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MA Degree Program, Masters Political Science

November 13, 2013

If I had to choose one word that describes contemporary international society, that word would be interdependence’. Along with the emergence of innumerable international organizations, states are becoming heavily dependent on each other, both economically and politically. Although this increasing interdependence produces comparative advantages and, hence, reduces the chance of war, transnational crime represents a greater threat than ever before, especially as a result of less restricted borders. Because this type of crime usually does not target a specific country, it is a problem that all states need to tackle through increasing cooperation. Specifically, I would like to concentrate on terrorist hostage-taking incidents and human trafficking as my research focus, especially the myriad ways in which transnational crime deprives victims of their human rights, how the number of victims can be minimized, and how states or international organizations should act in order to combat these crimes. A strong desire to contribute to the enhancement of human security via academic research is what has led me to apply to the Master’s Program in the Department of Politics at the University of XXXX.

In fact, it was only recently that I chose politics as my concentration. I was madly in love with literature in high school. This was because I enjoyed reading and writing, but more importantly, I was very much interested in conflict and resolution processes. When I enrolled in SmithCollege for my undergraduate degree, I pursued literature without hesitation. I was especially interested in literature dealing with World War II because the pieces written during that period express such profound existential struggle. To me, politics is an extension of literature. Although many political approaches treat states as actors, it is the leaders who make final decisions. As the leader specific punishment theory demonstrates, a leader not only considers national interest, but also his/her individual interest to remain in office as long as possible. Because those leaders are also human beings, they attempt to be rational but cannot neglect their emotions. I see this as mirrored in literature insofar as leaders often make final decisions in a state of intense agony.

While studying the struggles among human beings and the processes for resolution on an international level, especially in the case of war, I started to wonder whether I could accomplish my desire to participate in improving human rights solely through analyzing literature. This concern convinced me to switch my major to politics with the hope that I could more practically deal with primary data to realize a pattern or condition that generally results in a deterioration of human relations and leads to conflict. In retrospect, I believe my decision to go into this field was also influenced by my personal background. Although I am Korean by birth, I spent most of my life in Japan due to my father’s business. Moving back and forth between those two countries and studying in the United States has resulted in my profound appreciation and familiarity with both cultures as well as languages.

 I have two specific research interests that I want to investigate. The first is terrorist hostage-taking incidents and the ways countries can succeed in a negotiation with hostage-takers at a minimum cost and with minimum damage to the victims. Previous scholarly research has demonstrated that non-negotiation policies do not prevent terrorists from engaging in this activity. In fact, the evidence suggests that the number of hostage-taking incidents has been rapidly increasing. The length of time that hostages are held and the degree of terrorists’ demands are other major variables that affect the fate of hostages. Despite the great efforts that have been made to reduce the number of incidents, it seems that researchers have largely focused on the functionality of non-negotiation policies and have failed to adequately explore the complexities of various scenarios in which terrorists may position themselves on a case by case basis. I look forward to scrutinizing the possible outcomes of events according to terrorists’ intentions—whether financial or political—in order to better elaborate the significant variables that often form the basis of terrorist calculations.

My other major research interest is in the area of human trafficking. Although countries are well aware that this is a serious issue, I am concerned that we continue to lack a universal standard for its definition or rules for collecting data. Moreover, due to its clandestine nature, the fate of many victims goes unreported. Due to these difficulties, I am concerned that there is insufficient scholarly research in this area. I believe that the first fundamental step should be to arrive at a precise definition of human trafficking by clearly distinguishing the difference between human trafficking and other forms of illegal smuggling. Although illegal smuggling can result in trafficking, many articles on the subject tend to confuse these critically distinct concepts. While there are several international organizations that produce estimates of victims and keep track of human trafficking incidents through annual reports, I would like to research the underlying methodology issues to evaluate which best reflects reality—the Markov chain or Monte Carlo approach with the Bayesian statistical model used by the U.S. government or the capture-recapture statistical method of the International Labor Organization. I am convinced that this is a necessary first step to better understanding the reality of human trafficking, especially in light of the paucity of scholarly writing on this topic.

I understand that these issues are extremely difficult to tackle. However, I wish to devote my life to this research, first as a student towards the Master’s Degree and later while pursuing my PHD, and beyond. With my vigor and academic training, I am firmly convinced that I can make a valuable contribution to the literature in these areas. I mainly studied international cooperation at the master’s level at SeoulNationalUniversity. I have also profited, however, from courses on international economy, international law, and international conflicts and these have enabled me to develop intellectual foundations for study in diverse areas. Also, my second Master’s Degree at XXXX University further deepened my theoretical and empirical knowledge of politics. Courses on the international political economy, multinational corporations, and direct foreign investment have helped me to understand many of the dynamics of these transnational actors. Courses on formal modeling and statistical methods have provided me with a firm methodological background as well. Because I studied a qualitative approach at Seoul National University and a quantitative approach at XXU, I believe that I have a distinct and unique capability to use both skills in the pursuit of creative research paradigms.

The University of XXXX is an ideal fit for me because there are so many outstanding faculty members who are heavily engaged with use of game theory and statistical as well as qualitative methodologies. I look forward to applying what we have learned through the use of game theory methodologies to the quest for additional, highly functional models that would help us to better understand how to best proceed in response to hostage-taking situations and the negotiations that they produce. I also look forward to learning a great deal more concerning statistical methodologies in order to better understand what method best generates the most accurate estimates for the annual number of human trafficking victims. At the same time, I would like to delving into these issues by using qualitative approaches.

For the first two years in your program, I very much hope to study the strengths and limitations of both methodologies in greater depth so that I can choose the most appropriate methodology, or combination of methodologies for my dissertation. Because human security, especially hostage-taking and human trafficking, are my central interests, I desire to pursue field research in Switzerland. Since many international organizations dedicated to human trafficking are based in this area, I would like to collaborate with Swiss institutions in order to observe first-hand the steps that they are taking to produce primary data in these areas. After completing my education, I hope to remain in academia and undertake even more focused research on these issues so as to be able to continue to contribute to the development of creative research paradigms that will help us to more fully understand the scourge of human rights violations in its myriad forms. Given my multi-cultural background and high level of motivation for studying the plethora of challenges that present themselves for the goal of achieving greater levels of human security, I am certain that the University of XXXX is the best place for me to accomplish my professional goals.

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