Dealing with North Korea: A Process that must begin with Syria

North Korea refuses to de-nuclearize. Five atomic tests and endless threats of violence have passed and, neither the United States nor China have understood how to approach Kim Jong-un’s unyielding regime. Whilst the American President recently announced the termination of the era of ‘strategic patience’[1], it remains understandably unclear whether, for all his words, Mr. Trump can offer a solution that does not push the peninsula towards war. Although China has, for its own part, promised to increase pressure, it continues to maintain stable economic and political relations with its neighbour; so much so, that it seems determined to keep its neighbour afloat regardless of all else Policy appears to have reached a dead-end; hence a new approach must inevitably consider the deeper issues that are discussed in Pyongyang, and in particular, this approach must identify how the North’s thinking links to the world of contemporary international affairs.


Political scientists do not deny that fear constitutes the primary force of Jong-un ’s thinking. Following the violent overthrow and death of fellow authoritarian leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Mu’ammar Gaddafi, the North Korean leader has become adamant to deter Western powers from taking the risk of intervention. Whilst this approach constitutes a credible theory, equally, it presents an impasse in that policy can never work on North Korea because a certain external precedent (the killing of the national leader in full public view) has been set. The approach of this issue from such an angle therefore, predominantly relies upon a change of attitude appearing from within Pyongyang. This could occur as a result of two possibilities, the former if it were to be coerced into negotiating by its neighbour, or (a more unlikely possibility) that North Korea takes the initiative itself. Alternatively, this ‘new reality’ of international conduct must be broken in order to introduce a dynamic new approach towards conflict resolution that can empower a novel line of thinking within Jong-un ’s leadership.


On the 30th of September 2015, it finally became clear that the Western model of regime change has been halted the moment Russian Aerospace Forces, for the first time, engaged with the Syrian Rebels and Daesh fighters in Syria. Coupled with Chinese diplomatic assistance at the UNSC, Russia’s political and military lifeline to Assad has defied the conventional Western strategy of dealing with authoritarian leaders, and indeed it has solidified Assad’s status. There is no doubt that Kim Jong-un eyed this development carefully in order to anticipate how an international response to an internal conflict within his own country would unravel.


Under Jong-un ’s rule, North Korea has engaged relentlessly in the development of nuclear weapons and suitable delivery methods. Yet what may appear to be an aggressive strategy is in real terms a radically different policy than that of the late Kim Jong-Il. It is noteworthy to observe that Jong-un has not followed in his father’s footsteps of engaging in direct border conflicts. The naval battles of Yeonpyeong in 1999 and 2002 respectively, as well as the infamous 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval vessel ROKS Cheonan that killed 46 sailors[2] have become relics of the past. Skirmishes have continued, yet the regime has fixated itself on a prioritised doctrine of domestic defense whilst still refraining from approaching the likelihood of a direct border conflict. Nonetheless, the question remains to be asked: is this the result of a generational change in leadership, or perhaps a reaction to the cruel death of Gaddafi and the attempted removal of Assad from power? It would be inadequate to dismiss this coincidence, instead of entertaining the notion that Jong-un’s thinking has been substantially driven by events in the Middle East. As of now, Kim Jong-un is likely find himself in the same position as Assad during the early phases of the Syrian conflict; an isolated autocrat with significantly less military strength than that of Western nations. But, having seen that support from Russia and China has stabilised Assad and removed the previously likely outcome of the Syrian President being bludgeoned to death by rebels, Jong-un has found himself in a much more comfortable position than before, albeit one in which fear persists.

Regardless of the element of fear, proponents of an alternative position would point to the success of the Irani Nuclear Deal and the benefits of prolonged negotiation. Yet, one thing is clear North Korea is no Iran. As a nation with substantial political and military reach in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and arguably Oman, Iran has always enjoyed geopolitical significance coupled with the economic might it has received from its possession of immense oil and natural gas reserves. Even throughout the sanctions, the regime in Tehran never remained as isolationist as North Korea currently is, indeed Tehran extended its influence in the region, gaining the attention of both Russia and China. Whilst Gaddafi’s Libya and Sadam Hussein’s Iraq were truly international pariahs with social conditions that were ripe for revolution, a western-sponsored coup has been an unthinkable scenario in Iran, a state where genuine anti-US and anti-Western feelings run high. Iran, aware of its significance and its power, not to mention its strong cultural and religious role in the Middle East, has been fully attuned to the impracticality of a Western-induced overthrow and it engaged in negotiations knowing it had more to gain than to lose.


Even if Assad were to remain safely in power or flee towards the comfort of asylum, these outcomes would be primarily facilitated by his allied states. This is what Jong-un, arguably , does not have. Russia lacks the interest or power to commit to another support mission in North Korea, whilst China has refrained from providing military guarantees to Kim Jong-un’s regime. Nevertheless, the attempted regulation of the Syrian Civil War has introduced a new form of conflict governance in which Western powers are forced to face equally well-positioned Revisionist states that challenge the previously enjoyed American unipolarity. Far from representing a victory for the non-liberal order, Russia and China’s ascendancy has introduced a voice of critique and opposition towards the US-directed foreign policy action that has even emerged within some Western societies. As such, Non-Western regimes have found Greater Powers that are not necessarily dedicated protectors of fellow authoritarian rulers, but can contribute to more favourable negotiations in a potential conflict. If translated to the North Korean case, Russia and China’s new positions could inject new energy into the ongoing Six-Party Talks. Indeed this could even offer the possibility of a sustained diplomatic engagement in a more balanced setting. Whilst this may not fully ease Jong-un’s fear of being overthrown, the existence of a new context for discussion certainly presents a valuable basis upon which the West could engage with Kim’s regime instead of threatening it.


Understandably, the argument of this paper may be disaparaged for its neglect of the possibility of a legal pursuit of Assad’s actions or for omitting the repeated call that the Syrian leader must stand trial for war crimes. Indeed, this paper has consistently entertained the idea that the reduction of tension can be achieved through a peaceful regulation of the Syrian war and a favourable deal to Assad. In this respect, this paper aims to clarify that it recognises the unique and undeniable protection Assad enjoys as well as the highly probable prediction that his future likely does not necessarily entail persecution. Equally, it must be emphasised that our argument neither condones nor concurs with the strategy of killing national leaders to deal with unfriendly regimes (as has been done in the past). This is, according to our line of argument neither a justifiable nor an acceptable option (indeed as has been proved in Iraq amongst many other nations, this strategy inevitably sows the seeds for bloodshed as well as further civil and international discord). As an ally or as a proxy of Great Powers, Assad, just like many other leaders who held a similar position, will predictably avoid justice in an international system that continues to exist as an entity designed by and for geopolitical powers. Adherence to international law ends where national interest begins, and attempting to view Assad’s fate from another perspective would constitute a tragically fictitious view of international affairs.


Finally, whilst Kim Jong-un most certainly hopes to see his Syrian counterpart remain in power, the offer of asylum and safety to Assad, his family, associates and assets would send a new signal to the North Korean regime. If Kim Jong-un and his well-knit circle may be convinced that their departure would not entail a brutal death at the hands of revolutionaries (but instead be carried out under orderly international supervision) we can still expect the possibility of North Korea downscaling from its nuclear program and perhaps even a passage towards negotiations. Through compelling Western states to accept Russia, China and others as equals in conflict management, we can facilitate the construction of a viable foundation for negotiations. Dealing with North Korea is then, ultimately inextricably linked to the delicate handling of the future of Syria’s regime; this is the only alternative that would break the precedent that has previously sent authoritarian leaders scrambling to deter Western powers and undoubtedly, in the process this would end the current stalemate with North Korea.







Stanislav Skriabine currently serves as the Head of Presidents at King’s Think Tank, as well as PC President for Defense and Diplomacy. 


Policy: What is the Point?


In many ways, the objective of policy seems more relevant than ever. Politics and policy have once again become vibrant and engaging, as debates on everything from housing, to health, to hard borders rage on in the news with a vigour we have not seen in a long time. It is, in fact, the topic of conversation everywhere. Society feels truly political again, even as people talk more and more about how sick of politics they feel they are! (I would, perhaps, go so far as to say they are clearly not.) In a technologically advanced, post-globalist world, people have been increasingly taking politics into their own hands, and rightly so. Ultimately, however, these debates are all about policy, too. This very word, just like the word ‘politics’, comes from the Greek word, ‘πόλις’ – “polis”, meaning city, or body of citizens. And, it is only right that if we (as citizens) wish to see some change in the current state of affairs, we take policy-shaping too into our own hands.

The linguistic meaning of “policy” and “politics” tell us something important about the whole action of making policy; without it, there can be no real political process and no organised society. The opposite of organised society (anarchy) entails no politics, no government and no policies. In such an anarchistic society, it is entirely up to the individuals to manage their lives and all that surrounds them with no regard for others. It is assumed that every person is naturally able to (without any rules whatsoever) work exclusively in their own interests without harming others. In some fairytale or Utopia this might be true, but the world filled with crisis, we are far from this. It is beyond reasonable doubt that most individuals do not see eye to eye. Indeed, the nature of the world is such that what benefits some may cause great harm to others. We see this impasse at every level, be it moral, financial, social or political. Thus, the solution is clear: we need government and by extension policymaking for the law, order and society to be held in place. We might not like the idea of authority and we might not like the idea of rules, but they keep things ticking over. Policy is the difference between savages and citizens.

Nonetheless, it would be equally irresponsible for the state to make do with any old policy or rule that a bitter old bureaucrat fancies. We need good, well-articulated policy. It is difficult, at first, to consider what a bad or good policy might be. Policymakers very often approach this question with their gut feeling asking themselves whether a policy suits their background, ideals and worldview. Such an approach is absolutely wrong. It is a purely subjective, simplistic method. In actual fact, good policy should not be entirely dependent upon the subjective, whimsical views of those in power during their tenure in the limelight. Instead, the primary step towards producing good policy hinges upon the responses to three fairly simple questions: (i) Does this policy actually work? (ii)Why does it work? (iii) How does this policy work?

If it works and we can prove this, we must consider the nature of the policy’s tenure. What might the consequences be over time? Have we come up with a short-term stop-gap, or a long-term solution? Policies can seem right at the time, but rapidly become obsolete. A relevant recent example is the requirement that all Government Departments in the United States must report on their preparation for the Y2K computer bug, caused by the millennium year. Donald Trump repealed that law in June 2017, nearly two decades after it was relevant, and after thousands of wasted hours

However, that is not to say that short-term policymaking does not have a place in modern governance. This is particularly true of economic policies and reforms to infrastructure and the labour market. Reforms in these areas take a long time, and a government needs enough time in office to push such measures through. A short-term sweetener, for instance, may buy a government enough time for a long-term plan to work. That may sound deeply cynical, but it is really about managing public expectations and giving a longer-term policy enough time to become effective, particularly given the risk of being voted out of office

The labour market is a prime example of this: if a government notices that its country’s automotive industry lacks workers and, there is a large amount of unemployed people from other sectors, what would be a sensible policy? Clearly, a government should seek to retrain these unemployed people where possible, enabling them to work in this sector and fill the available jobs. These people would need to train and potentially move towards work. They may have families too, so schools, hospitals, roads and so on will also need to be catered for. We must also consider the cost of living, and whether their new jobs would be able to support them. (Indeed, some would rather live off unemployment benefits as opposed to a wage that is too low to pay for the price of living.)

This policy seems to be, at face value, exclusively about employment. Yet, when one extrapolates further, there is a great deal more to be considered. Potentially, a short-term policy, such as raising the minimum wage, would deal with the initial issues caused by a policy (what are known simply as unintended consequences). These would give enough time to iron out early concerns, whilst medium to long-term priorities are dealt with.

Therefore, it is fair to say policies of varying timeframes each have their place. But, policymakers and politicians must also respect that their ability to make effective policy doesn’t revolve merely around time; it is also a question of accuracy. Thus, policies need to be based on objective research and the avoidance of personal biases or raw political expediency in order to work most effectively. A convenient example of this is the idea of personal motivation and bias as a basis for policymaking. A notorious example is Donald Trump’s present attempts to enforce a travel ban on the citizens of several Muslim states for ‘security reasons’. This was ruled unconstitutional until recently, and has only been partially imposed.

Yet, it is unquestionable that here are lessons to be learnt from this reactionary policy. The American President’s motivations ostensibly revolve around safety, but it would take a monumental act of doublethink to not also see a concurrent prejudice fuelling his policy. A post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical failing fuels the idea behind the ban, and it has actually, according to many sources, had little research behind it. In this case, President Trump’s attempt to ban entry to the USA for a significant number of Muslims was fuelled not by concrete evidence that they were a risk to national security, but by personal prejudice and a desire to play to the gallery.

In this specific case, a more effective policy combating the spread of this terrorist ideology of Salafi-Wahabbi extremism would look at why people are joining these groups, where sleeper cells lie, both process of radicalisation and de- radicalistion. Further national security measures may even be based upon risk assessment in public places and perhaps even necessitate more airport-style checkpoints. It would be reasonable to say that those terrorist affiliations must be banned from entering the USA. But, the ban as it stands, like the poor-articulated Great Wall of Mexico plan is a classic example of bad policy-making. Not only does this ban alienate more Muslims (which is what terrorists seek), making them vulnerable to strong feelings of disillusionment and growing hatred towards the state, but it is also a waste of time for local legal circuits and a laborious, unnecessary task for the Supreme Court.

We are hence brought back to the key question on policy: what is the point? Policy is meant to be a rationally-based, deliberate set of rules guiding government decisions and actions. The aim policy is to allow the government to do its job and improve the way a state works at every level. It serves to create opportunity, to raise living standards, to prevent exploitation, to keep us safe, to protect lives and our basic human rights. It requires reasoning, research, vision, talent and a burning desire to improve the society in which one lives. Policy should not be made in such a poor and off-the-cuff way. This is because of the simple reality that without policy, there would be little difference between the modern day and the societies we belonged to millennials ago. Policy-making has changed and evolved over time, but it would be folly, especially now, to forget that it can easily degrade and become dysfunctional if we take it for granted.


Charles Collard is the editor responsible for the Education Policy Centre at King’s Think Tank. 

Salafi Youth in Tunisia – De-radicalisation from Within as the Only Way Out

In Tunisia true diversity within political Islamism exists. While some followers, such as Salafists, may hold puritanical views that date back to the practices of early historical Muslims, others support the idea of a moderate Islamic State – where Islam influences the law, but does not literally dictate it. Salafism is a conservative offshoot of Islam that is continuing to gain momentum in Tunisia. Most Salafists believe that a modern Islamic state should still follow strict Sharia law. However, followers of Salafism differ on their beliefs of how one should go about accomplishing this.

Under Ben Ali’s regime the Tunisian government had violently repressed Islamists. In particular, Ben Ali’s anti-terrorism law of 2003 led to thousands of arrests and cases of torture. In addition, Ben Ali’s neoliberal policies had created high rates of unemployment and poverty, especially among the youth who became disaffected with the political authorities, refusing any participation in politics. After the fall of Ben Ali, with the objective of reclaiming their identity, many young Tunisians, men and women, became radicalised through self-investigating their previous experiences of subjugation by the old regime. In other words, instead of legitimising the existing identity imposed on them by the dictator Ben Ali, many Tunisians decided for themselves what image they wanted to identify with and consequently defend. Hence, paradoxically, by continuously repressing Islam in the political as well as public sectors, the Tunisian government fostered the creation of a new and more extreme form of Islamism.

Able to freely articulate their Salafi identity and not yet having generated enough experience to question the validity and the applicability of their new ethical truth, radical youth became very concerned with the stylisation as well as the practical implementation of their new identity. Thus, while men raised beards and changed their praying methods, women started wearing the Niqab and stopped shaking hands with men.

However, by late 2013 and early 2014, Salafis once again became the target of security forces, and were subject to unlawful persecution and imprisonment. Freedom of public engagement and activism became increasingly restricted. As a response to state repression and interpersonal experiences within the Salafi community, many young Tunisians started to question their radical Salafi identity. Not only did they question the role of the state and its security apparatuses in inflaming violence; they also questioned the dangers of the jihadi strategy itself. They started to challenge the trustworthiness of Jihadis and criticised the negative effects jihadi strategy had on their Salafi identity.

Dr. Aitemad Muhanna-Matar conducted research into the radicalization and de-radicalization experiences of Salafi Youth in Tunisia through a series of interviews. Notably, it was not a change in government policy nor help from NGOs that resulted in their de-radicalization, but rather from their own involvement with jihadi groups. One male interviewee stated that he started to rethink the politics of Salafism after he felt threatened from within jihadi organizations as a result of his unwillingness to engage in violence. A female interviewee who was arrested for supporting jihadists began to distance herself from Salafis when they failed to support her on her return from prison.

What is important to note is that the de-radicalization of Salafi youth in Tunisia came from within. Only from personal reflection on their participation with other radicalized individuals and their engagement with radical ideas could they de-radicalize. However, this reflection was not a purely individualistic task – it was deeply connected with other radical Salafis, and was dependent on the changing social and political context.

State-led rehabilitation is often the chosen approach by governments for de-radicalization. Such efforts often fail given the reliance on faulty assumptions, just as in the case of Saudi Arabia’s. Erroneous generalizations that radical youth are vulnerable and incapable of thinking rationally leads to an ineffective strategy of state intervention. Radicalized youth can circumvent state rehabilitation to get released. State intervention instead drives radicalized groups underground, leading to the opposite outcome. Fear of government crackdowns against those that do not adhere to a state sponsored interpretation and vision of Islam stifles the freedom to experiment with alternative means of political engagement.

Instead of state-led rehabilitation, a more effective strategy for rehabilitation into society is to avoid isolation and promote engagement with the public. This can be done by encouraging de-radicalized Salafists to be involved in public activism. There should be a balance of power in the religious sphere that allows all non-violent religious actors a voice, including de-radicalized Salafis. In turn, these de-radicalized Salafis can share their experience of de-radicalization with others through state and non-governmental platforms. The coordination of both government and NGO actors can ensure a more cooperative approach to counter extremism that includes the knowledge and understanding of individuals who were previously involved in radical groups. By moving away from the wrongful assumptions that radicalized youth are vulnerable and incapable, they can be provided with the opportunities to critically reflect on their Islamic identity.

Anne Siebenaler and Marina Zabelina are editors of the Education Policy Centre at King’s Think Tank.

The Personal Challenge of Female Genital Mutilation in Practice

We should all be anti-FGM activists, but our activism needs to be in the community not in our consultations.

The issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been one that has risen in the public consciousness over recent years. The Serious Crimes Act 2015, consolidated and extended previous legislation targeting the practice; placing an obligation on healthcare professionals, social workers and teachers to notify police if they believe children under their care are vulnerable to FGM.1 Within healthcare, what does the law require from professionals and how should healthcare workers be expected to handle such cases?

Firstly, a brief overview of what FGM is. In short, any procedure to remove part of or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons is classified as FGM. There are many assumptions and prejudices that are common in discourse surrounding FGM and it is important to address these.

The ‘non-medical’ aspect of FGM is vital as it has no health benefits whatsoever (I will come back to this shortly).2 Labels such as ‘female circumcision’, although more palatable than ‘mutilation’, are incorrect as circumcision suggests potential health gains, which in the case of FGM there are emphatically none. Furthermore, the label ‘circumcision’ has a sanitising effect which is damaging. Language is powerful, and unless we make an effort to call it what it is, how can we effectively demonstrate that this is an assault on young women? Traditionally the practice was carried out by prominent local community members however, in recent years there has been an alarming rise in the number of medical professionals around the world who perform the procedure.3 Not only is this worrying with regards to Hippocratic non-maleficence, but undoubtedly this only serves to further legitimise the practice amongst those who seek it.

There is also an assumption that FGM not only has a cultural basis but a religious one also. This too is incorrect, with no religious canon sanctioning it. Although FGM is practiced in parts of the world where Islam is prevalent, it is not an Islamic custom. FGM is common amongst Christians also. While FGM does not originate from faith, many faith leaders promote it in the parts of the world where it is common, to devastating effect.3, 4 Particularly in today’s climate, as health professionals it is important to make this distinction between eastern faith and eastern cultural practices. FGM is cultural.

Advocates of FGM suggest that it prepares girls for marriage and protects them from sexual promiscuity. Indeed, in some cultures men refuse to marry women who have not been mutilated (I know it’s not easy to read that word, but again, language is important in our advocacy) believing it to be an indication that she may not be a virgin or be unclean.5 Although this practice historically has origins in authoritative patriarchy, women are often advocates of FGM with many mother’s insisting that their daughters be mutilated, even though they bear the physical and mental scars of having been mutilated themselves.4 This epitomises how deep the cultural roots of FGM are and the significance it holds amongst its supporters. People genuinely believe that this practice is in the interests of the people they love. Despite the trauma it may cause and the trauma it caused them themselves, as based on their value system they feel duty bound to ensure that their daughters are mutilated because, they believe it to be of the upmost benefit. Families do not do this to their children out of malice but paradoxically out of love. This is important to be aware of when encountering families who are supportive of FGM.

The original questions of what the law requires and how health professionals should be expected to handle cases of suspected FGM, is an issue which needs further examination.

 FGM for many health professionals, in parts of the world where FGM is culturally alien, is a very emotionally provocative issue. And indeed in a previous post Rani Chowdhary eloquently presented a call to arms to address this on a community level. What I suggest now may be uncomfortable for some, but I believe that it is important in how within a health context, we address this practice amongst our patients effectively. I encourage us all to become active anti-FGM campaigners, let us just remember that our personal views, emotions and activism has no place in the consultation room. Our patients require our professional services and our humanity. A distinction needs to be made between the cultural practice and the patient in front of us. When dealing with a victim of FGM in our clinics, surgeries, hospitals and schools we should have one concern and one concern only: the girl or woman’s health.

When treating our patients who have suffered from FGM, what is required of us is to attend to the patient’s medical (physical and mental) needs that arise out of this non-medical procedure.6 Let us attend to the patient medically, remembering that she does not need to be burdened with our horror at what has happened to her. Remembering she too may sincerely believe that what has happened to her was both important and necessary. Remembering that there is a vast social web surrounding this event and the people responsible for what happened are likely to be the people she cares most about.

I would like to stress that I am not advocating shedding safeguarding responsibilities. If your patient is a child, this is a criminal offence and the case must always be referred to the police and social services,1 and the department of health has a clear algorithm on how to escalate the situation.7 For the women we encounter we need to do our utmost to ensure that she has access to all the support that is available. As healthcare professionals though, the extent to which we need to deal with the criminal aspect is by making that referral.  As healthcare professionals what our patient requires of us is our expertise to treat her medically. If we feel moved towards activism for changes on a social level, all the better. But that can only start when she leaves the consultation room.

John Bartoli-Abdou is a research pharmacist and PhD candidate in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science. His research focusses on adherence to medication. He has a special interest in global health and development and has previously spent time working in Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria


  1. Mandatory Reporting of Female Genital Mutilation – procedural information [Internet]; c2016 [cited 2017 02/28]. Available from:
  2. Sunday-Adeoye I, Serour G. Management of health outcomes of female genital mutilation: Systematic reviews and evidence syntheses. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2017 Feb;136 Suppl 1:1-2.
  3. Global strategy to stop health-care providers from performing female genital mutilation [Internet]; c2010 [cited 2017 02/28]. Available from:
  4. Female Genital Mutilation: Caring for patients and safeguarding children. Guidance from the British Medical Association [Internet]; c2011 [cited 2017 02/28]. Available from:
  5. Men’s and women’s perceptions of the relationship between female genital mutilation and women’s sexuality in three communities in Egypt: Social science policy brief [Internet]; c2010 [cited 2017 02/28]. Available from:
  6. WHO guidelines on the management of health complications from female genital mutilation [Internet]; c2016 [cited 2017 02/28]. Available from:
  7. FGM mandatory reporting duty: guidance for healthcare professionals [Internet]; c2017 [cited 2017 02/28]. Available from: