Is North Korea One Big International Crime Family?!Is-North-Korea-One-Big-International-Crime-Family/c1okt/49D23918-94C7-4FB2-BF79-2913E1E31F10

Please find my new blog post for the Fletcher Security Review below.

North Korea has little in the way of traditional domestic or international economic activity. Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea has lost its major sponsors and trading partners. Inside North Korea, the state cracks down on private economic activity while the state managed economic system is decaying. During the 1990s, conditions in North Korea were so dire that millions died in a famine while in South Korea, Koreans continued to prosper. However, despite these circumstances, the North Korean regime has continued to function and to spend millions on luxury items, like a new ski resort, private island retreats and elaborate palaces for the ruling elite. North Korea has also continued to pursue its nuclear and ballistic missile programs despite economic troubles and sanctions. This monograph helps explain these contradictions by showing how the North Korean regime has turned to full-scale criminality to evade sanctions and provide much-needed funds. Unlike other states that allow criminality, either through corruption or other means, the North Korean state has taken an active part in all stages of drug production, counterfeiting, smuggling, etc. Paul Kan, Bruce Bechtol, and Robert Collins do an excellent job of systematically exposing North Korea’s illicit activities and explaining their importance.

“Money and war” serves as the theme for the coming issue of Fletcher Security Review, and organized crime plays a significant role in contributing to instability as well as financing war and conflict. When combating the efforts of transnational criminal organizations, law enforcement techniques are appropriate, but criminal states protected by sovereignty makes such efforts much more difficult. Examining the lessons learned from the most established and prolific case studies are important as weak and failing states become more engaged in criminal activities. “Criminal Sovereignty,” represents worthy review of this literature and serves as an important foundation for interested parties, especially with another Kim family member leading the North Korean state who has shown no desire to alter this current modus operandi.

-Leon Whyte

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My Practice FSOT essay question- Responding to School Violence

This Friday I am taking the FSOT exam in order to become a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department.  Today I took a practice FSOT.  I feel pretty good about the results.  Below is the prompt, and my practice essay response.  Let me know in the comments how you thought I did.

School boards and educators in the United States have begun to implement measures to ensure student safety as school violence seems to become more prevalent. Some schools have installed metal detectors and instituted locker searches to ensure there are no weapons on school property. Other schools have addressed personal expression seen as problematic by banning some types of clothing and hairstyles. However, many parents and students argue that these measures infringe on students’ rights and privacy and may create situations in which students are misunderstood or even harassed. In your view, where should the line be drawn between student safety and student privacy rights? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

In America, student safety is a touchy subject, especially after incidents involving school shootings or criminal violence. As communities struggle to implement the best policies to protect students, they are discovering that there is a fine line between protecting student’s safety and protecting student’s civil rights, such as freedom of expression and right to privacy.  This tension is understandable, and in some ways is a debate between a micro and macro view.  An individual parent would be willing to go to absolute lengths to protect their own children, often regardless of concerns about other student’s civil rights.  However, this assessment requires an acknowledgment of a realistic risk assessment.  It is impossible to achieve absolute security, and at some point, each attempt to secure it will result in diminishing utility.  The task for communities designing and implementing these policies is to find the point where security has reached a reasonable standard without unduly restricting student rights.

Violence in a school setting provokes a strong emotional response, similar to terrorism, and can lead to a disproportionate response. It is important for local leaders to resist the desire to give in to this response, and to decide policy rationally.  It can be easy to think of all the ways a particular tragedy could have been prevented, and then try to implement all of them, but this is rarely effective.  Also, policy-makers need to be mindful of the chances of school violence occurring, and make sure that they are not ignoring equally, or more, likely problems that are less sensational.

When implementing policies like installing metal detectors, or limiting personal expression, schools need to be careful not to institutionalize the educational experience. People’s actions are influenced by their surroundings, and by the expectations, they imply.  If schools become more like prisons, then why should we be surprised that students feel more like prisoners, and that their actions would reflect this. Schools should be places where students feel comfortable, and since they are still developing their identities, the freedom to express themselves is an important part of the educational experience. The more restrictive the school environment becomes, the less the schools seems a collaborative place to grow and learn with the help of teachers and facility, but more like a fearful and combative place where teachers are there to insure compliance and other students might be a potential threat to be guarded against.

School administrator’s responsibility to maintain student safety is a heavy burden.  Some rules and regulations must be allowed to ensure basic safety for the school and the staff.  Examples of reasonable rules could include having a school resource officer on campus, or instituting a school uniform that does not discriminate against any particular style or group of students.  Many of the necessary rules will vary depending on the particular school circumstances in each area.  However, in some sense, the idea that there is a conflict between students civil rights and their safety is a false one.  If students are in an environment where they feel valued and trusted, there is a greater likelihood that they would also discuss potential threats with their teachers, and the greater trust would likely contribute to effective action during an actual crisis situation.  The temptation to attempt to maximize school safety is going to flare up every time there is school violence, but responding proactively and rationally to the problem is going to be more effective than a reactive approach that tries to solve the problem after it already has happened.

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New Semester at Fletcher

Summer has ended (although it doesn’t feel like it yet in Boston) and school has just started again.  I have completed my first week at Fletcher for the Fall semester and am starting to get back into the rhythms of being a student again.  Perhaps the hardest part of this week was trying to figure out my schedule for the semester.  The biggest problem was that I wanted to cross-register for classes at the Harvard Kennedy School, and signed up for four classes.  The classes at HKS are great, and I am glad that Fletcher students have the opportunity to take them, but they are frustrating because it is hard to know which classes will have spots available.  Some classes, like the ‘Making of a Politician’ with Professor Jarding or ‘Great Powers’ with Professor (and former undersecretary of state) Nick Burns are always oversubscribed and difficult even for HKS students to get into.  I am happy to have been accepted into the ‘Negotiating U.S. Interests in East Asia’ course with professors John Park and Steven Bosworth.  Professor Bosworth was the former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea and interestingly the former dean of the Fletcher School.  This class will have lots of simulations and hopefully a different perspective to add to what I’ve learned already.

At the Fletcher School, I have decided to take Econometrics, Civil-Military Relations, and Internal Wars and Conflicts.  I am excited about all three of these classes, if a little nervous about econometrics and trying to keep up with the math.  Seeing friends and new students has been a good experience so far, as was the convocation that was held yesterday.  At the convocation, the main speaker was  Liu Xiaoming, the current Chinese Ambassador to London, and a Fletcher Alum.  He is a very good speaker, and it seems that some of England has rubbed off into his accent.  He was formerly the Ambassador to the DPRK, but unfortunately he didn’t go into detail about that.  Also, some of what he talked about seemed to be mostly party line stuff about China’s peaceful rise, but overall a good speech.

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My summer at the Army War College- Meeting interesting people

As I am close to finishing my summer at the Army War College, just one week left, it seemed like time to just briefly list some of my highlights from the summer. Once it is finished I will write up a more substantive review.

One of the best parts of the summer were the people that I have had a chance to meet. Here are some of the most interesting, in no particular order.

- Major-General Robert Gordon, Ret.
Robert Gordon is a retired British general and he was the U.N. Peacekeeping force commander for the Eritrea-Ethiopia mission. During one of the first weeks of the internship he came and spoke to all the interns and allowed us to ask him any questions we wanted. I learned a lot about U.N. Peacekeeping in a way that you can’t get from books.

- Michael Matrinko
Mr. Matrinko is one of the most knowledge and interesting people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and I met him twice. He has had a long career, 5 years in the peace corp and many in the State Department. I learned a lot about Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iran- all places he has served- during the two times he hosted interns in his beautiful home. He is perhaps most famous for being a hostage during the Iranian hostage crisis, but has moved past that.

-Dr. Paul Kan
Professor Kan is an expert on international crime and the drug trade. He has also written one of my favorite monograph. When I found out he was working at the War College he was kind enough to meet with me and talk abotu his work personally.

At the War College, most of the people are either active duty, or retired, colonels, so I also had a chance to learn about many interesting things about the places where they had served, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. The chance to hear from people who had practical on the ground experience has made this internship invaluable for me.

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The Fight for Democracy and Freedom in Hong Kong

As I mentioned in the past few posts, I have been reading Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History where he talks about liberal democracy being the end state of human history. Over the last few posts I have been quite critical of that idea, and I am critical of it, but today is the 4th of July, and my Birthday, so today I wanted to celebrate freedom and those that are fighting for it.

Mass democracy march in Hong Kong

This is a picture from a massive march with hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong supporting democratic principles. Beijing is promising universal sufferage by 2017, but Beijieng would chose the candidates available to be voted on. I am truly impressed by these people, and wish them the best of luck. I should also note that it was raining, making the turnout more impressive.


Then again, I feel Hong Kong is pretty impressive in general.
Hong Kong Tianamen Square memorial Hong Kong Tianamen Square Memorial

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Is Westphalia just a moment- The Impermanence of the Nation State

As I mentioned in another post, I have been reading Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History.  In the book he makes the case that modern liberal democracy is the end stage of human society.  It is very well written, and surprisingly philosophical, but I disagree with the main point.  Earlier I mentioned my hope that humans could evolve past our current liberal democratic system and find something even better, but now I want to talk about the another assumption of Fukuyama’s that seems to be practically taken as a given, that the modern nation state will continue into perpetuity.

Nation states are no more a part of human nature than all the other types of human societies that came before them, it has only been the dominant form throughout the world since the end of WWII and the end of colonialism when the number of states in the world increased from less than 100 to 196 today.  Almost all people in the world today have spent their entire lives inside of a nation state.  People tend to be comfortable with what they know, and their mindset gets stuck in that frame.  When people assume that the nation state will continue into perpetuity it is because that is all they have ever experienced.  Could you imagine telling a King who believed in divine rights that one day the people would be sovereign in much of the world?

Despite this often unstated assumption, there are many challenges to the nation state.  None of which are currently fatal, but all things to consider as human history continues ever forward.

1) Some things that call themselves nation states aren’t- I am not convinced that China is a nation state as opposed to an empire, or that the way that Beijing rules China is drastically different from how it did in the past.  The justifications have changed, no longer does one kowtow to the Chinese leader, and the justifications are wrapped up into economic and political justifications like stability, but China is still a strongly centralized state with a meritocratic bureaucracy (with university scores and the like replacing the test about confucianism)  ruling over a huge group of diverse people.  Furthermore- many of these people don’t fit any kind of definition of a ‘nation’ and kept there by force, such as Tibetans and Uighurs.

2) Post-Colonial States are tearing themselves apart- It turns out just drawing lines on a map and calling them states doesn’t result in cohesion, it results in chaos that can only be contained with force.  What we are seeing, what we have been seeing, is the rejection of these imposed lines once the force that held them together leaves or no longer is compelling.  It is a nice dream that if you take any group of people, put them together, and give them democracy that they will work out their differences and live together, but there has been a constant repudiation of this idea from the Balkans to Africa to the Middle East.  There is also the existential crisis of coherent groups separated by legal lines and the massive amounts of bloodshed they are willing to pay to erase them.  We saw this in Vietnam, Korea still lives with this reality every day where neither north or south recognizes each other because they know that having two Koreas is unnatural, and we are seeing this in Iraq where the three groups are breaking up and ISIS just declared a sunni Caliphate that doesn’t resemble anything from this century.

3) Globalization is erasing economic boundaries:  Nation states are becoming less and less relevant to business as communications and transportation turns the whole world into a marketplace and a factory.  I have not had a job in the United States for about four years, but I have worked in three countries in that time period.  I have been back living in America again for almost a year, but have been working for an Australian company that entire time, and I email daily with colleagues in Nepal.  That is a small scale example, bigger ones include obvious ones like outsourcing production so that products are made in dozens of countries with parts sourced from dozens of others, made by multi-national corporations with branch offices in dozens or more countries, many of which have greater incomes than several nation states.  There is also the example of places, like in some parts of Africa, where the border lines are drawn vertically against the coast, but economic zones and major cities are drawn horizontally along the coast so that  these productive urban zones are more integrated than say the coastal zone with the inside of the country.

These were just the top 3 reasons I could think of.  I didn’t mention other obvious ones like regional integration- such as the EU or what Russia appears to be trying to do in the old Soviet spaces, because the importance of what is going on there to me seems less clear at the moment.  The future is a big place full of unimaginable things.  I considered speculating on what could come after the nation state, but that would be like someone in ancient Athens dreaming of the violence of the the Thirty Years War and the Treaty of Westphalia that followed.  There is something waiting for us out of site beyond the horizon, ready to reorganize the masses of humanity and shape and mold our lives and eventually feel as inevitable as the current nation state, what it is remains to be seen.

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On Army Doctrine

As I spend my summer at the U.S. Army War College I have read hundreds of pages of Army Doctrine- something that even the people who write it and work on it consider boring.  Here at the War College they have stacks of these things laying around waiting for some young impressionable intern to give them to.  The two main things I have read are Field Manual 3-07, the Army guide to Stability Operations and the Guiding Principlas for Stabilization and Reconstruction

One of the first things you notice when you are reading these things is how often they repeat themselves, and how vague they are.  Being here, I’ve learned a bit on how these things are written.  One of the people in the office is writing an update for Army doctrine, and when they are done writing it, it gets sent to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, who then check and revise it.  Basically, these things are written by committee, and through the process even single words or phrases are subject to scrutiny, which in turn results in the doctrines using the same words and phrases being repeated until there is a single U.S. Army doctrine voice that drones on in platitudes about how things should be done in such a vague and general way that you can not disagree with it.

Here are a few examples from the doctrine that stood out to me.

From the Guiding Principles:

  • Regional Engagement: entails encouraging the host nation, its neighboring countries, and other key states in the region to partner in promoting both the host nation’s and the region’s security and economic and political development.  It has three components: comprehensive regional diplomacy, a shared regional vision, and cooperation.

This is a very nice sentiment that is hard to disagree with on the surface.  However, our most recent stability operations were in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose neighbors include lovely states like Pakistan, Iran and Syria.  Do we really want a shared regional vision or cooperation?

  • Understanding the local context: Every region, every state and every village has unique economic, cultural, religious, political, and historical characteristics.  In assessing the local context, always carefully consider all of these characteristics.

Yes, I agree, however- how?  Even when we have expertise, there is a tendency to ignore it by the DoD.  For example in Iraq the State Department sponsored a project called the Future of Iraq,, that was written by experts before the Iraq War.  When Colin Powell sent two people who were working on it to the Pentagon to help with the planning there, Donald Rumsfeld kicked them out of the building.

  • Local customs and structures that are legitimate are better than transplanted models that are unfamiliar.

So, what does that mean for democracy?  If this is true, then if the local customs include despotism, what does this mean for stability operations?  However, the line of thought stops there without explaining that contradiction.

  • The role of women: The engagement of women is necessary to ensure sustainable peace, economic recovery, and social well-being.  Include women at the peace table, in the recovery process, in the host nation government, and in local public and private sector institutions.  Protect them at all times so they can make their unique contribution to peace.

I agree, what a lovely idea.  However, what happens to these women after the Americans leave…?  That is unmentioned.


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Hegel, Hobbes and Fukuyama- The First Man

This summer I have been reading Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History.  It’s very interesting, even though I disagree with the main idea behind it.  The idea that history can end, and that we are somehow at the pinnacle strikes of hubris and short shortsightedness, plus I do hope that there is something better out there for humanity in the future.

I just read the section of the book describing different theories about the progression of humanity, which I find fascinating.  One of the key ideas that is presented is that of Hegel’s concept of dialectics.  In this idea human society continues in its present form until an internal contradiction in that society causes a new form of society until a contradiction arises in that one and so on and so forth.  (I wonder if r>g is a contradiction in modern capitalism)

Even more interesting than this is Hegel and Hobbes views on early day master/slave relationship.  According to Fukuyama’s interpretation of Hegel (all following discussion will reflect Fukuyama’s understanding) what makes Man unique is their willingness and ability to risk their lives of their own violation.  This is tied to Man’s quest for recognition, to make other’s recognize their inherent humanity, which is often expressed through violence.  In this world, the Master is the one more willing to risk their lives and the slaves who submit to dominance in order to safeguard their lives.  In Hegel’s view- the master class, and later the ‘warrior-aristocracy class’ was more human than the ‘slave’ class.

Hobbes took a different view, and saw as a key to human nature and desire was to live, and thought that society had to be designed to safeguard the right to life.  Hobbes saw the Master-Slave relationship described by Hegel as not a full expression of humanity as it was implicitly based on threat of force.  It seems like Hegel saw Man’s ability and desire to risk their lives for things like flags and pride as somewhat noble and a full expression of humanity, but Hobbes seemed to take the opposite view. Both Hegel and Hobbes saw this early humanity as something that had to be progressed from, and both thought that society would become increasingly ‘liberal’ as humanity moved beyond slavery and subjugation into increasingly more sophisticated types of societies.

I find the idea of Thomas Hobbes as a liberal to be novel, if only because of how far we have come from absolute monarchs.  According to Fukuyama, Hobbes was a liberal because he believed that the monarch ruled due to the consent of the people rather than divine right.  The reason that Hobbes wanted a strong monarch was because human passions and pride required a strong hand to repress it.  Interestingly, Hobbes believed that the difference between dictators and legitimate rules was consent of the governed, but in an absolute monarchy how could you measure that, and what do you do if that changes?

After reading Fukuyama’s take on these two, I want to read the primary sources. I think that there is a lot of tension between these ideas and a lot of push-pull during different time periods of human history.  I.e. after a period of peace, people start looking for conflict again and are ready to fight and die out of pride or glory, but after a terrible War, the more Hobbesian view becomes dominant and so one and so forth.

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The U.S. Army War College: My Summer Internship so Far

I am spending the summer between my first and second year of graduate school as an intern at the U.S. Army War College.  The War College hosts colonels who have been specially selected for the 1 year masters program at the school, and it is necessary for advancement.  There are also about 70 international fellows from militaries around the world, as well as a small number of students from civilian programs like Department of State and a few from the other services like the Navy.  The War College is located on Carlisle Barracks, which is the nation’s second oldest active army base.  It is located in Carlisle, PA, which is a very small town that unfortunately doesn’t have much to do, but does have a surprisingly good Belgian restaurant.

I am working with the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (  The institute serves as the US Army’s Center of Excellence for Stability and Peace Operations at the Strategic and Operational levels in order to improve military, civilian agency, international, and multinational capabilities and execution.  One of the most interesting things for me has been working with people who are in the military, or people who have retired from the military.  They have a different perspective, and frankness, than you can typically experience in a university setting.

One thing that PKSOI does is develop and review Army doctrine.  To be honest, this aspect is dry.  If you have ever read an Army field guide, you will understand what I mean.  The doctrine is full of great ideas, but lacks descriptions of how to make these ideas work in practice.  My project is looking at this doctrine and examining the underlying biases within it, especially as it concerns working with other governmental agencies.  Before working on this project, I knew that there were problems between the Department of Defense and the Department of State, but I hadn’t realized how poorly they worked together.

One example comes from the planning of the Iraq War.  The State Department came up with a project called the “Future of Iraq” where they gathered lots of experts and came out with a long document that detailed their views on Iraq and what a post conflict Iraq would look like.  This document accurately described many things that ended up happening.  Colin Powell, the Secretary of State at the time, sent two of the people in charge of the project to the Pentagon to discuss it, and Donald Rumsfeld actually kicked them out of the building.

I’ll be returning to give more details about this project later in the summer, and will give an update on how the internship is going later as well.

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Another Tourist trapped in North Korea

Early on in the beginning of this blog I asked an open ended question about the morality of visiting totalitarian states.  You can find the post here.

Morality aside, in the case of North Korea it might just be stupid to visit, as there have been several recent tourists who have been held by the state.  I find it interesting, and frustrating, that Americans can not legally visit Cuba, but can visit North Korea.  I have know several people who have visited North Korea and have made it out, and this happens in the majority of cases, but it doesn’t take much to get detained in Pyongyang.

The most recent tourist made the mistake of bringing a bible.  You can read more about it here:  According to the offical version, the American tourist left their bible behind in their hotel room in a suspected act of subversion.  Regardless of what actually transpired, having an additional American hostage can prove useful to North Korea if they decide to go forward with another nuclear test or provocation.  At the least, maybe they can gain some enticements or have some important American come and negotiate for their return.  Likely, though, most Americans will never hear about this story, or if they do will glance over it.  The best chance for this prisoner would be for his family to be loud about it, demand help, etc.  Hopefully before people go to North Korea they will think about these things, and if they still decide to go are not careless or naive about the place they are going.

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