Will the Kim-Trump Summit be a Step Towards Peace?

Photo Credit: CNN

On May 10th, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong applauded the announcement of a summit set to for June 12th in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald J. Trump, calling it a “significant step on the path to peace” (Straits Times). The announcement came after months of tension over North Korea’s steps toward acquiring the resources to develop and deliver nuclear weapons. The two leaders exchanged angry statements over Pyongyang’s testing of nuclear weapons, long-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. But US President Donald Trump announced the date and location for the meeting on Twitter saying, “The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” The announcement has the potential to lead to progress on questions of peace on the Korean peninsula and the elimination of  nuclear threats to global stability.

Given that the Korean War ended in the 1950s with a truce and not an official peace treaty, the war between North and South Korea has technically never come to an end. Following a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, it was announced that the two leaders had agreed to take steps toward the development and implementation of a permanent peace treaty that would supersede the 65-year-old armistice. Following this summit, preparations for the Trump-Kim meeting began to gain  momentum. South Korean officials expressed their optimism in the wake of the summit saying, “We welcome the North Korea-US summit to be held in Singapore on June 12. We hope the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as permanent peace on the peninsula, will successfully come about through this summit,” (Reuters). Dialogue between the two Koreas has played an important role in conjuring  the political will in Washington and Pyongyang to engage in dialogue. South Korea will continue to play a crucial role in talks aimed at reducing tension on, and the denuclearization of, the Korean peninsula.

Kim Jong Un, the country’s supreme ruler announced his willingness to take steps toward the advancement of global peace during his New Year’s Day address to the North Korean people. He expressed his willingness to engage in talks with South Korea and potentially other representatives from around the world in exchange for an international commitment to not engage in steps to overthrow the North Korean regime. The process gained further traction when high profile South Korean officials and Kim’s sister engaged in dialogue in South Korea during the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. Since then, multiple meetings, both public and private, have occurred  between Chinese and South Korean officials as well as officials from the government of North Korea. The Trump-Kim summit will mark the first time a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea will engage in face- to-face talks. The United States and North Korea have yet to establish diplomatic ties.

According to a statement from the White House, Singapore was selected due to its neutrality and stability, each of which will preserve both leaders’ security. The country is seen as neutral territory, though it has close economic ties with the United States. The trip to Singapore will be the farthest Kim Jong Un has traveled from North Korea since becoming the country’s leader in 2011. Recent reports said that President Trump would have preferred holding the meeting in the demilitarized zone at Panmunjom between North and South Korea. Singapore arose as a host option once Trump gave in to his aides’ concerns about his security. The Singapore summit announcement came after three American detainees returned to the US from North Korea following a second trip by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang to finalize summit plans.

Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong Un. Photo: The White House/Getty Images

If held, the talks will take place following 20 ballistic missile tests and one nuclear test conducted by North Korea throughout 2017. During the last six months, North Korean officials have made numerous claims that some of the missiles that the country developed were capable of reaching the US mainland. This raised US national security concerns as well as those of US partners and allies in the region. Statements suggest North Korean nuclear advances strengthened US and international resolve to engage with Pyongyang through sanctions and diplomacy and prevent the country from becoming a bonafide threat to international peace and security. The US-North Korean talks, in addition to the potential progress they may enable, are unprecedented. It would be a shame for an opportunity of such potential to go to waste as a result of American or North Korean obstinance. Efforts from the US, China, and South Korea, aided by indispensable international cooperation, have so far proven effective. They will be in the future as well provided  all parties are clear-eyed about their agendas, willing to embrace a spirit of compromise, and determined to cooperate in order to advance mutually compatible interests.

How Exactly Are Acts of Violence Defined?

© LA Times-FBI Agents in Austin, Texas worked from one blast to another to capture serial bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt

Last week our attention turned to Austin, Texas as it suffered a series of bombings. Authorities have been hesitant to define bomber Mark Anthony Conditt or his deeds. You can bet questions regarding his intent are foremost among those investigators are trying to answer. Was this terrorism? Hate-crimes? Or was Conditt just a, “…very challenged young man,” as Austin police-chief Brian Manley said? [1]

Many would see bombings like his as acts of terror and they would identify Conditt as a terrorist. Law enforcement has been reluctant to use these words. Let’s make this simple as can be: Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as, “…the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” [2] A terrorist, unsurprisingly, is, “…an advocate or practitioner of terrorism as a means of coercion.” These definitions are tautologies, but they are as straight-forward as they come. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism with a bit more nuance, “…the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” [2]

My Rise-to-Peace colleague, John Sims, aptly pointed out in the wake of the Parkland shooting that the FBI sees terrorism, first, in one of two categories: domestic or international. Next, what’s noteworthy is that terrorism, “…is not a standalone criminal charge,” but one used to determine how government resources and personnel will be allocated. [2]

Key political staff, such as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have avoided calling Conditt a terrorist. Secretary Sanders tweeted there was, “…no apparent nexus to terrorism at this time.” [3] Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas (R), similarly refrained from referring to Conditt as a terrorist and said, “The definition of a terrorist is tied to the mindset of the person who committed the crime.” [3]

Are the definitions themselves, or the bureaucratic actions such words trigger, the reasons we haven’t deemed Conditt a terrorist? Were the events done as a means of coercion and in furtherance of political or social objectives? The investigation remains in its infancy so it’s too soon to tell whether Conditt was or was not politically motivated. Authorities were quite transparent about locating a 25-minute video on Conditt’s cell-phone of Conditt himself explaining how he made his bombs. Was there more to the video? Austin police-chief, Manley said, “We are never going to be able to put a rationale behind these acts.” [4] At this early stage, why does he seem so sure?

© Getty Images- Serial-bomber Mark Anthony Conditt, 23, left two dead and four injured after a series of attacks in Austin, Texas

There will be those who see Conditt as a terrorist until they are shown otherwise. My Rise-to-Peace colleague, Maya Norman, pointed out, semantics matter: How we define politically-charged terms and why matters. As permutations of violence in our midst seemingly undergo a weekly mitosis, we must be fair about how we’re defining each act and why.


  1. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/22/us/terrorism-definition-trnd/index.html
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terrorist
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/03/22/austin-bomber-challenged-young-man-or-terrorist/?utm_term=.8d2a8f412f53
  4. https://nypost.com/2018/03/21/austin-bombing-suspect-left-25-minute-video-confession-cops/

Legal Difficulties May Loom: Arms Sales Between The West and its Gulf Allies

According to John Irish and Emmanuel Jarry at Reuters, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., “…are leading a coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa.” According to human rights groups’ legal counsel, “France faces heightened legal risks for supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. despite warnings such arms could be used in the war in Yemen,” (Irish). France’s arms sales to its two Gulf allies have been criticized for being used by the pair to take civilian lives, interfere with peace prospects and generally fuel the conflict in Yemen. France’s weapon sales to the two Gulf states could bring legal headaches in the months to come.

The conflict in Yemen between the Houthis and the international Saudi-led coalition has killed 10,000 people as of March 19th, 2018. Three million others are displaced. The conflict has shown few signs of de-escalation. More death, destruction, and displacement are expected unless the international community, the militias, and the countries engaged in the conflict agree to a ceasefire and peace-seeking dialogue. Unlikely. Each actor is committed to emerging victorious. Clearly, for the war to end, someone will have to lose or unlikely but significant concessions will be necessary from all.


Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. see France as one of their most reliable sources for arms in the world. Each state purchases tanks, armored vehicles, munitions, and artillery. The U.A.E. alone purchases fighter-jets from France. The United States and France have continued selling arms to the Saudi-led coalition, while other participants have reduced their weapon sales fearing their use in the conflict. France and the United States agree that Iran and its proxy rebels are threats to stability and peace in Yemen. Therefore, it is unlikely they will roll back their coalition arms sales.

According to Amnesty International, “France’s arms transfers are contrary to its international commitments. The French government has authorized exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in circumstances where these weapons can be used in the conflict in Yemen and could be used to carry out war crimes,” (Irish).

France would be wise to avoid seeming out of step with its stated commitment to human rights. It should adopt measures to more closely monitor the weapons it exports. Thusly, it can avoid selling to parties who use weapons on civilians as a matter of course. In turn, France’s beneficiaries in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh should be allowed to purchase on the condition that they candidly report how the weapons are being used to U.N.S.C.A.R. (the United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation).

France’s foreign ministry described government’s processes as, “…robust and transparent,” in response to questions about France’s licensing system for exports. To be clear, France does have a proven track record of supporting and cooperating in efforts to strengthen peace and security in Africa for years. This will most likely continue to be the case. In light thereof, a priority should be made of ensuring its weapons are not used in the service of violating international law.


Privately, French officials have divulged that France has already told weapon suppliers to exempt themselves from pursuing new Saudi and U.A.E export licenses. This is, at a minimum, a symbolic attempt to reduce its weapons transfers to Gulf states. “I don’t think you’ll see a clear pushback from us,” one French diplomat told Reuters, “What’s more likely is an informal message to companies to not bother asking for licenses. It will be a de-facto restriction but without saying it publicly, so as not to annoy the Saudis,” (Jarry).

The probability that the Saudi-led coalition will use French weapons in operations that could take the lives of innocent Yemeni civilians is high. France should make clear to its Gulf allies that such eventualities are intolerable. As stated, it has taken steps but it must be explicit about protocol so missteps aren’t made during the anarchy and, so-called, fog of war.


The Yemen war has already cost too many lives. France and the United States have stated their commitment to returning Yemen to its people. The two western powers should commit themselves to pursuing a roadmap to reconstruction. They mustn’t leave the African nation in the tragic tatters that it finds itself in today.

Works Cited

Irish, John, and Emmanuel Jarry. “France Faces Legal Risks over Saudi, UAE Arms Sales: Lawyers.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 19 Mar. 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-france/france-faces-legal-risks-over-saudi-uae-arms-sales-lawyers-idUSKBN1GV2ME.

“UNSCAR: UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation – UNODA.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/disarmament/unscar/.

Aohruk. “UK Complicit in War Crimes through Arms Export to Saudi Arabia and UAE.” Arab Organisation for Human Rights in UK, aohr.org.uk/index.php/en/all-releases/item/7204-uk-complicit-in-war-crimes-through-arms-export-to-saudi-arabia-and-uae.html.


Terrorism or Just Terror: When Horror Springs From Within

© Lisa Marie Pane/AP, The Atlantic

Alyssa Alhadeff. Scott Beigel. Martin Duque Anguiano. Nicholas Dworet. Aaron Feis. Jamie Guttenberg. Chris Hixon. Luke Hoyer. Cara Loughran. Gina Montalto. Joaquin Oliver. Alaina Petty.  Meadow Pollack. Helena Ramsay. Alex Schachter. Carmen Schentrup. Peter Wang.

These are the names of the Parkland victims. They were students, teachers, and coaches. They had dreams, hopes, and ambitions. They were all lost too soon and they must all be remembered.

The Parkland victims are the latest in an all-too familiar-cycle of events in the United States.  There have been twenty-five major school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999.  American children harbor ever-present fears of school shootings, parents anxiously await calls from loved ones, and the United States remains paralyzed.


But is it terrorism? The Federal Bureau of Investigation distinguishes two major forms of terrorism: international and domestic. International terrorism is that which is committed by an individual or group, inspired by or associated with a designated foreign terrorist organization or state. Alternatively, domestic terrorism is that which is perpetrated by an individual or group inspired by or associated with domestic political, religious, social, racial, or environmental ideas. Pared down, terrorism is a tactic. It is employed in the pursuit of a political goal to generate fear and intimidation in a specific population.

School shootings bear many of terrorism’s hallmarks.  Certainly, they are designed to stoke fear and intimidation.  Their target populations are schools and the individuals who attend them: children, teachers, and administrators.  However, school shooters are not typically motivated by political goals. They are not ordinarily tied to underlying terrorist causes like religious, racial, or social issues. Consequently, most school shootings are not considered terrorism.

We’ve learned that dozens of people in the Parkland shooter’s orbit, prior to the attack, reported him to authorities as a troubled person. Shortly after the shooting, rumors surfaced that the shooter had ties to a white supremacist group.  However, as of this writing, the Parkland shooter’s motivations remain unclear.

What would make a school shooting terrorism and not just terrifying? If we learn that the Parkland shooter entered the school to kill students in the name of a white supremacist idea, then Parkland could rightfully be called terrorism.  If he was motivated by religious or social grievances, Parkland could be described as terrorism. However, absent such verifiable motivations, labeling the attack and others like it domestic terrorism is far from a slam-dunk.  This remains true, despite a consensus that the attack was a consummately terrifying act perpetrated against the Parkland students and administrators as well as the psyches of students, teachers, and parents across our country.

Fear is ever-present, we are warned that violent, religious zealots can strike anywhere, anytime. We’re no longer safe on our streets; vehicles can be used as weapons of war.  Churches and synagogues are no longer sacrosanct oases from our daily lives, let alone violence if gunmen are bent on bringing terror through the doors.  Places we used to associate with leisure – movie theaters, outdoor concerts, schools – have lost the veneer of security. We are told if we see something, say something – anything suspicious must be pointed out.

More must be done to prevent school shootings.  Regardless of what we call the events or the motivations of perpetrators, more must be done.  We must see improvements in school safety, improved mental health awareness and access, and additional, achievable gun safety measures.  America’s children are being conditioned to expect school shootings. Drills, meant to teach students how to remain safe if the unconscionable occurs, are a new focus of the classroom experience. But the drills themselves instill the student body with fear and trepidation.

Apparently, if the United States cannot see an act of violence through the lens of international terror, then little gets done.  9/11 made the United States rethink airport security. Anthrax letters sent to Congress inspired the implementation of thorough mail-screening measures. Laptops were briefly banned [JS2] on U.S. airlines after it was discovered that they could be weaponized by terrorists. Yet, school shootings persist without sensible changes.

The generation advancing through our school system now has been initiated in blood and war. The post 9/11 generation was born into a world of ubiquitous terror, it is their normal. War, violence, both occur daily. Our youth are bombarded with reports of tragic events at home and abroad. The bad actors are known by all. It cannot be lost on these children that their lives are radically different from those of their parents, the latter of whom did not experience similar fears of school shootings on a day-to-day basis.

In closing, and at the risk of seeming contradictory, school shootings are less prevalent than appears to be the case and they do not inflate the level of daily gun violence in the United States. The difference is that each horrible act is inflicted en masse on an innocent, vital segment of our population. The children in school now will be our workers and leaders tomorrow.  We cannot allow these horrors to continually be inflicted on them without expecting a traumatized population to emerge.


Terrorism in Africa: Will Tillerson Tip the Scale?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to meet with leaders of five African nations this week. He is there to strengthen U.S.-African ties and discuss security and counterterrorism. The countries he will be visiting include Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad, and Nigeria. Certainly, his trip will also see him mending fences with leaders in the wake of President Trump’s “sh*thole countries” comment. That notwithstanding, Secretary Tillerson is in Africa to check in on counterterrorism efforts.

© Jeremiah Wakaya Secretary Tillerson’s plane touches down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. He is received by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma and U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec.

Secretary Tillerson will be, “…visiting nations engaged in battling Islamist terrorism, including Djibouti, home to Camp Lemonnier, America’s largest and most vital African military base,” [1]. Countries most steeped in conflict with prominent terrorist groups al-Shabaab and Boko Haram will command the bulk of the secretary’s time. Tillerson spoke at George Mason University hours before leaving for Africa. He provided the rationale for choosing the five countries, explaining that the United States has key prospects, troops, interests, and allies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad, and Nigeria. Doubtless, he will be visiting Ethiopia which,“…is a close U.S. ally in its counterterrorism operations in East Africa, notably against al-Shabab,” [1].

© Austin Ludolph Before his departure for Africa, Secretary Tillerson discusses security, economic welfare, and counterterrorism with George Mason University’s President, Ángel Cabrera 

Tillerson gives an impression of equanimity, praising, “…the role the African Union and G5 Sahel Group have taken on the security and counterterrorism front.” Tillerson pledged, “…$60 million from the U.S. to the G5 security force,” this year. [2] Trump’s feelings may differ. His, “…latest budget proposal in February slashed spending for Africa by 37%, down $3.1 billion from current levels,” [3]. Time will tell how the trip affects counterterrorism and security measures in Africa. As you read these words, imagine Mr. Tillerson trying to repair this:



1. https://www.dailyrepublic.com/wires/tillerson-arrives-in-africa-with-a-narrow-mission-counterterrorism/
2. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/06/politics/tillerson-africa-challenges/index.html