Two decades ago, Harold Koh thought he would soon see North and South Korea reunited. Today, the Yale professor who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations says he no longer expects it will happen in his lifetime, if ever. Koh explained why he believes a series of missteps by Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump have stopped progress toward a unified peninsula during a recent talk at UC Santa Barbara.
Koh has dealt with the challenges of North and South Korea since before he was born. His mother was trapped in North Korea when the country was divided after WWII. She and her family hiked for days to the border, and were able to make it back to Seoul. His father worked in politics, but was forced to seek asylum in the United States after the South Korean government was overthrown in 1961. Koh eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a legal scholar and diplomat.
Koh was optimistic about a peaceful resolution between North and South Korea back in 2000. He had just left Pyongyang after what was the highest-level diplomatic visit up to that point. He says there were plans in motion to move the 2002 World Cup to North Korea with a unified Korean team. But, when George W. Bush took office and named North Korea as part of the “axis of evil,” Koh says those plans, and any hope of uniting the countries, died.
As much as Koh disagrees with the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea, he is even more critical of how President Trump has handled the situation. Koh says the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un was a mistake, because the administration should have demanded concessions from the North Korean regime before agreeing to such a high-level meeting. He also says Trump should have made clear demands from Kim, and certainly should not have publicly said he, “fell in love” with the dictator. But, Koh does believe we’re approaching a “moment of change.”
Watch The Trump Administration and North Korea
As the former Pacific Fleet Commander for the US Navy, Admiral Scott Swift has spent many years evaluating the United States’ strategy with China. In his view, the US has more in common with China than we have in competition, and competition is not always a bad thing. What does concern him is the erosion of the rules-based global order. Swift defines this global order as a set of rules established at multiple international conferences following WWII, and the institutions created to defend and update those rules, such as international courts.
Swift points to the Scarborough Shoal Standoff as an example of China defying the rules-based global order. In 2012, China and the Philippines got into a dispute over the rights to the Scarborough Shoal, a chain of reefs in the South China Sea. The dispute landed in an international court, which sided with the Philippines. However, China refused to recognize the court’s authority. Swift says China’s defiance sets a dangerous precedent.
As China continues to take its place on the global stage, Swift says one key to maintaining the global order is for the Unites States to develop a grand strategy. He says the key is starting with a broad vision of ourselves and our place in the world. Swift suggests taking inspiration from documents like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence and using language as broad as “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” From there, we can develop regional strategies, and ultimately policy to implement those strategies. But, Swift says before we do that, we have to fix the way we currently do things.
Watch U.S. and Chinese Grand Strategy and the Remaking of the Rules-Based Global Order – Herb York Memorial Lecture
The world is seeing a rise in far-right politics, from Italy, to France, to Brexit, to President Trump. So, how did we get here? And, where exactly are we? Is this authoritarianism, fascism, populism, or something else? These are the questions political theorist Wendy Brown addresses in her talk, Neoliberalism’s Scorpion Tail: Markets and Morals Where Democracy Once Was.
Brown begins by outlining what she sees as the classical liberal thinking on the subject. The story goes like this: neoliberal economic policies devastated rural and suburban areas taking away decent jobs, pensions, schools, services and infrastructure as social spending dried up, and capital began to chase cheap labor and tax havens in the global south. At the same time, a cultural gap grew between those rural and suburban communities, and urban centers. Rural families were alienated, left behind, and felt like strangers in their own land. This feeling was coupled with enduring racism as immigrant communities transformed some suburban neighborhoods and the politics of equality appeared to the uneducated white male, to favor everyone but him.
Brown says that story is incomplete. She argues it fails to address a key component of neoliberalism: the idea that society and robust democracy disrupt the natural hierarchy of markets and traditional morals. Brown argues that classical neoliberalism seeks to disintegrate society and universal suffrage, leading to a world where those who were historically dominant – the white male in particular – feel that dominance fade. What is left, are feelings of rage and resentment. Brown imagines two possible futures for those feelings, one bleaker than the next. First, she describes world in which politics are based solely on spite and revenge. The second option? A reversal of values, where those who have lost the world they feel historically entitled to seek to destroy it. But, she leaves some room for hope if humanity can draw deeply from our imaginations, courage and grit.
Watch Neoliberalism’s Scorpion Tail: Markets and Morals Where Democracy Once Was