected world.”

Dr. McFarland, who started as a professor at SMU in 1954, began visiting KGU in 1956 as a visiting professor. He continued to travel between the U.S. and Japan for the rest of his life, and he founded the Japan-America Society of Dallas in 1970.

“Our family was so touched to learn about this scholarship,” said Anna McFarland, daughter of Neill McFarland. “It is a deeply meaningful way to remember our father and honor his work at SMU and KGU, both of which were dear to his heart. I know he would have felt greatly honored by this scholarship and excited about the life-changing opportunities it will offer SMU students.”

The grant is also made possible by Japan Airlines’ commitment to offer low-fare plane tickets for SMU students studying at KGU in Osaka, Japan.

“Japan Airlines is honored to participate in the Dr. Neill McFarland Memorial Scholarship for students who wish to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and study,” said Hiroshi Abe, senior vice president of Japan Airlines America. “We hope these students will come to love Japan and take back many fond memories from their time spent abroad. We salute the ORIX Americas Miyauchi Charitable Foundation for helping to make this journey possible for the SMU students.”

“I thank Nishitani-san for choosing SMU to be the recipient of this grant,” said Hiroki Takeuchi, director of the Sun & Star Program. “The SMU-in-Japan Program at KGU is rooted in SMU’s ties with KGU, which Dr. McFarland established and developed beginning in the 1950s.  Thanks to Dr. McFarland’s effort, the SMU-in-Japan Program has received tremendous support from many people at KGU, who remember him fondly.”

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Student Blog | 5 Take-aways from “Global Health Diplomacy”

Panelists discuss Global Health Diplomacy at the Tower Center Oct. 18.

The Tower Center hosted the panel discussion “Global Health Diplomacy” Oct. 18 featuring the former President of Nigeria H. E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Bishop Sunday Onuoha, the founder and president of Vision Africa, Fiemu Nwarkiaku, associate dean at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Office of Global Health, and Eric Bing, professor of global health at SMU.

The panel, moderated by Frank Roby, a Gallagher Healthcare Practice Leader, discussed the state of Nigeria healthcare, past, present, and future, and how healthcare problems in developing nations can impact the rest of the world. They also spoke about the U.S.’s past interactions with developing healthcare in Africa, and how recent political choices, like the cutting of funding for various programs, will impact the African continent and the international community.

Here are my five take-aways from the panel:

1. Nigeria’s Success has Old Foundations

Healthcare and educational foundations built by missionaries combined with the country’s willingness to admit to health-related problems have helped Nigeria to lead Sub-Saharan Africa in healthcare.

2. The Importance of Interfaith

Interfaith approaches are of paramount importance for successful African healthcare; in communities where religious institutions are one of the greatest ways to positively impact the community, building a healthcare solution with only the input of one segment of the religious society can lead to disaster for everyone.

3. Technology Brings Hope

Improving technology is one of the greatest causes for hope. Machines that allow for more mobility, like drones, and tech that makes medical professionals more efficient are helping to increase not only the level of care that can be provided, but also the speed at which it can be administered.

4. Helping Africa Helps Everyone

Assistance from the international community is not only incredibly helpful, it is in the best interest of those countries that send the help. Diseases that start epidemics in Africa don’t care about the nationality of whom they infect, so it makes sense for countries to help solve healthcare problems in Africa as soon as they’re an issue, instead of letting them spread to other regions.

5. How to Make Assistance Effective

International assistance is generally the most successful if it starts by focusing on one problem and then expands its focus as it becomes necessary to better provide for the community. Programs should be open to primary healthcare by any and all members of the community that can provide it, and should focus on the long-term goal of improving Nigeria’s facilities so that all Nigerian citizens can be comfortable staying in country for their health needs.

Destiny Rose Murphy is a junior at SMU triple majoring in political science, English, and philosophy, as well as minoring in Human Rights and Public Policy and International Affairs. She is a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar.

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Scholar Spotlight | What I learned visiting prisons in the Deep South

Nine days, seven states, eight hotels. Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Grace Caputo, class of 2017, traveled with the Embrey Human Rights Program to tour death row prisons across the Deep South in August. She now has an internship with the Meadows Foundation Health Policy Institute. Caputo is majoring in political science and human rights, and minoring in law and legal reasoning; she will graduate from SMU in December. The Tower Center sat down to talk with her about the tour and internship.

HCM Tower Scholar poses with John Thompson, a member of Witness to Innocence. Thompson served 18 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, 14 of which were on death row, before he was exonerated. Thompson died of a heart attack earlier this month.

Tell us about your experience on the death row tour.

It was pretty exhausting because every night we had to move. What was cool though, is that we got to work with Witness to Innocence, an organization of death row exonerees. In each state, even if we didn’t get to see the prison facilities, we talked to someone who was on death row in that state. We also went to different law firms that work on prison conditions and with inmates on death row who can’t afford counsel. It was a really eye-opening experience. I had never been in a prison before; like most people I had no reason to be going to a prison.

What was it like to be in a prison?

It was interesting to see how the prisoners lived — most of the prisons are not air-conditioned, which was really crazy. I was sweating; I couldn’t imagine being in that environment for an extended period of time. It opened my eyes to a lot of the corruption that goes on in the trials, and how the prison system is more for profit than rehabilitation, which I didn’t know much about. A lot of the Witness to Innocence people had similar stories. They either had really bad public defenders or they had prosecutors that withheld evidence or did other crazy things. I didn’t know it was that bad.

What was it like to talk to people who were once on death row?

Some of them have come back from it and are really happy with what they are doing; they’ve moved on. Others, you can see it’s taken a toll on them. It was sad to see. If you take away years of someone’s life, and they live in those conditions for something they didn’t do, it’s sad to see how they come out. Some are depressed, or smoking all the time; one man had trouble walking and used a cane. They were young when it happened — they lost their young adult years, which was sad to see.

Why did you decide to have this experience?

Since coming to SMU I have changed my view on the death penalty; now I’m really against it. Before college, I thought I could understand why in some cases it might be an acceptable punishment. The human rights program opened my eyes, moral arguments aside, to the inconsistencies and biases in the system, and to how inhumane it is.
I thought the trip would be interesting. I think prisons are interesting in general because they’re full of the people no one thinks about. People think, “Who cares? They committed this crime so it doesn’t matter how they’re treated.” I’m hoping to at least do pro bono work with this issue after law school so I wanted to see it for myself.

The driving entrance to Louisiana State Penitentiary.

What struck you the most while you were on the tour?

When I went to Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary) it was like modern-day slavery. They make the inmates work for the first three years in the fields. Unlike other prisons we visited, at Angola I noticed right away that most of the prisoners were African American. They were doing field work and the officers were on horses with huge guns — it looked like slavery. They work eight hours a day and are not paid the first three years.

I never thought about inmates getting paid for their work, but these prisoners are making our license plates, in Texas they make our car tags, and they make highway signs. I think it’s important they get some kind of compensation.

Tell us about your internship.

I am working at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, and specifically I am working on the Caruth Justice Project, which works within Texas jails to improve mental health both before inmates arrive in jail and once they’re there. We are pushing to have a mental health expert on call for 9-1-1 suicide calls. Also, if the 9-1-1 call requires officers to go to the site, we want them to be accompanied by that mental health expert to ensure people are treated in the most beneficial way for their health.

The second part of the project is reducing wait times for mental health evaluations. Before defendants can stand trial, they are required to have an evaluation, so some people wait longer in jail for the evaluation than they would have been if found guilty of the crime. We want to raise grant funding for data collaboration so that records are kept and shared if people have already been evaluated.

How do you plan to use these experiences after college? Would you recommend the death row tour to others?

I want to take this knowledge with me to law school and figure out what I want to do; maybe go into this field or do pro bono work. I want to incorporate this experience into my lifestyle and career.

I would recommend this trip to other people because it is a unique experience that you wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to do. It deals with our most basic human right: the right to life. In addition, it is worthwhile to be able to see first-hand the prison system, especially because the U.S. has the one of the highest numbers of  incarcerated people in the world. Whatever side of the political spectrum you’re on its important to be as informed as possible.

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Event Recap | The North Korean Missile Threat

Daryl G. Kimball. executive director of the Arms Control Association, presents “The North Korean Missile Crisis” at the Tower Center Oct. 12.

President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” in a speech at the United Nations Sept. 19. Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responded that this rhetoric could lead the United States to World War III.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, visited the Tower Center to present his lecture “The North Korean Missile Threat” Oct. 12. Kimball argues that tensions are as high as they were in October 1962 — the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Though North Korea has been a nuclear state for roughly three decades now, the rate of missile testing has increased exponentially under the regime of Kim Jong-un, who became Supreme Leader of North Korea after his father’s death in 2011. President Trump inherited this missile crisis when he took office in January, Kimball argues, but his administration, and specifically his tweets, have only increased the risk of conflict and worsened the relationship between the United States and North Korea.

The Trump administration’s strategy toward North Korea has been “maximum pressure and engagement.” Kimball believes that yes, the pressure has been applied, but in the form of empty threats and without the balancing act of engagement.

The North Korean threat 

As of now, after several tests of the Hwasong-12 missile, we know North Korea has the capability to strike South Korea, parts of Japan, and the U.S. island territory of Guam with a nuclear-tipped short to medium ranged missile. North Korea also tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time in July, the Hwasong-14, which would theoretically make Western U.S. cities like Seattle and Los Angeles potential targets, but analysts disagree on the missile’s exact range. If North Korea continues to test, Kimball claims they could have the capability to confidently strike the continental U.S. within one to two years.

What Kim Jong-un wants

The highest priority of Kim Jong-un and the Worker’s Party of Korea is regime preservation; they want the Kim dynasty to remain in power. Kim himself is paranoid. He is convinced that the United States wants to invade North Korea and fight a war in order to force regime change.

What we can’t do

The U.S. strategy so far has been to impose sanctions and to build up missile defense (which aims to strike down a missile launched by an enemy before it reaches it target), but we can’t rely on either, according to Kimball. Though sanctions are a useful tool they will not stop Kim from testing nuclear missiles. Additionally, while missile defense is helpful in specific situations, it is not developed to help in a surprise attack, which is the most likely scenario in this case.

Some military experts advocate for a precision first strike to neutralize the nuclear threat. (A precision first strike is an attack on an enemy’s nuclear arsenal to eliminate the enemy’s ability to retaliate.) But U.S.  intelligence on North Korea is not excellent, making it almost certain that at least one of North Korea’s missiles would be left standing after the strike. As far as conventional options go, the U.S. could absolutely succeed in a military conflict, but it would come at a great cost — millions of lives.

“Are there military options?” Kimball asked. “Of course. But we don’t like them.”

What we can do

Kimball advocates for third-party diplomacy. He argues that no progress can be made between a leader who has never heard “no,” Kim Jong-un, and a leader with an over-sized ego, President Trump. He said in order to engage North Korea in discussions, the United States must acknowledge North Korea’s security concerns. The U.S. should send someone else in to initiate dialogue, whether it be French President Macron (who has volunteered for the job), a religious figure, or someone else. In the meantime, Kimball argues, President Trump must tone down his rhetoric.

He closed his lecture with a quote from President John F. Kennedy after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”

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