Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

How To Deflate U.S.-China Tensions; Turkey And Syria Devastated By Earthquake; The Shadowy Mercenaries Fighting For Russia; North Korea's Rising Nuclear Threat. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired February 12, 2023 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you from New York.


ZAKARIA: We'll begin today's program with Monday's powerful earthquake. The devastation and destruction it has caused and the politics that are now at play.

Also, the China balloon crisis. What is the fallout? I'll talk about all that and more with David Miliband and Richard Haass.

Also, who is really fighting on the front lines for Russia in Ukraine? We will introduce you to the shadowy group whose mercenaries are a surprisingly big part of the Russia's war effort. Everything you need to know about the Wagner Group.

And Kim Jong-un's hermit kingdom launched over 90 missiles last year including an astonishing 23 in one single day. An expert will tell us why America's lack of attention to North Korea's growing nuclear threat is a clear danger.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. In his State of the Union address, President Biden alluded to the Chinese spy balloon incident in a single line which suggested an effort to contain the spillover from that episode.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country and we did.


ZAKARIA: For its part, the Beijing government also seems to have tried to downplay it, expressing regret initially and using its censorship of media and social media not to fan the flames of Chinese nationalism but rather tamp them down. In the last such crisis, the Chinese seemed to encourage anti-

Americanism in its media. In 2001 an American spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the American plane to land at Hainan Island where Chinese authorities took the crew into custody. After 11 tense days, the United States issued a letter of regret which the Chinese characterized as an apology. Beijing then released the Americans.

It is difficult to imagine an incident like that one getting resolved so quickly and easily today. We're watching something almost unique in history. A growing geopolitical rivalry between two nations that are also deeply interconnected economically.

In the wake of the suspected spy balloon, this week brought news that U.S.-China trade goods hit an all-time high of $690 billion. Surpassing the previous record set in 2018 before the COVID pandemic. That number seems especially remarkable when you consider that it was achieved despite the tariffs that Donald Trump placed on many Chinese goods and those that China placed on U.S. goods in response.

It also runs counter to the Biden administration's new rules preventing trade in certain high technology items with the People's Republic.

We are operating on two levels with China. One is geopolitical where tensions have been growing rapidly but the other is commercial and it is determined lastly by Chinese and American consumers and firms, not governments. That relationship remains deeply intertwined and interdependent.

Can these two realms continue to move forward while working at cross purposes? It seems highly unlikely.

In an essay in "Foreign Affairs," former U.S. Treasury secretary Hank Paulson notes that during the 2008 global financial crisis, good relations with China helped Washington avert another Great Depression. You see China held massive amounts of American debt as well as American housing bonds issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Had Beijing sold those, it could have created a downward spiral for the American economic with fallout around the world.

But Washington persuaded Beijing not to sell and in fact China uses its own fiscal and monetary strength to boost the global economy. It's sobering to think that the next global financial crisis, or there will be one, will likely see none of that kind of policy coordination between the world's two largest economies.


The geopolitical tensions are likely to grow fast. This week also brought news that it was actually more significant than a wandering balloon. The U.S. Strategic Command which oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, has informed Congress that China now has more land based, fixed and mobile, intercontinental ballistic missile launches than the U.S. As relations between Washington and Beijing are deteriorating, Beijing has moved rapidly to build up its nuclear arsenal. It still has many fewer nuclear warheads than the U.S. but according

to a Pentagon report last fall, it is on a path to more than triple its stock by 2035. At that point, we will be in a world in which three major powers each have large and sophisticated nuclear arsenals. And two of those powers, Russia and China, are allied and both will be primarily targeting the United States.

And then there is Taiwan. We face a long-term buildup of Beijing's military capability to invade or more likely blockade the island. But we also face potential short-term crisis, including the one that will surely be triggered if House Speaker Kevin McCarthy does travel to the island and even provocative leader announces support for Taiwanese independence. Taiwan will be holding presidential elections in 2024.

President Tsai Ing-wen cannot run again because of term limits. But her party has chosen as its likely candidate a man who says he is a worker for Taiwanese independence. So far public sentiment suggests that most Taiwanese do not want independence right now. Preferring for the time being the ambiguous status quo that has allowed them to thrive and prosper. But that too could change if Beijing's bullying ramps up.

Right now Washington and Beijing have few guardrails to keep problems from escalating. China and the United States have no bilateral arms control agreements, unlike with Russia, or even ongoing negotiations about security. There are no military to military dialogues about crisis management. There is no continuous discussion between the two sides' economic teams.

If the next crisis between Beijing and Washington is bigger than a balloon, it might prove much harder to deflate.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Let me bring David Miliband and Richard Haass on the U.S.-China relations discussion. David is the former British foreign secretary, now the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Richard is a former top State Department official, now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of a new book, "The Bill of Obligations: The 10 Habits of Good Citizens," which debuted on "The New York Times" best-seller list.

Richard, I assume you think that the Biden administration broadly speaking handled the China episode pretty well. But I want to you ask because you were the guy who Colin Powell dispatched to negotiate with the Chinese in that 2001 episode. And the way resolved was the United States offered this regret which the Chinese were able to interpret and translate as an apology.

Given the political climate in Washington, where, you know, the Republicans are just begging for blood on this, could you have solved the problem in that way this time?

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think the answer is we could have, but it would have come at greater political cost or price. There is almost a competition going on, Fareed, between the parties, who can be tougher on China. Indeed there is hardly a lot of difference between the Trump administration policy and now the Biden, and it's going to be difficult going forward.

I mean, this is was a balloon. Imagine if we have a real crisis over, say, Taiwan where ships or aircraft come into close proximity or contact. How are the United States and China going to manage that? We don't seem to have the lines of communication and the political environment has so deteriorated over the last 20 years, it's in some ways worse than the United States and the Soviet Union were, even at the height of the Cold War.

ZAKARIA: You had said initially, you tweeted that you thought Tony Blinken should not have canceled his trip. Do you think he should go as soon as possible?

HAASS: Yes, sir, because when I look at real differences between the United States and China over, say, Taiwan, that has more potential to bring the two into blows than anything else, but there's growing evidence of Chinese support for Russia in Ukraine, both direct and indirect, obviously economic support but also potentially military support. So I think we have really pressing reasons to get the secretary of State over there.

I don't think it's necessarily going to cause -- you know, recreate miracles, but I don't see how we're served by not having a serious relationship.


Of course, China clearly err here. They got overly aggressive, even brazen. So I think this is not a bad moment.

ZAKARIA: David, one part of the sort of Biden administration strategy toward China which is in some ways a continuation of the Trump administration, is this very tough economic competition. But it's competition not -- you know, there are two ways, one, you try to run faster, but the other is you try to trip the other guy and there is a lot of us trying to trip the other guy, restraints on technology, restraints on exports.

Do you think that Europe broadly speaking is on board with this strategy, that the United States has adopted toward China?

DAVID MILIBAND, FORMER U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, I think that Europeans have changed their tune significantly over the last five years. They will have been relieved last weekend that the administration was firm but not macho about this balloon incident. But they will be really urging that the cooperate part of the triad that says confront, compete, and cooperate, that that cooperate part gets filled out.

Because at the moment, whether it'd be on global health or on the global climate, you see very little cooperation in areas that in themselves speak to the global commons and the responsibilities of great states. Then when you think about the Russia-China access or link over Ukraine, they're voting together on a whole range of issues at the U.N., you see the parties very far apart and if anything cleaving further apart.

And the great fear, I think not just in Europe actually but across the rest of the world, is going to be that these two countries that are competing so ferociously, that the competition bleeds into every aspect of international relations and freezes out the kind of cooperation and diplomacy that is so essential.

ZAKARIA: You know, Richard, when I was in India, I was talking to a bunch of Indian businessmen who were talking about how the big opportunity for them was now doing business in Russia, taking the businesses that Western firms had left behind. You know, and it speaks to the -- one of the reasons why the Russian economy is doing better than we think is there is a big world out there and it's not just the West any more. It's, you know, China and India but also Turkey, apparently Iran's trade with Russia has gone up a lot.

In that context -- it seems this is a point Larry Summers made last week on the show. If we can't isolate Russia, it's going to be much harder to isolate China economically.

HAASS: You can't isolate China. China is too big. It's already too there. That horse has left the barn or multiple horses have left multiple barns at the risk of stretching it. So it says a lot about sanctions. It turns out in government almost every crisis, the first thing the State Department does is you don't want to go to war, you don't want to do nothing, sanctions. We overuse the instrument. We ask way too much of it.

And what you're suggesting is we're living in a world particularly if China is the target of the sanctions where the ability of sanctions to deliver is I think less and less and less. A country like India is going to potentially, though, gain twice. First it's now trading with Russia, oil and other things, then where we do limit our relations with China economically, guess what, India may be in a position to step in.

Apple and others may one day be making their phones more in India than in China. So I think India might actually be fairly well-positioned here.

ZAKARIA: What about Britain? We haven't had you on since the latest fiasco, in good way. For example the IMF now says Britain is going to be the worst performing major economy in the world. Is this all just the bitter fruit of Brexit?

MILIBAND: Well please don't introduce this as the fragile state section of the program. That would just be too painful. Look, 2022 was a terrible year for the U.K. because its great virtues which are meant to be pragmatism and stability and commonsense were thrown out of the window by a whole series of populist posturings by the governing party.

I think the U.K. is getting back to some former of normal politics. The Labour Party is now under management that's electable. The conservatives have got a leader or prime minister who at least exceeds his two predecessors. So you've got some form of center right, center left politics. But the whole left by Brexit is very, very large indeed, and it's getting deeper. It's going deeper economically and it's getting deeper politically, and at the moment the ladders haven't been built to get us out of the hole. That's the real task ahead.

ZAKARIA: All right. Stay with us. When we come back we're going to talk about Turkey, Syria, the earthquake, and the politics of this natural disaster.

David and Richard will be back with me in a moment.



ZAKARIA: The epicenter of Monday's earthquake was near Gaziantep, Turkey, inside a nation that has been creeping toward illiberal democracy for years. Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has led the nation for two decades now but he faces a tough election in just three months. Just a few dozen miles away from the epicenter lies the Syrian border. That nation was also devastated in the disaster and has been a pariah state for about a decade.

So this terrible disaster while so deeply personal for so many is also deeply touched by politics, and we're going to talk about some of that now. Joining me now again, David Miliband and Richard Haass.

David, first, tell us your reactions. You run one of the best and largest relief organizations in the world. What is going on? What have you been struck by?

MILIBAND: Well, it's a crisis piled on a crisis. A natural disaster piled on a political crisis. Because over the last three or four years the world's attention has moved away from Syria. But this forgotten crisis has not been resolved at all. So Sunday last week 15 million people across Syria in humanitarian need, four million of them who we helped to serve in the northwest of the country under the control of a range of rebel opposition groups, in desperate circumstances.


The earthquake has left people who were already without homes with nothing. And the danger of a second re-disaster, what the World Health Organization called a second re-disaster, the earthquake has killed tens of thousands, the next stage is a health outbreak or an ill- health outbreak, of desperate freezing conditions and people unable to treat the wounded and unable to survive.

And so it's survival that is the issue in the short term but very quickly the issue will become what's the politics of Syria and how can it come back into some kind of multilateral engagement because really it's been brute force that has left Syria in the state it's in, and the only politics is just on approach is Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey, no one else is in the game at the moment. And that's leaving the people of Syria with nowhere to turn. ZAKARIA: In both Syria and Turkey, Richard, what strikes me is I think

sad but inevitable is that these two leaders, Assad and Erdogan, very different, but are going to milk international support, are going to take what they could get, and they're going to use it to strength themselves politically. Erdogan is already lashing out at anyone who says anything about it. He might be able to ride this to a third term.

Assad is going to try to ride this to some degree of legitimacy, and yet you can't do nothing. So what would you do?

HAASS: That's the dilemma. And we've had it in other countries such as North Korea. The first thing you've got to try to do is see that the aid you give actually gets to the intended people who need the help. You don't want militaries and others siphoning it off. But it's really hard in Syria because the security conditions that David just described are so bad. So I think this is going to be as difficult as it gets.

Turkey is slightly different. It's a more normal, quote-unquote, "country." The problem there is, yes, Erdogan will try to manipulate this to essentially improve his political prospects and again the question is, can we keep control of as much of the aid as we can? I think we have to accept that some of it is going to go to the wrong places. I think you just do the best you can. But you understand it's almost like a tax, Fareed. Some of what we send in there is not going to go to the people we're trying to help.

ZAKARIA: You're on the frontlines. What do you think of this dilemma?

MILIBAND: Well, the humanitarian aid that's going in to help people with medical kits, with basic cash, with food supplies. The U.N. is the largest -- U.N. World Food Program is the largest supplier. There is very little leakage from that because we track every ounce that goes in. I think when you're talking about a wider development, when you're talking about rebuilding roads, when you're talking about rebuilding schools it's a different game.

But remember, for 12 years President Assad has had the chance to deliver aid into the northwest of Syria. What's called cross-line aid, cross-conflict lines. It's basically zero. The U.N. reports on this every six months. The reason that there is cross-border aid from Turkey into Syria is that there is no aid coming from Damascus into the northwest of Syria.

And here's the thing. The number of crossing points was reduced from two to one by the Russian veto at the U.N. Security Council. The first thing that could be done is open up the closed crossing point because that will get you into Aleppo, it will get you into the northwest region as well. So there are things that can be done and I think that it's in the medium term that we're going to have tougher problems.

That's where it's when you're funneling through the government that you end up with the kind of issues that Richard is raising.

ZAKARIA: I know as we talked about illiberal democracy in Turkey, I've got to ask you about illiberal democracy in the United States, because you are a renowned foreign policy expert and yet this book of yours is about domestic politics. Why did you write it?

HAASS: Because the greatest national security threat facing the United States is increasingly us. Yes, China is a threat, Russia, climate change, pandemics, North Korea, you name it. But if we're not united here at home, if we don't have the bandwidth to focus on these things, how are we going to?

So right now our national security depends on doing something about the gridlock that prevents us from meeting our domestic challenges and obviously gets in the way of focusing or meeting these international challenges.

ZAKARIA: When you watch the State of the Union and you see these Republican congressmen heckle the president, does it -- one of the things you talk about is be civil, you know, it doesn't feel like they're reading your book.


HAASS: Not yet. No, but the president by the way had some nice grace notes. I thought when he reached out to the Republican leadership it was good. Look, civility is important. Today's opponent could be tomorrow's partner. It turns out civility is not just a nice thing, it's actually a very practical thing. Compromise. There is a time in politics for compromise or we're not going to get things done.

The president ruled out political violence. I thought that was an important message. Putting country first. But we're going to have a test to that. We'll probably talk about it on your show in a few months when it comes to the debt ceiling.


Will we put country first as opposed to party or politics? So it turns out a lot of the things that are going on in the United States reflects the fact that American democracy is in bad shape. January 6th was the most extreme version of it. Maybe Donald Trump to some extent was an extreme version of it. But they're reflections. We have a real problem, we don't teach civics in our schools. I think we've got a real deficit there. So we don't have national service on a large scale any more.

So I think there's things that can and should be done, and the lesson I take from this, Fareed, is we can't be silent. We've been around for two and a half centuries. It's been an amazing experiment based on an amazing set of ideas. It doesn't mean it's necessarily permanent.

ZAKARIA: Obviously it is striking a chord because it's on the best- seller list. People should buy it and read it. Thank you both.

Next on GPS, the shadowy Russian mercenary group that hopes to help Putin win in Ukraine. We will tell you about the mysterious Wagner Group when we come back.



ZAKARIA: By some estimates, there are 50,000 mercenary troops fighting on Russia's behalf in Ukraine, as part of the Wagner group, a shadowy Russian outfit with international reach and roots that go back to 2014. Founded by Putin's ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner group is believed to get its name from another man behind the organization, a former Russian military officer whose call sign was Wagner, in honor of the German composer much beloved by Adolf Hitler.

To help us understand the roots of the Wagner group and the role it is playing in Ukraine today, I want to bring in Shaun Walker, central and eastern European correspondent for "The Guardian," and Fred Pleitgen, CNN's senior international correspondent. Welcome both.

Shaun, you have this fascinating lengthy profile of Prigozhin. Explain to us really where does it begin?

SHAUN WALKER, CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: Yes. I mean, Prigozhin is a fascinating personality who is very unlike any of the other people in Putin's inner circle. He spent most of his 20s in the 1980s in jail then he became a hotdog seller in Saint Petersburg. He started setting up restaurants. And at some point when Putin back in the late 90s was deputy mayor of Petersburg, he started eating at Prigozhin's restaurant, seemed to take a liking to this guy. Before long Prigozhin was catering meetings between Putin and other leaders.

And then somehow he gets into this inner circle. And in 2014 when the Kremlin takes the decision -- Putin takes the decision to annex Crimea and to start that first invasion of Ukraine -- Eastern Ukraine, which is very different from the one we saw last year, they are trying to keep it covert, they are denying that there are any Russian troops on the ground even though, you know, all of us that were reporting there at the time could see there obviously were Russian troops.

But clearly in the Kremlin, they started to think what can we do to have a bit more plausible deniability to be able to intervene and deny that really were there. And I think that's really the genesis of the Wagner idea. At some point in the spring of 2014, there is a meeting in the ministry of defense and Prigozhin is given this whole -- bit of land where he can train fighters. And later on this group will grow and grow and turn into the Wagner group.

ZAKARIA: And, Fred, you've been covering it for a long time yourself. Explain the Africa connection. What is -- what is the Wagner group doing in Africa?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the Wagner group is essentially training African armies. Just a couple of days ago I actually interviewed two Russian convicts who have been drafted into Wagner to fight in Ukraine. And they told me at those training bases, which Shaun was just mentioning, that their trainers there were actually Wagner mercenaries who had before that been in the Central African Republic to train those militaries there.

ZAKARIA: And, Shaun, when you -- you know, we've been referring to them as mercenaries and in the Africa case there really seems to be an outright -- it reminds me of some of those old -- the East India Company or something. They're just being given mines or mineral concessions, right?

WALKER: That's right, yes. I mean, part of this is Prigozhin's personal ambition and he has clearly done extremely well out of this. But you obviously can't separate this from the Russian state. And I think -- you know, I think one of the really key things to look at when it comes to Wagner is like a lot of what Putin does, he is doing things that he thinks that the West and specific the Americans are doing.

So where Putin thinks that the Americans are meddling in Russian affairs so he says, OK, I'm going to meddle in U.S. affairs. Putin thinks that the Americans are after all kinds of shadowy stuff around the world that they can then deny, OK, so Russia needs a mechanism to do that.

And I think it a really revealing answer that Putin gave back in 2018 when he was asked by quite an unusual combative interview, I think, with Austrian television, and eventually Putin says, well, in the U.S., you have somebody called George Soros. And the U.S. State Department claims that it has nothing to do with Mr. Soros, and in the same way I claim that I have nothing to do with Mr. Prigozhin. He's just an ordinary restaurant keeper with a sort of wink.


So basically what you have is Putin kind of buying into these conspiracy theories that actually George Soros is working for the deep state, is an armor for U.S. foreign policy. And he's saying, OK, well if that is what I think the Americans are doing, I'm going to do that too.

ZAKARIA: And, Fred, what is the Wagner group doing in Ukraine? What have you observed?

PLEITGEN: Well, certainly if you look at Yevgeny Prigozhin here in Ukraine, I think, there's essentially two things. I mean, they are very tough fighting force on the ground especially right now if you look at the area around Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, but a lot of this is also it seems very much about Yevgeny Prigozhin increasing his position, bettering his position especially of course trying to appeal to Vladimir Putin among the other people who are also trying to do the same, like for instance Putin's generals.

If you look at the situation around Bakhmut, I spent a lot of time on the ground with Ukrainian fighters who have come face-to-face with Wagner mercenaries and they essentially say, look, the reason why Wagner is able to gain ground on the battlefield is because their tactics are so brutal and so in disregard of human life that it is very difficult to defend against them. I met one Ukrainian soldier who tell me his group of about 20 Ukrainian soldiers was up against 200 roundabout Wagner mercenaries.

Now, a lot of them are people who are convicts, who are immediately recruited out of jail and thrown on the battlefield. And the way that Wagner does this, and I've crossed checked this with captured Wagner fighters who told me exactly the same thing, is that you have these convicts who are what's called the first couple of waves which the Ukrainians say is essentially cannon fodder.

They try to assault positions head on, each group trying to gain a little more ground where there is massive attrition rates of up to 80 percent of these guys. And at some point these Ukrainian fighters are, of course, worn down by having to fight off these waves and then Wagner does have specialized forces, very capable forces that then try to attack from the flanks.

On top of that. Wagner now has an air force. Yevgeny Prigozhin was just seen inside an aircraft saying he himself was on a mission to bomb Bakhmut. And they also have long range artillery.

And in all of the places, Fareed, what we're seeing increasingly, and I think this really shows that that Yevgeny Prigozhin is sort of trying to come out of those shadows that Shaun was just talking about, so it certainly seems as though a lot of this is about public relations, for Yevgeny Prigozhin, but it's also, if you will, a desire to show that this is the only force right now in Ukraine that can get real results for Vladimir Putin, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Fred, Shaun, this is a fascinating spotlight on something that I don't think any of us knew enough about. Thank you so much.

Next on GPS, my next guest says the White House needs to confront North Korea about its growing nuclear advances now.



ZAKARIA: North Korea threatened the United States last week saying America's military drills with its South Korean counterparts will -- quote -- "ignite an all-out showdown" -- unquote. That was likely a reaction to the joint statement by the two militaries pledging to expand and bolster the level and scale of their joint exercises. All of this comes after a year in which North Korea launched over 90 missiles.

I can't think of a better person to help us understand all of this than Sue Mi Terry. She is a former CIA analyst on Korea, a former director at the National Security Council and the current director of the Wilson Center's Asia Program. She had a great article recently out in "Foreign Affairs" titled "The New North Korea Threat." Welcome, Sue Mi Terry.

I want to start by something that really caught my eye, which is that polls in South Korea now show that somewhere between 70 percent and 77 percent of South Koreans believe their country should have nuclear weapons of its own. That strikes me as a massive shift from say a decade ago. What is going on there that is prompting this reevaluation in South Korea? SUE MI TERRY, DIRECTOR, WILSON CENTER ASIA PROGRAM: Well, there is a recognition that North Korea is a runaway nuclear program. Since the failure of the Hanoi Summit in 2019, since the summitry and diplomacy have really collapsed, North Korea has been working on their nuclear and missile program. They have been quantitatively and quantitatively modernizing and expanding their program. It seems like the whole world is focused on other events understandably like Russia's invasion of Ukraine while North Korea has this runaway program. So there is very high level of anxiety among the South Korea public.

ZAKARIA: And what is it about the North Korean tests in this last year that have you so worried?

TERRY: So, it is not only just a quantitative, you know, as you mentioned, over 90 missile tests. They have been also testing a variety of different capabilities. And then there is intercontinental ballistic missile tests in November that used solid fuel engine which makes them more difficult to preemptively take it out. So, they are focusing on technical capability that is very concerning.

The ICBM also had multiple re-entry vehicle capability and that is another focus of North Korea. North Korea has been preemptively making threats about preemptive use and simultaneously also lowering the threshold for nuclear weapons use. They came out with a new nuclear doctrine in September of last year that really lowered the threshold for use of nuclear weapons. So, all of these factors combined, I'm very worried about the fact that we are really entering a more dangerous phase with North Korea.


ZAKARIA: Now in the past people have often thought that when North Korea does its nuclear saber rattling, it is trying to get attention and is trying to blackmail the world to get money, sanctions relief, food aid. Do you think any of that is at play here?

TERRY: There always have been a pattern for North Korea but I believe this time the North Koreans are genuinely not interested in returning to talks with Washington.

ZAKARIA: North Korea is under huge international sanctions. How is it able to find the funds to pay for all of this modernization of its nuclear arsenal?

TERRY: On paper it looks like there is a lot of sanctions. But sanctions have to be implemented and China and Russia are not playing ball. They have not been implementing sanctions for some time. Right now North Korea, as they have always done, rely on illicit activities to fund them. So current focus for example on cyber attacks, crypto currency, cyber heists, that is one way that North Koreans also make money or get money to fund their program.

ZAKARIA: And when you look at the international environment, does it seem like it is one that is conducive to more North Korean aggression or to adventurism? Because in the past, while China has supported North Korea as its only military ally, it has usually restrained it. It is usually acted as a kind of -- you know, kind of break on some of this. What is going on in that relationship?

TERRY: So I think, as you mentioned, I think this is a very important point. So no environment is favorable for North Korean to continue their testing and continuing to develop their program because since the invasion -- Russian's invasion of Ukraine, the geopolitical environment has changed. China and Russia are absolutely not interested in helping the international community in terms of sort of curbing North Korea's behavior.

If you saw last year even after ICBM test, intercontinental ballistic missile test, the United Nations Security Council could not come up with a resolution or any kind of condemnation of the launch. So we cannot expect China and North Korea -- China and Russia to do anything on the North Korea front. And Kim Jong-un knows this.

So, if I were advising Kim Jong-un myself I will say, why not just continue to perfect the nuclear missile capability? China and Russia are not going to do anything about it. The United States is preoccupied with a whole lot of other issues including the Ukraine conflict. So this is a perfect time for Kim Jong-un to just focus on getting their program -- North Korea's nuclear program to another level before he comes back to the talks.

ZAKARIA: Worrying scenario. Sue Mi Terry, always a pleasure to have you on.

TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we will go back to the earthquake and ask how many of these deaths could have been prevented by learning from past mistakes. We'll ask why the world never seems prepared for the next catastrophe, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. In 526 A.D., the Roman city of Antioch was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated quarter of a million people or more. Ancient Antioch is now Antakya, Turkey, a city that was devastated by Monday's earthquake. The fact is that Turkey sits on top of an earthquake hot spot and many of its major cities are built along fault lines.

Now, of course, earthquakes are natural disasters. But when they are combined with man-made mistakes they become truly devastating. One such devastating earthquake in 1999 led to more than 17,000 deaths and inspired the Turkish government to reform its building codes. Turkey also began to require mandatory earthquake insurance for all buildings. But a lack of oversight means that many buildings are not built to code, others predate these rules.

Corruption plays a big role as well. Builders often ignore these regulations to satiate Ankara's ambitions for fast development. All the while urban planners and architects sound warning bells about the country's lack of enforcement. In fact, President Erdogan's government has come under fire for granting construction amnesty for buildings that failed to meet required safety standards.

Up to 75,000 buildings across Turkey's earthquake zone have been given some form of construction amnesty according to one trade group cited by the BBC. The reality is that many deaths during this earthquake could have been prevented if lessons have been learned from past experiences.

And for those trapped in northern Syria, a natural disaster in the midst of a lingering conflict, has created another preventable and man-made humanitarian crisis. Even before the earthquake, the Middle East Institute estimates that 65 percent of basic infrastructure in the area was destroyed or damaged from the war. The international community was well aware of the vulnerability and desperation faced in the region after a dozen years of a brutal war. But few weighed the risks of such a powerful earthquake causing so many more suffering.

The reality is there will be more earthquakes. More hurricanes, more pandemics. As Niall Ferguson writes in his book "Doom, The Politics of Catastrophe," history can sometimes seem like just one disaster after another.


And before this earthquake struck, COVID-19 was the freshest disaster on our minds and the biggest of our lifetime. According to the International Federation of the Red Cross, no earthquake, drought or hurricane in recorded history has claimed more lives than the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore were all effective in their approach to the coronavirus in large part because they had learned from past experiences with other infectious diseases like SARS, MERS and influenza.

"A catastrophe lays bare the societies and states that it strikes," Ferguson says in his book. "It is a moment of truth, of revelation, exposing some as fragile, others as resilient and others as antifragile, able not just to withstand disaster but to be strengthened by it."

So as we ask whether Turkey and Syria did enough to prepare for their next catastrophe, we should also ask in the wake of COVID, whether we are prepared for our next one. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.