JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good afternoon, and welcome to our first Carnegie Council lunchtime webinar. Like many of you, we're working remotely these days, so we're using this time to reach out to our Senior Fellows, friends, and constituents to talk about the important issues of ethics in public life that are at the heart of the Council's work. Thank you all for joining us wherever you are.
Our Senior Fellow Nick Gvosdev is in his office in Newport, Rhode Island. Nick is professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. He is also a Carnegie Council Senior Fellow in our U.S. Global Engagement program.
The U.S. Global Engagement program is animated by three goals: first, to reshape discussions of American foreign policy to address the causes and consequences of U.S. disengagement; second, to move ethical considerations to the center of thinking about international relations; and third, to examine the narrative shifts taking place as America redefines its role in the world.
Nick's talk today goes right to the heart of his work and to the Engagement project itself. Great title: "Fractured Globalization and Dissolving Ethics," which I think is perfect for this moment.
Before turning it over to Nick, just a word about the format. Nick is going to talk for about 15 minutes. After that, he and I will chat for about 15 minutes. The second half of the hour will be interactive. You can use your chat function to pose your question.
With that, let me turn it over to you, Nick.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thanks, Joel. Thank you all for joining in. I'm looking forward to a fascinating discussion.
When I tell people that I'm affiliated with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, particularly when it's people who are at the Naval War College or who are part of the national security establishment, the assessment starts out being that the strategic course of action and the ethical course of action are somehow in opposition to each other, that you can be ethical or you can be strategic, but that these streams do not easily cross. Yet what we're seeing with the pandemic crisis and what's happening in the international system is, in this case, a convergence of the strategic and ethical considerations, that they're actually coming together.
What I would like to do in this opening part is not speak about the ethical question and the strategic question in the completely global framework of looking at humanity on a single planet but bringing it to a more grounded and defined area, which is to look at how strategic and ethical considerations are overlapping and impacting the health and durability of what we usually refer to as the Euro-Atlantic community.
Let me back up for a minute and lay out the strategic picture. For the last 70 years or so it has been an article of faith in the U.S. national security community that America's own security, prosperity, and position in the world are enhanced if we can first promote integration and unity among our European allies so that they will work together and then to promote a tie across the Atlantic between Europe and the United States, where Europe and America together can set a global agenda and can maximize their economic, political, military, and cultural power to engage in other regions of the world, to spread zones of peace and security, and to expand liberal democratic and free market institutions.
For this to work you need both a Europe that sees itself as integrated and then to see Europe and America as forming this Euro-Atlantic community, where the countries and populations believe that there is a tie that binds them that is more than just simple cosmopolitanism, more than just simply saying: "We're all human beings. We all inhabit a single world, and therefore, we have obligations to others as human beings." The idea of the Euro-Atlantic community is that the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Austria, and Greece should somehow feel that there is a greater degree of connectivity between them than they share with countries that are not part of the Euro-Atlantic community.
Generally, we measure membership in the Euro-Atlantic community through its two core institutions: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union. Not all countries that are members of the EU are members of NATO—Britain, the United States, and Canada are not members of the European Union but are key members of NATO. Beyond those two formal institutions, there is a whole dense network of ties that connects these countries together—shared economic ties, technological ties, and so on. That's the strategic picture.
Where the ethical piece comes in is both NATO and the European Union are solidly grounded in the ethic of solidarity. That is, both of these institutions take as their starting point that the institution exists to promote solidarity among its members. The European Union does this through Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union; NATO does this certainly most famously through Article 5 and to a lesser extent through Articles 4 and 3.
The idea is that: "When you're part of this institution, your problems are my problems. If something impacts you, it impacts me. If you are attacked or you are facing difficulty, I am obligated to render aid and assistance to you as if it was something that was impacting me." The way you hold these organizations together has always been the promise of solidarity. The ethical component of it is, "Your problems are my problems." Certainly during the Cold War you had an existential military and ideological threat to the West where it was easy to forge those bonds of solidarity.
I teach History of the Cold War for Harvard Extension. I had a class last night, and we were talking a bit about this question of solidarity, the idea that sooner or later in the 1950s or 1960s there was a sense that the Soviet Union wouldn't simply stop at one or two countries. Ultimately for it to achieve its objectives it would have to take control of Europe as a whole and then be able to strike the United States. That enabled countries and their populations to understand this sense of solidarity, that Germany's problem is Spain's problem is Italy's problem is Britain's problem is Canada's problem is the United States' problem.
We sometimes forget today that it was the United States which helped to get what is now the European Union started, again by promoting this idea of solidarity, that West Europeans were faced with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union could outclass any single European country by far. The only way for Western Europe to consolidate itself would be to promote integration, and part of the way of promoting integration was promoting this sense of solidarity.
We have seen this all the way through to the current period: Why do taxpayers in Germany or Sweden contribute more? Why do other countries in Europe benefit more from EU stabilization and development funds? You might have a taxpayer in Sweden saying, "Why am I paying for roads in Portugal or Greece?"
The sense is that: "Well, you're paying for development there, and in turn they will be doing things for you. They will be buying your goods and services. As their economies grow they will contribute," and so on. This ethical obligation of solidarity is written into these two organizations. Of course, it has been something that political leaders will always bandy about: "We are together, we are united," and so on.
The pandemic response in 2020 has damaged that ethic of solidarity. As the pandemic first arrived in Italy and Spain, as it began to spread to other European countries, and as it then arrived in the United States, the idea that what affects you should affect me and I should be giving you aid and assistance based upon this ethic of solidarity, based upon this strategic logic of solidarity, eroded very quickly. The initial response as different countries within the Euro-Atlantic sphere were impacted by coronavirus was to put borders back up, was to institute export controls, and was to say: "You need equipment, but we may need it, and so we're not going to allow it to be exported to you."
What you had, at least in those first critical weeks in February and March, was countries within the Euro-Atlantic world not only simply not rendering aid—the first ethic of solidarity should be: "You're in trouble. I have something. I can help you, so I will give you masks, ventilators, spare capacity. We will deploy people to help you"—you had countries beginning to take steps that actively injured other members of the community, which is: "We're not simply not going to give you aid, but we will take steps in our own country that are going to actively cause the citizens of your country greater harm or greater tragedy."
When you have the countervailing ethic of sovereignty—and it's a natural reaction—on the one hand, you have the ethic of solidarity—what affects you affects me—and then you have the ethic of sovereignty, which says the price of sovereignty, the price of self-determination is that you take responsibility for yourself and for your own, and therefore you don't have a right to make claims on others or those claims lessen against the claims of my own citizens.
So you saw borders going up, checkpoints going up, restrictions, and then in the financial area, countries in the European Union harder hit by the pandemic asking for the floating of what they were calling "corona bonds" and more fiscally conservative countries in the Union being less likely to do it. We had then across the Atlantic competition for resources, competition to acquire patents and assets, saying: "Well, if I acquire this asset or I acquire this company that's working on something, then they're going to do it for me and not for you."
All of this creates damage to this ethic of solidarity, and this is why I'm concerned as we move forward that you already have people saying: "Well, this pandemic is a problem and it's a crisis, but then it'll pass, and somehow we're going to go back to the way things were pre-2020."
My sense is that when you damage the ethic of solidarity it's not that you can't reconcile, but you have opened up the possibility for countries and populations to say: "The last time we had a problem others did not have our backs. Therefore, we should be more concerned and reticent to so quickly offer aid in the future, or maybe that aid isn't dependable, so we shouldn't prepare or expect our partners to be able to do that," and you begin to erode those bonds. It's like termites working their way through the frame of a house. They begin to undermine it, and then perhaps that house isn't as stable for the future.
Looking at what's happening with the fracturing of the Euro-Atlantic community; those fractures are there. They have opened up. This doesn't mean that they're irreparable, that they can't be patched over, that you can't go in and put in some sealant and try to put the structure back together again, but the cracks have opened up. They have weakened that tie of solidarity.
Certainly in the case of Italy in those first critical weeks when it was Chinese and Russian efforts—even if they were modest, even if they were largely symbolic—that had an impact, and then to turn around later on and say: "Well, Italy you must now do certain things vis-à-vis Russia because your partners in Poland and Romania would like to see certain things happen vis-à-vis Russia, and European solidarity," you may find that the Italians say, "Solidarity only goes so far, and we're going to do things that benefit us." The trans-Atlantic relationship, even if there is a change of administration this November, the idea that you can just magically pretend that these things haven't happened and you reset to an earlier stage, I don't think that happens either.
Just to wrap up here, this is a case where the ethical and strategic questions really merge together around this question of solidarity. As the ethical basis of solidarity has been damaged within the Euro-Atlantic community there will be strategic consequences.
With that, I think I have covered the first 15 minutes, and, Joel, I will turn it back over to you.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you, Nick. That was perfect, right on time, and right on topic. Thank you for that.
I wanted to pick up where you left off, about how the strategic and the ethical come together. As I look at the pandemic—and I have been saying this to anybody who will listen—if ever there was a realist case for global cooperation, this would be it. You have a global-scale challenge that affects everyone. What you have described is that the reaction has been zero-sum thinking. Everybody is doubling down on zero-sum, where it would seem, again from a realist perspective, from a practical perspective, from a problem-solving perspective, you would want some non-zero thinking, that it's going to take a cooperative endeavor to make progress for my people, if you will.
How do you respond to that? How would we even think about trying to change the frame, flip the switch, or introduce that idea, particularly against the background of the president of the United States right now going in the opposite direction? Any of these non-zero solutions, whether it's international cooperation around an organization like the World Health Organization (WHO), he's going the other way. Any thoughts about that?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: That's a great way to frame it. As you know, Amitai Etzioni, a good friend of the Council for many years, America's leading tribune of communitarianism, has talked about this for a number of years also in international politics from a backdoor realist question. He has always been a little skeptical of the idea that countries work together out of a sense of the goodness of their hearts and that they believe in peace and brotherhood. He has always maintained that this idea of "communitarian realism," when countries are faced with a challenge that they by their own resources cannot adequately address, a realist consideration—that is, a consideration with the survival of the state, survival of the country, and maintenance of its position—will impel them to work together in order to fend off the challenge.
That's different from a zero-sum approach because one can argue that the zero-sum approach is what we saw as the response to the Great Depression after 1929, which is that countries said, "Well, I have to protect myself against this economic contagion," and they took measures that made it worse for everyone. Everyone was hurt by them.
So, yes, you could see an argument being made that international cooperation, in this case of fighting the pandemic, is not a case of pie-in-the-sky cosmopolitanism, of "we have no countries" and "we're all one human family," but making a Morgenthau-based power argument, which is that the ability of your state to come out of this pandemic reasonably intact with hopefully most of your population recovering and with your economic potential being retained I think is the kind of way forward.
We have already seen this, by the way, over the last month in the deal that has been brokered on energy. For a month we had a number of energy producers—Russia and Saudi Arabia in particular—deciding: "We're going to break with collective action because we want to maximize what we think are benefits for ourselves. If we increase our production of oil, then somehow we'll benefit and others will lose." What everyone was discovering, even the United States, was that you were starting to have a race to the bottom where everyone was losing and not cooperating; the zero-sum mentality was not producing effects.
The current administration notwithstanding, I think one of the things you are going to see is the scientific and medical establishments in a number of countries saying: "Look, this pandemic threatens everyone. No group in the world has a natural immunity to it. No human group is somehow exempt from it, except than perhaps children and teenagers, who seem to contract it but don't seem to develop symptoms largely." But the idea that "my country doesn't need to worry about it because somehow something in the genetic makeup of the majority of our population gives us an immunity," that's not the case.
We're also discovering—and this is where the fractured globalization comes in—that we can fracture globalization, but nobody right now is prepared to go back to autarchy, to say, "Look, we're going to keep the moat and pull up our drawbridges and just hunker down," because the costs of doing that are so astronomical. This I think will force countries, even if they have to do so kicking and screaming, to some degree of cooperative action, again not out of a sense of "this is the right thing to do" in an ethical sense, but "this is a strategic thing to do for the sake of maintaining power and prosperity."
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right. So it's a necessity argument.
Just to follow that thread one more step. Gordon Brown has come out with a statement saying that we need to create some kind of new global coordinating mechanism to deal with the pandemic. My sense is that the model he has in mind was the response to the financial crisis of 2008–2009. The idea, I guess, is levels of formality or informality in terms of how the great powers but also middle powers and others can coordinate their response in some way.
My sense is there are some models to look at. I suppose there is the financial crisis. To switch over to the health area, there is also the Ebola crisis. My question to you is: Are there some models we can look at to think about how to get to the collective action problem-solving aspects of it?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think we have to deal with certain political realities. Not just in the United States but most of the major great powers and middle powers right now have governments in place—whether it's China, India, Russia, the United States, Britain, Italy, Saudi Arabia—that instinctively are not interested in creating another formal level of international organization. So I think those who are saying that we need a new broad-based multilateral organization with rules and a secretariat and structure, or who hope that this crisis will be an opportunity to push for greater global integration, politically we're not there.
I think then we have to look at the more ad hoc arrangements, through the G20 perhaps, or what the United States set up in the early 2000s with the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is you have a set of principles, you create working groups, you have clusters of countries that come together to share capabilities and missions, but without creating that overarching bureaucratic structure, the same thing that we saw with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries+ (OPEC+) arrangements, where there is no secretariat, there is no organization—OPEC is an organization—but then drawing in all of these other producers. Politically I think that is what the traffic will bear right now, this more ad hoc arrangement, and of course, at differing levels, where you have certain degrees of trust and relationships built up.
Again, this is where the Euro-Atlantic community has enormous, if untapped and somewhat damaged and frayed, connections but connections nonetheless. We have already seen it with some of the early companies and groups that are working on vaccines, which are these multinational—there's a lab in Canada that works with a lab in the United States that has ties to Europeans, and they're sharing data, and then they connect to someone in Israel with the biotech industry there.
I think we also have to expect that there are going to be differing speeds. You're going to have an ad hoc response, and there are going to be differing levels of integration and of cooperation within it.
But then that does beg the question of leadership, which is that someone will have to coordinate. What we saw with OPEC+ is that Russia and Saudi Arabia stepped up to co-coordinate that, then they had their falling out, and now they're maybe back to coordinating again. But there were two clear energy ministers who set the agenda.
Right now with this pandemic we don't have a clear sense of who the coordinators are. Is it going to be the United States? Of course, now that the Trump administration has decided to pick a fight with the World Health Organization, that raises the question: If WHO was expected to play this coordinating role, then you already have one of the major stakeholders questioning whether or not it wants to support it.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: This brings me perfectly to the next question, going back to our theme of fractured and dissolving solidarity. Is China taking advantage of this moment? Is Russia taking advantage of this moment? My own view is that China is perhaps and maybe will make a bid for leadership. I would be interested in your view on that. Russia is different. Russia may be perhaps playing more of a spoiler, which is just that the dissolving solidarity may be in their interest.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I would be interested, of course, for those who follow China much more closely than I do to weigh in on this. But what I have seen is that obviously China does see an opportunity as it made its bid in Davos in 2017 after the inauguration of the Trump administration, to say, "We can be the guarantor of international rules," and so on.
I think China is making a bid. It is undercut a bit by China's lack of transparency about certain aspects of how this crisis started. The luster of China's aid has diminished as Italians, Dutch, and others discover that some of the things they have been receiving are defective or shoddy. Notwithstanding that, yes, China is making the case that in the diminished role of the United States, some major entity has to step forward.
The European Union is still, I think, struggling. It is beginning now to take some steps in the right direction after a very problematic start in February and March, but whether Europe will also step forward to do it remains to be seen.
But it does raise this question. Ian Bremmer coined the term several years ago, G-Zero concept. What happens when you have a world order where there is no clear—you don't have a G20 that works; you don't have a G7 that works; the G2 or G3 concept of United States and China or United States, Europe, and China doesn't take? What happens if you end up G-Zero? Right now we are living in a G-Zero response. Ian's thesis is being tested in real time with this.
The Russians have always wanted not to eliminate American leadership in the world because they don't seek to supplant it, but certainly they would want to limit it. They would want to cut it down to size, and they have been very effective both in the aid they have provided and also in their information operations to strike at this question of Euro-Atlantic solidarity, which is to tell different European states: "Why should you be damaging your relationship with Russia? Italy, Germany, Serbia, Hungary, why should you damage your relationship with Russia because other European countries want you to do it because they have a problem with Russia? What are you getting out of it? Where is the solidarity in your time of need, so why should you do that in return?"
I think you're seeing, as you said, the spoiler aspect of Russia using this to—instead of facing a Euro-Atlantic community of 800 million people with a $20-plus trillion gross domestic product—begin to fracture that community so they can deal with pieces of it on a more equal basis now. Putin channels his own internal Rahm Emanuel—"Don't let a crisis go to waste"—and he is definitely taking advantage of it for geopolitical consideration. A great piece just came out by Eugene Rumer from the Carnegie Endowment precisely on that point, that Putin and the Russian leadership are looking for geostrategic advantage that they can extract from this crisis.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: I have one last question from my section of this, and then we'll turn it over to questions from the group, but I can't resist—and this is a big-picture challenge to you, a bit of a provocation.
Sitting there in Newport as professor of national security strategy at the Naval War College, I'm thinking about your profession itself. When I think about what the challenges are to national security now, we've gotten a lesson. We could say that the biggest challenges may be sort of invisible—cyber, artificial intelligence (AI), health issues, viruses and things like this, and climate. Do you think that one result from this crisis could be a rethinking of how we think about national security, away from the usual ways of thinking about warfare and capacities in that way and thinking in a more innovative and creative way?
I'm going to be really ambitious with this question and tie it back to this question of solidarity—which is the values and interests that will be coming together to address issues of cyber, AI, health, and climate—and whether there is an opportunity to rethink and rebuild our way of thinking about national security around the values and interests of these new threats?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: What I can tell you is that there has been an ongoing debate about national security—what is it, what are the principal threats? My colleague here in Newport, Derek Reveron, has been one of the thought leaders pushing this concept of "human security," which is that you have to think of national security in terms of the security of the human beings under your care.
Going back to your earlier question about Russia taking advantage of this, one of the elements of the Russian information push has been to tell Europeans: "Are you really worried about Russian tanks and green men, or are you worried about viruses and disease?"
And people say: "A hypothetical clash over a disputed piece of territory in East Europe is less relevant to me than people dying and hospitals that are overstretched."
I think what you're seeing is that for the last several years, the U.S. national security community really gravitated to this idea of great power competition and we're back to traditional hard power, ship-on-ship, tank-on-tank, plane-on-plane clashes between great powers, and we're really thinking about that. The pandemic is pushing the national security community, but more importantly it's pushing voters back to reconsidering what national security is.
There is some great work that is being done as we speak as people are looking at defense budgets and they're looking at people's responses to it and people saying: "I want more hospital ships. We need to have a more robust defense community that can respond to these types of outbreaks, not off contesting with Russia and China over oilfields in Eastern Syria, but dropping in people so that when we're hit by a virus we have an immediate response." I think you're going to see in the national security community—and it'll be interesting to see if politicians in the United States and in other countries begin to sound national security and defense spending that is more inward-looking on this.
Not to toot my own horn too much, I did a report on this two weeks ago for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, looking at the impact of the pandemic on NATO, and one of the things we're already seeing is people saying: "I'm part of an alliance, and defense spending is knowing that when there's a problem there is rapid response, and the military has medical units that can be dropped in and that's less about external projection of power and more about internal protection and internal security." So I think we're going to see this really pick up.
It may not be that much of a front-and-center issue in our own presidential election this time around—it could pop up as the core question—but I think this is going to be bubbling, particularly because as people say: "This pandemic is not going to simply be solved come summer; we may have more flare-ups"—the Harvard study suggests that social distancing may be something that we will have to continue doing in varying degrees, not necessarily lockdown, through 2022. That is going to cause people to question what they think of as national security and how they want their defense dollars spent.
To the second question that you laid out, I think it's something that we are really going to have to grapple with, about interconnected networks—cyber, health, AI, and dealing with climate change—and whether or not this is going to lead to a certain degree of retrenchment. Instead of us thinking about "the world," we're going to see the United States and other countries begin thinking about more geographically contained areas, where we say, "Look, we're going to concentrate on smaller but more resilient networks within a smaller group of countries."
Some of it may be dealing with climate change as well: "We need to ensure that certain areas are protected. We want certain supply lines." One of the things that may come out of this is the idea of the 10,000-mile long supply chain that may run through politically unstable, climate-challenged, and health-challenged regions of the world. You may have companies saying, "I'd like a supply chain that really only spans three or four countries," and maybe spans less geographic distance. Will this lead to countries beginning to think more in terms of pulling back and creating more compact networks within and, maybe not necessarily completely severing their ties or their linkages, but diminishing them?
We're already seeing this, by the way, with the Internet. We talk about the Internet as a single global space, but the major authoritarian powers have already been creating alternative Internets that they can then try to disconnect or lessen the connection to the larger Internet. But at some point will we have a Western network that, yes, it's connected to a larger global network, but where we really make it dense and compact within? I don't know if that's going to happen, but I think it's going to be on the table.
It may align with a narrative as we've started to see in the 2016 and in the 2020 campaigns—we don't know the extent to which Joe Biden will or will not embrace this, but certainly a number of his Democratic competitors for the nomination were talking about retrenching, pulling back, and creating a more digestible international grouping of countries that wasn't 194 countries of the world all coming together—if we're going to see that kind of pressure in the years ahead and whether or not this decoupling or partial decoupling with China becomes a point of bipartisan agreement. The Josh Rogin piece that we cited in Ethics & International Affairs last week—if that becomes a bipartisan point in the United States that we are going to decouple a bit with China, not disconnect but decouple a bit, then that leads to your point that more dense networks with a smaller set of countries and parts of the world that we are less connected to.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Great answer. Thank you, Nick.
Question & Answer
BILLY PICKETT: If Joe Biden becomes the nominee, can we return to a pre-2016 focus on international cooperation similar to that of the Obama administration? Will other nations still trust that the United States will be a reliable leader in global cooperation?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Another good friend of the Carnegie Council, Tom Nichols, has made the point that even if Biden wins—or anyone else, a successor administration—that once the United States demonstrated that it was willing or able to turn its back and rupture some of these arrangements it does become hard for other countries to ever fully re-trust the United States again. Even if Joe Biden wins the election and comes in and says, "I want to reset to 2016," I'm sure other countries in Europe will be very welcoming of that, but they're going to be a bit more cautious because it's going to be a case of, "You did it once before." It also shows that there is a segment of the American electorate and also of the American political elite that was willing to disconnect in that way. So I think from this point onward, European states in particular will want to recreate and reconnect but they're going to hedge their bets more.
The other thing, of course, which is a fascinating thing to speculate about, is that between now and November how much does Joe Biden decide that he can reset or is prepared to do that? You had President Obama's endorsement of his former vice president essentially saying that you can't completely reset, you can't just go back to the policies of my administration, that things have changed. So the question is, what direction does Biden evolve in? Does he take on some of the policy prescriptions and advice from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and then take the Democratic establishment in that direction?
Of course, one of the things that I always point out when I teach these things to students is that personnel is policy: Who will staff a Joe Biden administration? If you take that Thomas Friedman column where he wrote, "We need a kind of grand unity cabinet," and he had all these different proposals for people who should be serving in a Biden administration, you look at that and that becomes, "Well, some of it would be trying to reset." Then there would be people saying, "No, we want to take things in a different direction. How hands-on of a president does he plan to be if he's elected? Who is his vice president?" We don't know. How much will he follow the pattern of his own vice presidency and that of the Bush and Clinton administrations with a much more involved and dynamic vice president who in some ways becomes not quite a co-president but very much a junior figure in the administration? These are all things we don't know yet.
I think that if Biden in his own heart of hearts would say, "Look, if I could magically reset the country and the international system back to where we were in 2016, of course I would. Can I?"
That's the other question. He may decide, just as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, that certain strategic initiatives that they both supported in the Obama administration, for political reasons they will not support, just in the same way that Hillary Clinton was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership until suddenly she discovered she was against it when she discovered that an important chunk of her electorate was lukewarm about it.
That's a great question. I think there's a lot in the air, and what we'll start to see over the next months is who the vice presidential pick is going to be, what happens at the convention—even if it's a virtual convention—who become the spokespeople, what become the themes, and of course, if Joe Biden is elected, what happens between November and January with who controls the transition?
BRETT BUCHNESS: I agree that pushing against China is becoming a more bipartisan stance. However, I do question the economic viability of it. The exploding middle-class demographic in China represents a massive economic opportunity. Economic leaders in the United States are keenly aware of this. For all of Trump's tough talk, to what extent is he willing to injure the economy on principle? For example, he has backed off of some tariffs and postured to back off of more. Are supply chains too deeply integrated to truly pull back without causing global recession?"
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: That's a great point, which is that politicians can talk, but economics walks, in the sense that, what is the business community doing? What are companies doing?
This point about the embedded supply chains I think is a critical one. It's a lot of easy talk until consumers and producers begin looking at the costs of disconnecting those supply chains, disrupting them, and then trying to create new ones. Right now everyone is saying it's terrible to be connected to China. That doesn't mean that in a year's time when we're through at least the first waves of the pandemic and people are back to work and back to spending that they're going to say, "I'm going to pay double for a television" or "I'm going to pay three times the price for sneakers, but then I'll know that I'm doing my part to disconnect our supply chains from China." I think that's the critical thing.
My initial forays—not scientific, not polling, but the people I know in the business community—say that right now no one is making any definitive reorientations of their supply chains. They are considering it, and they're aware of it, but no one has yet made the plunge to say: "I am now prepared to disconnect from a supply chain in China, disconnect from the Chinese market"—the other point that Brett raised—"and take my chances with a different supply chain." I think it will be interesting for us to observe this stimulus package that Prime Minister Abe got through the National Diet in Japan, which has money for Japanese firms to try to repatriate certain things back to Japan away from China. It will be an interesting gamble to see what happens.
In our context, Brett, I think one of the things we need to look at over the next year is what the Pentagon does in terms of supply chain management and stockpiling because if the Pentagon says, "Well, just-in-time supply chains" and so on "aren't working and we're willing to put money back into this and Congress is willing to appropriate that money . . ."
Just as a side note, the naval station at Newport has a lot of empty warehouses now because we don't stockpile anymore. What used to be full depots of equipment and other things that were just sitting and waiting for the balloon to go up are not really used anymore because we have adapted to this global supply chain.
We might say just-in-time supply chains are a risk, so we might say, "Okay, not so just-in-time, but we're not going to radically reorient." I think that's a good point. It's easy for think-tankers especially to talk about reorienting supply chains. The question is, are the green-eyeshade accountants looking at the bottom line of a company so sanguine to do the same just because a pundit opines that we should disconnect?
I think what we're going to see is people are going to look at what happens in Japan. If this Japanese effort is successful, you might see some effort to emulate it, but if it's not and it's just a boondoggle and once the crisis is over it's back to supply chains as usual, then I think we'll have our answer.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Nick, I have been trying to dwell on the more positive sides, but I do want to take a moment on the dark side. Going back to the main theme of fractured globalization and dissolving ethics, one of the leading areas—people that I look at to see where are we going with this thing is what's happening in Hungary with Viktor Orbán—"never waste a crisis." He is reacting in a certain way to consolidate his power. This is a country within NATO. He is, in my view, really taking it to the limit.
We can have our own conversation about what's happening in our country and so on, but I'm just curious—this is a taking-the-temperature question—what your level of concern is about this wave of populists at various levels? This is a global trend. What are you seeing, and what is your level of concern about populist leaders who are taking advantage of this moment to consolidate power and dissolve that ethic a little bit further of solidarity that we might deal with?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: This connects back to your earlier comment about values, because NATO and the European Union as well now has to deal with the reality that two of its members—Turkey and Hungary—are now considered to be in the "partially free" or "partially not-free" category if you use the Freedom House characteristics, and that several other NATO members are teetering on concerns about the viability of their democracy.
For NATO this becomes a question of, is NATO a group of democracies or is NATO reverting back to an earlier conception of: "We are a group of countries that face a geopolitical, geostrategic threat from a large, perhaps unnamed country to the east. We don't necessarily need to share values; we just need to know who we're against"?
That raises the solidarity question because now in parts of Europe you have people who would say: "You may have a problem with Russia. We don't. If you don't share our values, we don't see a reason therefore to necessarily want to protect you. Take your chances."
After 1991, for two decades, NATO had a position where every country in NATO was adjudged to be a full democracy, and now we have a situation which reverts to a Cold War period in NATO where NATO had non-democracies or had authoritarian or illiberal democracies, or whatever terms you want to use to say you're not really at the full liberal democratic level; you've had some backsliding on that. What does that do to an alliance, which then says, "Do we have common values as a basis of solidarity?"
The question too which you have raised—which hopefully in more of these Carnegie discussions that we are going do, because there are other people who are part of the Carnegie family who have done some good work and thinking on this—combining technology gives you tools now to monitor people in a pandemic that, when the pandemic is over, governments may not return those powers or those tools.
If you now have an app which essentially allows you to say: "If I have my phone on and it's tracking me and then someone enters data that says you are symptomatic for the pandemic and it sends out an alert that says, 'Stay away from Nick if he's on the street,' or it says, 'Nick has COVID-19 and his phone has detected that he is now out of his home property and is in the store, so he needs to be detained as a public health menace,' and you say, 'Well, this is just for the duration of this emergency.'"
But when the emergency is over, are these tools that governments are going to necessarily give up or say, "Well, now that the emergency is over we're going to return your privacy to you, and we're going to delete those apps, and we're not going to take the app which tracks you for your health status"? Then say—what we used to have in authoritarian states, in particular when people would be not necessarily arrested but confined to a certain area—you were not allowed to leave the city; you were not allowed to leave the village.
Now you have the ability to say: "Well, you have left a zone. First it was for pandemic health reasons, but now we think your ideas are just as dangerous as germs you may be carrying, and so we're going to use those same tools." I think that's something to be concerned about, the erosion of checks and balances.
I know you said we're talking about Hungary, but even in this country, when you have: "I'm going to take a very expansive definition of the Article Two powers of the presidency to say that in a time of crisis I can pretty much do anything." When you breach those guardrails in a democracy, it's hard to put the guardrails back up. This was Senator Moynihan's classic observation back in his days as an academic, that once you have claimed power for something, it's rare that that power goes back or is clawed back. We saw that in national security with what people called "security theater," when we vastly increased surveillance and other things in the wake of 9/11, and the pandemic has the opportunity to do the same.
In the case of the Hungarians, because of the supermajority that Viktor Orbán enjoys in the Parliament, right now the check for Hungary is Viktor Orbán himself: How does he choose to use these powers that he has been granted? If he misuses them, what's the check against them other than saying, "Well, the next election?"
But as we have seen even in countries that are formal democracies, once you have those types of emergency powers you can begin to find ways to get around checks and balances. So, yes, I think this is something we need to be paying attention to and maybe having one of the friends of the Carnegie Council who really looks at the intersection of technology and politics to speak more on this because this is not an issue that's going away.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Your powers of perception are uncanny. Our talk next week will be on "Health Data, Privacy, and Surveillance."
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Perfect.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: You've set us up perfectly. We're going to work with Jeff Kahn from Johns Hopkins University, who is the director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics there to lead us in this conversation, so it's an almost seamless transition to next week. Thank you for that setup, by the way.
We're coming to the end of the hour, so I'm going to adjourn the meeting. Nick, thank you very much for phoning us.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you. This was a great conversation to have.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: You have given us a lot to pick up on as we move forward with these conversations. We'll try to do them weekly or perhaps even more frequently, so I hope people will be alert to the announcements for these programs.
We're going to post the recordings on the Carnegie Council YouTube channel, and then you'll also see reference to them, and the transcripts will be available eventually on the Carnegie Council website.
Thank you for kicking us off.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you very much.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Great. We'll be in touch with you directly, Nick, but thanks to everybody who has been listening in.