Alan Bersin | The U.S. is too intertwined with Canada, Mexico to back out of NAFTA

Alan Bersin, assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, visited the Texas-Mexico Center to talk about the changing nature of borders Dec. 6.

Alan Bersin talks borders at the Texas-Mexico Center Dec. 6.

Alan Bersin, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), gave a talk Dec. 6 at the Texas-Mexico Center discussing the changing nature of borders in a globalized world.

Borders are no longer lines in the sand, Bersin said. They are flows of people and goods. They aren’t the first line of defense for a nation either. In a globalized community, “the border begins where airplanes take off.”

This means that in order to secure the homeland, the U.S. has to secure the flows of goods and people coming to the U.S. — once they reach the border it’s too late. On average, 97 to 98 percent of trade and travel is lawful. The challenge for DHS is to sort out the illicit 3 percent, to “find the needle in the proverbial haystack,” Bersin said.

He laid out three ways to find the needle:

  1. Search every piece of hay
  2. Use intelligence to locate the needle
  3. Make the haystack smaller

The DHS has elected to focus on option three: find the 97 to 98 percent of trade and travel that is legal and move it across the border quickly, making the haystack smaller. This way they can allocate resources to uncover the potentially harmful 3 percent. This is accomplished through programs like Global Entry, which allows people to give up information to the government, be classified a low-risk passenger, and quickly pass through border security.

DHS’s goal is to provide heightened security without disrupting the flow of people and goods.

Along with globalization and advancements in technology came a paradigm shift in information sharing. Nations used to hoard information in hopes of trading insights for diplomatic advantage, but in a globalized economy information sharing is essential. It allows governments to connect the dots.

Bersin transitioned to a discussion of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. He argued that NAFTA created a partnership in 1994, transforming the two countries that were once neighbors into roommates. “You can leave your neighbor, you can’t walk out on your roommate,” he said.

From the roommate perspective of NAFTA, Bersin is skeptical that the new administration led by President Donald Trump will follow through with his claimed intent to back out of the deal. He said that while there will most definitely be changes on issues like immigration, the U.S. is too intertwined with Canada and Mexico to dismantle the trade agreement.

Trump’s advisers will look at their options and find they don’t want to leave the deal. “I have great faith,” Bersin said.  Time will tell if Donald Trump defies expectations again.

Listen to Alan Bersin’s talk here:

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John McCain | “Trump retreats from trade deals at his peril”


Tower Center Honorary Board Member Sen. John McCain wrote an editorial in the Financial Times Dec. 6.

McCain argues against withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it would make the U.S. less competitive and would compromise American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.

“It is a fool’s errand to try to recreate a mythical time when Fortress America was impregnable, unaffected by the world’s troubles,” McCain wrote. “Instead, we should have faith in American leadership and the power of our values, including the advocacy of free trade, which have made the world and us safer, freer and richer.”

Read his article, “Trump retreats from trade deals at his peril,” here

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Josh Rovner on Trump considering Exxon Mobil CEOs for secretary of state


Tower Chair Josh Rovner commented on rumors President-elect Donald Trump is considering present and past CEOs of Exxon Mobil for the position of secretary of state in the Dallas Morning News.

Some are skeptical of the idea, saying the CEOs don’t have enough experience outside of business to qualify them for the position.

“It could be very unusual,” Rovner said. “The only reason it might make sense has to do with the way Trump feels about international relations, that it seems always to be related to a business transaction.”

Read the full article here.

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Q&A with Sara Jendrusch | Exploring security within the commercial sex trade


HCM Tower Scholar Sara Jendrusch traveled to London as part of her research project to work with women who had been trafficked into the sex industry.

The Tower Center sat down with Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Sara Jendrusch to discuss her research exploring the security of the commercial sex trade. Jendrusch has conducted research in Amsterdam, London and around the United States. She is majoring in English and corporate communications and public affairs, with minors in public policy and international affairs and history.

Why did you decide to study security of the commercial sex trade?

Tower Scholars PortraitsStudying the sex trade is certainly not something to take lightly. When I first became interested in it, I wanted to understand the power given to the women by the law — how were their rights and freedoms restricted? As I looked more into the subject, however, what caught my interest was not the legality or morality of the sex trade itself. Rather, it was the concerns of the individuals involved. They did not focus on the larger debates on freedom and empowerment surrounding the industry, because it simply did not matter to them. Prostitution was their means of survival. They focused on surviving and protecting themselves. It was that survival instinct I wanted to study, so as I moved forward with my research I began to examine sex workers’ concerns regarding security and protecting themselves.

Your research has taken you around the world. What did you learn from your experiences in Amsterdam and London?

My time in Amsterdam was short compared to the time I have focused on other locations. However, what I did find was that regardless of its legality, the role of law enforcement remains a large issue of concern. Those in the industry still worry about whether the police had the ability (or, more accurately, the will) to protect the workers if they were put into danger by a client for any reason.

When I studied in London, I was exposed to a different side of the sex industry. Through the non-profit I interned with,  I worked with women who had been trafficked into the sex industry. Some of the larger problems that the women seemed to face had to do with the government and police force, and the assistance the women received or did not receive. More than that, however, my time in London showed me the impact that sex trafficking can have on an individual. Regardless of country, race, ethnicity, or age, these women were all tremendously hurt by their experiences, and it was one of the ugliest sides of humanity I have seen. Hearing their stories was an experience I knew I needed to have over the course of this research. It’s easy to talk about the Red Light District, or women who choose to be in the industry, or any of the lighter ways of looking at it. But in order to understand the sex trade fully, you have to acknowledge the worst, most difficult parts of it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. That full understanding is the only way we can see where the true problems lie and how we can work best with the individuals in the industry.

Have you looked into the sex trade in Dallas? How does it compare to the rest of the world?

Dallas is an interesting city to look into, because it is one of the worst areas in the United States for trafficking. However, the Dallas Police Department and the individuals I’m working with recognize this, and they have a goal of countering that status. They have developed a police system that empowers the women in the industry, as well as the officers who work the cases. It has taken a while, but the system Dallas developed is making an impact. The difference between it and other systems is that a segment of government – the police force – is at the head of it. Because of that, they can work with non-profits and other government segments to unite them all in order to attack the problems they see.

What have you found most surprising about your research?

As a communications scholar, I notice quite a bit about how people talk about the subject, and what they say or don’t say. What has been most surprising to me is how all of the people involved in the industry identify the women. Most of them view the women as victims, but they do not focus on the male prostitutes as victims. The definition of victim changes from group to group, but the title remains the same. It is a small detail, but it defines so much in the industry. How the women are viewed or defined changes how they are treated, and I cannot help but wonder if that helps or hurts the efforts of the groups trying to offer assistance to the women.

How does your research for the Tower Scholars Program fit into your goals for the future?

People ask me all the time if this is a field I want to go into. Truthfully, I don’t know. If I am able to go into the field in a position I am passionate about, I certainly am not closed to it. But I always emphasize that my choice in doing this research is not about getting into an industry or building a resume. Small as it may be, this is something that could have an impact that lasts longer than I could. It’s something that can be used as is or built upon, depending on what the industry needs as time passes. That’s why I am passionate about this research – it gives me the chance to leave a small footprint behind, and if it can help even one woman, then I have succeeded in something.

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Former Tower Center Student awarded Marshall Scholarship


Brandon Roselius with Rahfin Faruk at the Tower Center’s 2014 National Security Conference.

SMU graduate Rahfin Faruk was awarded the Marshall Scholarship, a scholarship awarded to young Americans to study in the United Kingdom, becoming SMU’s second Marshall Scholar.

While at SMU, Faruk ran the Tower Center Student Forum and was awarded the Tower Center’s Jack C. and Annette K. Vaughn Foreign Service and International Affairs Internship.

“I am incredibly humbled to receive this opportunity to study in the United Kingdom and thank the British people for this scholarship,” Faruk said in an SMU press release.

“My life’s goal is to create an economically and financially inclusive world, which I believe can beget socioeconomic progress in critical areas like education, health and housing. With the support of the Marshall Scholarship, I will explore how different technologies, models and approaches can transform painful paradoxes – like the poorer you are, the more you pay – for billions of people.”

Read more about Faruk here.

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Josh Rovner | Push for transparency could have cost Clinton the election

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner wrote an editorial for the Washington Post, “This is why the push for transparency may have cost Clinton the election,” Nov. 28.

Rovner argues that the push for openness from law enforcement and intelligence officials, while understandable, has unintended consequences. Eleven days before the election, James B. Comey, director of the FBI,  sent a letter to Congress saying he was looking over new information that could be relevant to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Clinton herself has said that this cost her the election.

“Transparency is the only way we can hold executive agencies accountable,” Rovner wrote. “However, the Comey saga is a stark and troubling reminder that transparency has a price.”

Read the full editorial here.

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Tower Scholars donate laptops to refugees to help them learn English

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars Kovan Barzani and Thomas Schmedding donated 11 laptops to refugees in Dallas to help them learn English as part of a group project for a class.

Barzani, Schmedding and four of their classmates submitted their project for Engaged Learning funding and used the money to buy the laptops and download a software program that will teach the refugees English.

“There’s so many barriers that exist for language development and getting those resources to people quickly, especially right when they get here, will help them so much as they go through,” Barzani said.

Listen to KERA’s story here.

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Board Member William Cohen | “Don’t Retreat into Fortress America”

Honorary Tower Center Board Member William Cohen, former Republican senator and secretary of defense, coauthored an opinion piece for the New York Times, “Don’t Retreat into Fortress America” with Gary Hart Nov. 22.

Cohen and Hart explore the two greatest surprises of 2016 — Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump as president. Both, they argue, will have a significant impact on post-war international order.

“Wise leaders such as Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall and Acheson constructed a temple in which freedom could thrive and economies could prosper,” Cohen and Hart wrote. “The interior of the temple may be in need of renovation, but Mr. Trump should not pull apart its central pillars and bring it crashing down.”

Read their column here.

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Student Blog | The U.S. Presidential Election and the Future of Japan-US Relations

Dr. Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University lectures at the Tower Center Nov. 15.

When he would quip, “the U.S. is now the geopolitical uncertainty” Dr. Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University never anticipated that the U.S. would actually become the world’s new geopolitical uncertainty. Rather than raising cynical laughter, in the wake of the U.S. presidential election, this statement holds a great deal of clout.

In his talk at the Tower Center, “The U.S. Presidential Election and the Future of Japan-US Relations”, Dr. Nakayama discussed the uncertainty posed by President-elect Donald Trump’s victory to the established U.S.-Japan alliance. Nakayama approached  the issue unbiased, without declaring support for either candidate. His point was a simple – the United States must have an ally in the Asia Pacific, and Japan is the best choice.

Prior to the election results, Hillary Clinton’s projected victory was easily accepted by Japan. It was expected that a Clinton administration would be a continuation of Obama-style policy. While George W. Bush’s foreign policy was considered “too forward leaning”, President Obama has been noted for having the opposite problem. Clinton was expected to be the right balance. Japan, like most of the world, was interested in the “Trump phenomena,” but no one anticipated the reality of a Trump administration.

The Alliance Under Obama

At the onset of his presidency Obama was by no means a foreign policy or national security expert. Yet after the tragedy of March 11, Japan truly found a friend in the United States in its time of crisis. Obama is also popular in Japan for his Global Zero stance on nuclear weapons and his much-appreciated visit to Hiroshima.

Nakayama noted that Obama’s Pivot to Asia or “rebalancing” was considered comprehensive and ambitious. Prior to these efforts the United States’s integration into the Asia Pacific was a stack of bilateral relationships –Obama made this stack a regional to-do list. The attempted Pivot was a positive effort, but the messaging wasn’t right. This laundry list wasn’t prioritized, and it sparked myriad unsatisfied interpretations. China felt contained, the West felt abandoned, and Japan was unsure of the United States’s newly bolstered commitment.

For example, while the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was anticipated to hold great symbolic, economic and political implications, it is now more or less dead. This withdrawal only further calls U.S. regional dedication into question. At this point Nakayama emphasized that the United States must “choose to be here.”

Moreover, while Japan normally isn’t talked about in elections, this cycle was a marked difference. During his campaign, Trump called Japan a free rider, said that it was OK for Japan to become a full-fledged nuclear power, and lumped Japan and China together as unfair trade. This understandably worries Japan.

“We feel a bit nervous,” Nakayama said.

The Alliance Under Trump

Both under and prior to the Obama administration, the U.S.-Japan alliance was not simply about countering threats; it was the narrative of two nations with shared values upholding liberal, open, rule-based regional order. Prime Minister Abe likes to call the U.S.-Japan relationship the “Alliance of Hope.” Under the Trump administration does this narrative still make sense? If current rhetoric is to be the standard, the answer is simply, no.

Again Nakayama noted that he isn’t inherently anti-Trump. However, even though Trump’s future foreign policy is uncertain, there is a consistency to his worldview. Trump puts the United States first, and as a result his view of national security is extremely, if not excessively, narrow. Since the end of World War II, upholding international order and norms has been central to U.S. national interest – that’s how the United States became so influential. Trump’s consistency in denying this facet of national security is concerning.

This concern is particularly potent for the U.S.-Japan alliance, as the alliance doesn’t produce immediate tangible benefits. Trump has made clear that he is not firm in the United States’s pre-established global commitments. At the moment, Japan’s primary concern is the prevention of an Asia-Pacific ruled by a China-centric order. While China probably won’t challenge the United States in a global context, there is a definite possibility that it will in a regional context. Not many states are or can outwardly be against a China-centric region; Japan stands alone.

“[Japan] needs friends and our only option is the U.S.,” Nakayama said.

Why Help Japan?

Nakayama stressed, that the United States should help Japan, if for no other reason, because it’s the best deal. The United States must recognize the importance of having a regional ally for both economic and security reasons. The United States cannot sacrifice the economic growth and job making opportunities posed by the Asia Pacific, nor can it risk becoming a removed deterrent threat. Australia isn’t integrated enough to provide sufficient access, and South Korea is struggling with heavy protestation of President Park and possibly anti-American sentiments. Meanwhile, Japan is a stable democracy with high education rates and no civil unrest. Eighty percent, of Japan’s population, supports the U.S.-Japan alliance, and Japan wants to continue cooperating. Nakayama only hopes that Trump will attempt to persuade the American people of the same.

“Trump is not the cause, he is the symptom,” he said, of our domestic political atmosphere. When speaking with Trump supporters, Nakayama said that he feels their sense of loss and sees why they viewed Trump as their last best hope. Both within and outside the United States Trump supporters weren’t taken seriously and there was a sense of arrogance to that dismissal. Despite Trump’s more anti-global campaign rhetoric, Nakayama remarked that the President of the United States will remain what President Kennedy called the “vital center,” and thus we must hope that he will play a more active and positive role in foreign politics.

Claire Huitt is a senior at Southern Methodist University triple majoring in public policy, economics, and political science with a focus on international relations and the Asian Pacific. She is a Bauer Scholar in Political Science, Hamilton Scholar, Engaged Learning Fellow, a representative of IGNITE Women in Politics, Chair on Asian Pacific Relations with the Tower Center Student Forum, Dedman School of Law Pre-Law Scholar, New Century Scholar, and a member of the University Honors Program. After graduation Claire intends to attend law school and pursue a career in international law and foreign affairs.

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Student Blog | Hope fades for unification of the Korean peninsula


Kuyoun Chung prepares for her talk at the Tower Center “Security of the Korean Peninsula” Nov. 11 as part of the Sun & Star Program.

Kuyoun Chung, research fellow in the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU)’s International and Strategic Division, came to SMU to give the talk “Security of the Korean Peninsula” Nov. 11 as part of the Tower Center’s Sun and Star program.  She came fresh from a three-day strategic dialogue in D.C. with think tanks, state department officials, and U.S. military officials to speak to us.

At the beginning of every new South Korean administration, the leaders come together to create a unification policy.  Its current administration, under President Park Geun-hye, hopes to achieve unification by ending the current cycle of provocation and compensation and replacing it with enough trust to begin a new cycle of denuclearization and collaboration.  Until Korea resolves the fundamental incompatibility between its hopes of unification and the international strategy of deterrence, pressure, and sanctions, Chung says it will be difficult to establish such trust.  Given the steady increase in sanctions and North Korea’s dual strategy of nuclear and economic development, it is easy to understand the title of Chung’s first slides: “fading hopes for unification.”

Today, she argues there are two possible ends for the 60-year-old conflict.  One possibility is for North Korea and the U.S. to reach a peace treaty, which would require recognizing North Korea as a sovereign nation. American recognition would leave the Korean peninsula divided between two hostile nations. Alternatively, Dr. Chung believes the path to unification would proceed from North Korean regime change.


SMU students A.J. Jeffries and Matthew Reitz interview Kuyoun Chung Nov. 11.

Chung also emphasized the different goals of the major stakeholders in East Asia.  The United States and Japan share a vision of a united Korea as a liberal democracy operating in a market economy, a nation that would be friendly to the U.S.-Japanese alliance.  China’s ideal form of unification emphasizes its concerns about a U.S.-Japan-Korea triple alliance.  It would prefer to see unification delayed until a self-determined nation could emerge without any need for an alliance with the United States.

In her concluding statements, Chung explained that progress towards unification would be a combination of urgency, initiative, and mobilization. She said that unification would be a gradual, generations-long process that would give time for the ideal circumstances to come about.  Over the course of those generations, South Korea would have to strengthen its unification-oriented policies by nudging North Korea towards regime change and mobilize and coordinate international support around a unification policy.

During the question and answer session, Chung also discussed the need to prepare the people of South Korea for unification.  Many members of the younger generation, who have trouble finding employment, oppose unification because they prefer to see South Korea’s economic resources used to improve their situation at home first.  However, there are programs prepared as part of a campaign to emphasize the valuable aspects of unification to the North Korean people.  The primary appeal would be the denuclearization of North Korea, eliminating a significant threat to South Korea.

When asked about the potential impact of President Donald Trump on Korea, she focused on his promises to remove troops from South Korea and Japan.  This, Chung explained, would significantly alter the balance of power in Asia, giving China the opportunity to expand its influence.  Greater China influence would push unification efforts closer to China’s vision.

Tower Scholars PortraitsA.J. Jeffries is from Downers Grove, Illinois, and he is triple majoring in history, economics, and public policy with a double minor in philosophy and public policy.  He is a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar, and when healthy, he can be found in the center of the midfield for the SMU soccer team.  Off the field, he enjoys writing for the honors newspaper, Hilltopics, cooking, and reading.

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