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Did sanctions bring Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table?

April 30, 2018

ASU expert remains cautious regarding North Korea's about-face on nuclear ambitions

A peace treaty is potentially in the works for North and South Korea, and leaders say they plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula within a year. They are also pursuing talks with the United States to put an end to the war that has continued for more than half a century, providing a reason for optimism.

President Donald Trump is taking credit for imposing his “maximum pressure” policy, which includes tough new sanctions on North Korea. He claims sanctions have finally brought their leader, Kim Jong Un, to the negotiation table.

To find out whether that claim has merit, ASU Now consulted Scott Silverstone, a former U.S. Naval officer, an ASU Senior Future of War Fellow with the Center on the Future of War and the author of a forthcoming book, “From Hitler’s Germany to Saddam’s Iraq: the Enduring False Promise of Preventive War.” 

Man in stripped shirt smiling

Scott Silverstone

Question: President Trump believes tough sanctions are bringing North Korea to the table with talks of freezing their nuclear program. Do you believe that sanctions brought them to this point?

Answer: Decision making within the North Korean government remains a mystery to outside observers, so it’s impossible to say with confidence how much impact economic sanctions have had on the regime’s behavior. In recent years, North Korean President Kim Jong Un has been pursuing dual priorities — the development of a potent nuclear weapons capability and economic growth to satisfy the expectations of a network of North Korean elites that his regime’s internal stability depends on. Recently, he announced that his nuclear goals have been met, so it’s now time to prioritize his economic objectives.

Sanctions relief is clearly an important factor for growing the economy. I’m not convinced, however, that Kim Jong Un would have abandoned his nuclear ambitions just to find relief from the “maximum pressure” campaign. For years the Kim regime has bluntly declared that its survival depends on the ability to deter an American attack. We have heard repeated references to the fate of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya from the North Koreans, and their determination to avoid a similarly violent end through the deterrent effect of a nuclear arsenal. It is no surprise that Kim Jong Un embraced diplomatic engagement after North Korea launched a missile that is believed to have a range capable of hitting dozens of American cities.

Q: Sanctions don’t seem to be foolproof, however. It has been said that Russia and China are violating the U.N.’s international sanctions. What can be done about this violation currently and again in the future?

A: Some of the best research on this question has uncovered a sophisticated network linking North Korean “state trading companies” and private Chinese companies, as well as foreign companies operating in China, which has provided North Korea a way to procure a range of foreign products, including key technical components for their nuclear weapons program. Interviews with North Korean defectors who previously worked for these companies have convinced John Park of Harvard University and Jim Walsh of MIT that the sanctions have not only been largely ineffective, they have provided an incentive for creativity by North Korean agents.

Disrupting these networks is a worthy policy goal, but success runs through Beijing and the Chinese firms doing business with North Korea. Park and Walsh note an interesting option: International sanctions have spurred the development of a “compliance culture” among Chinese businesses who increasingly fear the negative impacts to their reputations and their ability to do business with American and other foreign firms if they are caught in these relationships with North Korean state trading companies.

Q: In your opinion, do sanctions against other countries work, and when are they most effective?

A: The dominant view among scholars that have been studying economic sanctions for decades is that they are largely ineffective as a tool to inhibit weapons proliferation. While there are grounds for skepticism that sanctions will solve this problem, from a policy perspective it seems reasonable to include sanctions as part of a larger international effort to isolate countries that are violating nonproliferation goals. It sends a strong signal that proliferation is illegitimate, and will make it harder for the target states to operate freely within the global economy.

Three important cases demonstrate that sanctions can have an effect on those tempted to pursue illicit weapons. The sanctions regime imposed on Iraq in the 1990s was full of holes, but Saddam Hussein did in fact feel the pressure created by his inability to sell oil freely in the global market. One key motive for his decision not to reconstitute his illicit weapons programs after the Gulf War was to eventually win relief from oil sanctions. In the early 2000s, Libya came in from the cold, opening its suspect weapons sites to international inspectors in order to secure an end to U.N. oil sanctions.  And it is impossible to explain Iran’s willingness to agree to cap its nuclear ambitions in 2015 without the immensely painful international sanctions put in place in 2012.

Q: If North Korea does freeze its nuclear program, where do we go from here? How do we keep them in check?

A: This is the million-dollar question: How will the United States react when Kim Jong Un fails to offer complete unilateral nuclear disarmament in the coming negotiations? Kim will likely offer to “freeze” his nuclear activities, which could include foregoing weapons and missile tests for some period into the future.  Since this will lock in the status quo, preserving the various nuclear capabilities North Korea possesses today, the United States will likely refuse to consider this a legitimate option. On this point, the talks will deadlock. In the meantime, North Korea will try to use the offer to freeze its nuclear programs to drive a wedge between America and South Korea, and to gain greater support from China for its call for sanctions relief and normalized relations on the Korean peninsula. 

Logically, and historically, there is no reason to expect North Korea to denuclearize, since the regime believes its very survival depends on the ability to threaten nuclear reprisal against the United States and its regional allies. While American officials will never openly accept this status quo, the most likely response will be to continue with the United States’ de facto current policy: containment of a nuclear-armed North Korean adversary and deterrence of its potential aggression.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

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ASU music-therapy students help bring joy to adults at Tempe day center

April 30, 2018

Talent show caps class that teaches techniques for reaching older minds

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

"What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?

"Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song. And I'll try not to sing out of key."

The music was exuberant if not precise. Drums and homemade tambourines tapped out a beat to “Count On Me.” Bodies swayed and hands clapped to “The Macarena.”

Three older men tentatively plucked out chords to a slow-jam version of “Twist and Shout,” and a whole chorus of voices, a few of them shaky, closed the talent show by singing “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

The music played at the Tempe Adult Day Health Services center wasn’t meant to be perfect. It was intended to stimulate minds, spark a memory and encourage movement and laughter.

The musicians were clients at the center, older people who can’t be home alone during the day, some with dementia, and younger adults who have had a traumatic brain injury.

Their guides were 29 music-therapy students from Arizona State University, who spent six weeks this semester working with the clients, teaching songs, making instruments and practicing movement. The project was part of a class on music-therapy techniques that included juniors, seniors and first-year graduate students. The talent show last week was the culmination of their work.

“Music opens up the mind,” said Amanda Huffaker, a recreational therapist at the center. “With someone who’s nonverbal or minimally verbal, when we play music, they’ll start singing along.”

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The project was created by Melita Belgrave, an associate professor of music therapy in the School of Music at ASU. She said the center staff asked that the therapy include opportunities for clients to choose what they wanted to do and to express themselves.

“So now our classroom is the community, and it’s a very mutual relationship,” she said.

“It’s group cohesion, and it’s multigenerational. You have the ASU students, you have the younger adults with TBI and you have older adults, all working together to perform.”

ASU Associate Professor Melita Belgrave (left) and Amanda Huffaker, a recreational therapist, introduce performers last week at the Tempe Adult Day Health Services center. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

"What do I do when my love is away? Does it worry you to be alone?

"How do I feel by the end of the day? Are you sad because you're on your own?"

Music therapy is a way to get brains back to making connections, said Belgrave, who researches intergenerational programming.

“We learn so much about music therapy with disabilities in children, but we never really talk about it with adults,” she said. “Most of these adults, their traumatic brain injuries are six years post. The brain is not as plastic. They’re adults, and they remember they had a life before.”

She has found that even with a brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease, people can still learn.

“Earlier research focused on not learning new things but on recalling memory. But there comes a point when that become stressful because you’re asking me for something I just can’t retrieve,” she said.

The Tempe clients were learning new things because even if the song was an oldie like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” the students added interventions like playing an instrument or new lyrics.

And that makes it easier to remember things.

“If I just give you something and you repeat it back to me, that’s surface level. But if we sing you a piece of information, and if we add some movement, now it is encoding in your brain better so you can retrieve it faster,” she said.

In her work with people who had advanced dementia, the clients sometimes couldn’t speak, but when Belgrave would place maracas in their hands or play the guitar, they would light up and start to sing.

“I could see that they were still in there,” she said.

ASU has the only music-therapy program in Arizona, and the outlook for jobs is bright. Therapists work in neonatal intensive care units, rehabilitation units, senior centers and hospices.

“There’s so much to work on, and it’s a lifespan approach,” Belgrave said.

ASU music therapy students Tabitha Williams (far left) and Rachel Quirbach (far right) work with clients Mike Markgraf and Cindy Hikida at the talent show. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

"Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love.

"Could it be anybody? I want somebody to love."

The ASU students said the talent show was a rewarding way to see their work come to fruition.

“It was a combination of everything we’ve worked on, and it put all of our skills to the test,” said Taylor Page, who will graduate in December.

Acadia Caupp, a junior who is double majoring in music therapy and vocal performance, said she was moved by how cooperative the clients were.

“They all knew the songs and they were passionate about singing them, and they showed such a willingness to answer our questions,” she said.

Many of the students in the program are also performers but felt compelled to use their talent in a meaningful way.

“I got my first degree in guitar performance, but I wanted to get out of the idea of competition and find a way to help people,” said Max Greenwald, a first-year grad student.

“It’s fun working with the geriatric community because you can see a lot of visual progress, which is very rewarding.”

Alma Mitchell, a client at the Tempe center, said she loved working with the students.

“Well, I just love to sing every day, and everyone is so happy when they’re here.”

"Oh I get by with a little help from my friends.

"Gonna try with a little help from my friends."

ASU music-therapy students sing at the talent show at the Tempe Adult Day Health Services center: (from left) Ruihao Zhang, Eternity Stallings, Tabitha Williams and Miao Chen. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Top photo: Donald Hutton sings "That's Amore" with help from music-therapy graduate student Jessi Teich during the end-of-semester performance at the Tempe Adult Day Health Center. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News