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Here’s a Bold New Strategy for Dealing with North Korea
Say it should fall. It’ll cost over $1 trillion to rehabilitate the nation. Who’s going to pay for that?
I lived in South Korea from 2009 to 2011 teaching English. Not much was said about North Korea at the time. My few fleeting interactions were as a tourist along the DMZ. After the Cheonan incident however, when a South Korean destroyer was allegedly sunk by a North Korean submarine, I became well aware that I was in a potentially dangerous place. But it was also what inspired me to take up my nights talking to and interviewing people about the conflict.
Recently, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the US would abandon the Obama administration’s North Korean policy of strategic patience. “All options are on the table,” he said, which means even a military strike. This was in the wake of the hermit kingdom’s recent test firing of four intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), at once, into waters off of Japan. Japan has a missile defense system, but not one that can shoot down four missiles at once.
Tillerson said the US would be employing a Thaad missile defense system in South Korea as a consequence. Officials in Seoul are considering additional measures, such as specialized satellites or other missile defenses. Japan perhaps could be protected, but South Korea would face extensive damage, should war or even a skirmish, break out.
The biggest fear however is that soon, the Kim regime could have an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the US mainland. Some experts say, they already have the capability to reach South Korea or Japan, with a nuclear warhead tipped missile. Meanwhile, beefing up of South Korea’s missile defense has angered China, who denounced the move.
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Getty Images.
China fears the deployment of more antimissile systems in the region. It could hedge China’s growing military presence, as well as its claims on disputed territory in the South China Sea. Some experts believe a Thaad missile net might even embolden the US to make a preemptive strike on North Korea.
The Kim regime may be insidious, but it isn’t stupid. It’s masterfully negotiated $30 billion out of the US since the first Bush administration, without changing its trajectory. There’s no reason to think the threat of a preemptive strike will do so.
The negotiating strategy it uses is called brinkmanship. It ratchets up tensions during key periods to strike fear in its enemies. Then it calms down, comes to the negotiating table, extorts aid, and eventually, recedes back into testing weapons and making bellicose statements. The regime is careful to come close to the line without ever crossing it.
It planned its test during at a sensitive time, politically. South Korea’s president just resigned over corruption and massive street protests. China is going through its “two sessions event,” where the bigwigs in the Chinese Communist Party come together to discuss issues. And the Trump administration’s State Department has been hobbled, due to the resignation of Michael Flynn, a general mistrust of the White House, and other absences in key posts.
Even if there was a brilliant military strategy to surgically strike, without massive collateral damage, China would be resistant. It does not want a US friendly country right next door. Beyond that, it also fears millions of starving North Korean refugees flooding its border. Because of the complexities, many experts today are pivoting away from a “hard landing” or sudden Korean reunification, to a “soft landing” or a gradual one.
South Korea lives in constant fear of a “saturation attack” from North Korea. Getty Images.
Sudden reunification would be a tremendous burden on the South. North Korea is 46 times poorer than its neighbor (Delisle. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea 2003). The country is severely stunted in terms of telecommunications and infrastructure. The buildings are crumbling. A widespread education program will be needed, to teach everything from democracy to how to shop at a supermarket. There’s widespread food insecurity, sickness, and malnutrition. A lot of money will need to be raised.
“Most analysts believe it would cost more than $1 trillion to rehabilitate the impoverished North Korean economy over the coming decades,” according to S. H. Jang. He’s a retired banker and former president of the Royal Asiatic Society, Korean Branch. The money can be procured via “…the World Bank, large loans, reparations from Japan…” and other sources. In the 1960’s, Japan paid reparations to South Korea for the atrocities it committed during the colonial period and World War II. North Korea has yet to receive its share.
But these sources won’t be enough. A sufficient percentage will have to come from the South Korean people themselves. A tax has been proposed. But today’s South Korean doesn’t have the family ties with North that the older generation had. It will be hard to convince taxpayers to foot the bill.
What’s more, the prejudice of the Korean War generation has been passed down in many cases to subsequent generations. This is evident in North Korean defectors enormous unemployment rate. In 2011, I interviewed Lee, Young-Hwan, lead researcher at the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. He said most defectors in South Korea say they are from the countryside or China, before admitting to being North Korean.
North Korea is 46 times poorer than its southern neighbor. Getty Images.
Young-Hwan and defector Oh, Seh-Yek expressed another fear, a second Korean War. Almost no one agrees with the ideology North Koreans are forced-fed. But the propagandists have foreseen one thing. If it’s ever liberated and foreign investment allowed unfettered access, the North Korean people will be reduced to laborers, mostly mining and factory workers, for perhaps generations.
Although at first a blessing, the people will eventually come to view it as a form of colonization, one perpetrated by rich, greedy, capitalist invaders. Being such a hardened, militaristic society for so long, the North Koreans could rise up in rebellion. China possibly sees this and wants to avoid a war on its border.
A soft landing is the only sustainable model. How do we get there? Unfortunately, there are no good options. When it’s in the peaceful phase of its brinkmanship cycle, negotiators are expected to hold their noses and cut a deal, one that Pyongyang, sooner or later, will break. However, no one thought Iran could be brought to the negotiating table, and the Iran nuclear deal is by and large thought of as a success. The US should talk with North Korea without prerequisites. A mutual demilitarization arrangement should be hammered out. Washington or Seoul might sweeten the pot by offering economic incentives, if the Kim regime successfully complies.
Compliance must be validated by an independent, well-respected body or institution. For instance, the U.S. will remove South Korea from its nuclear umbrella as long as North Korea agrees to completely denuclearize and allow IAEA inspectors unfettered access to monitor the process. Beijing would like this deal too, and may pressure Pyongyang to go along with it.
Even if reunification occurred peacefully, the fear of a second Korean civil war looms. Getty Images.
Of course, failure to comply could result in something like a reintroduction of arms, such as a return of tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula, to show Pyongyang that there are consequences to its actions. In addition to mutual disarmament, America and South Korea could provide North Korea with food aid, but also farming equipment, fertilizer and experts in modern farming techniques, to increase productivity. This could help to save the starving North Korean people in a sustainable, teach-a-man-to-fish, sort of way. Each demilitarization move on the regimes part could be followed on the US side, followed by an economic carrot.
There are signs that the Kim regime wants to break the holding pattern. In 2008 North Korean officials expressed interest in exporting textiles to U.S. companies, naming Walmart specifically. They also mentioned working together with U.S. companies to help develop their mining industry. In 2010 North Korea started its own international investment concern, a state development bank. It was foreseeing better relations with the U.S. and wanted to attract foreign investment. The only ones currently investing in it are the Chinese.
Giving generous financial incentives to get North Korea to demilitarize, may be making a deal with the devil. But its threat would be neutralized, horrific disasters and war averted, some of the suffering of its people alleviated, and Pyongyang would be less bellicose and would start developing, sustainably. Perhaps with a sack full of carrots and far weightier sticks, results can be achieved.
Some believe installing a moderate heir to the world's only dynastic, communist state, would garner results.
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Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."