Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?

The problem is that, according to QM, the outcome of an observation can depend on the way another, separate but simultaneous, observation is performed. This happens with so-called “quantum entanglement” and it contradicts the current paradigm in an important sense, as discussed above.

Although Einstein argued in 1935 that the contradiction arose merely because QM is incomplete, John Bell proved mathematically, in 1964, that the predictions of QM regarding entanglement cannot be accounted for by Einstein’s alleged incompleteness.

So to salvage the current paradigm there is an important sense in which one has to reject the predictions of QM regarding entanglement. Yet, since Alain Aspect’s seminal experiments in 1981–82, these predictions have been repeatedly confirmed, with potential experimental loopholes closed one by one.

Source: Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?

Israel’s Unusual Crisis Coalition: What to Expect | Council on Foreign Relations

Under the pact, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for another eighteen months while Gantz serves as deputy prime minister; then, in October 2021, they will swap jobs.

Their respective coalitions will each oversee eighteen of a total of thirty-six ministries, with Gantz’s Blue and White coalition controlling high-profile defense, foreign affairs, and justice, while Netanyahu gets the Knesset speakership for his Likud party and a critical veto over judicial appointments.

Source: Israel’s Unusual Crisis Coalition: What to Expect | Council on Foreign Relations


State by State, Charting a Path Out of Lockdown | Think Global Health

Americans owe it to those who have lost their lives, their loved ones, and their livelihoods to proceed with caution.

To help states weigh the risks of easing physical distancing measures against the economic consequences of prolonged lockdowns, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has projected when it could be safe for states to begin to reopen, if and only if appropriate public health strategies are in place.

For each state, the timeline is based on the date by which the model projects that COVID-19 infections will drop below 1 per 1 million people. This is a conservative estimate of the number of infections each location could feasibly manage using public health containment strategies to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19.

Source: State by State, Charting a Path Out of Lockdown | Think Global Health

Amid Rumors About Kim’s Health, What Would North Korea Look Like Without Him?

The secretiveness of the North Korean regime always makes it difficult to know exactly what is going on inside the country or what Kim’s health condition really is. In this case, South Korea has stated that it has not identified any “unusual signs” regarding Kim’s health, and U.S. officials have indicated that they are monitoring the situation but have not reached any conclusion.

Even if this is a false alarm, Kim Jong Un is an obese, 36-year-old smoker with a family history of heart problems and strokes. It is impossible to predict exactly what would happen if Kim died.

Given North Korea’s near total concentration of power in its paramount leader, his demise might lead to instability and other dangerous outcomes. But it might ultimately be beneficial for the United States.

Source: Amid Rumors About Kim’s Health, What Would North Korea Look Like Without Him?

Together, We Can Save the Mangroves | Smithsonian Magazine

Mangrove ecosystems are one of the most valuable in the world, not only for the habitat they provide for wildlife, but also because they prevent coastal erosion and absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Climate change and deforestation have driven mangroves into decline, though deforestation has slowed in the last decade.

Source: Together, We Can Save the Mangroves | Smithsonian Voices | National Museum of Natural History | Smithsonian Magazine

Mass Consumption Is What Ails Us | Foreign Affairs

The effectiveness of our protections against future pandemics will hinge upon how we think about where they come from. The emerging conventional wisdom casts pandemics as fundamentally inscrutable and unpredictable, comparable to natural disasters and acts of terror. The most society can do to gird itself, in that case, is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Bill Gates recommends researching and developing vaccines and mobilizing soldiers and medical workers. Former White House biodefense adviser Rajeev Venkayya suggests improved disease surveillance. And Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, calls for more funding for government health agencies.

But a wide range of potentially more effective and lasting interventions becomes possible when pandemics are understood in a different light: not as arbitrary calamities but instead as probabilistic events, made more likely by human agency. This means that humans can do more to avert pandemics, reducing the risk that pathogens erupt in our bodies in the first place and minimizing the probability that they will spread. But doing so will require a fundamental restructuring of the global economy and the current way of life, which rests upon the accelerating consumption of natural resources.

Since 1940, hundreds of new pathogens have caused outbreaks around the world, most of them originating in the bodies of animals. The novel coronavirus is just the latest, and it is unlikely to be the last. As I have written elsewhere, industrial expansion—driven by mass consumption—has helped many of today’s novel pathogens emerge. Industrialization increases the probability that animal microbes will find their way into human bodies by providing opportunities for them to spread in growing cities and by facilitating their transit to susceptible populations around the globe.

Microbes become pathogenic when they can colonize novel habitats, feasting on a new host’s tissues before that host can mount a targeted immune response. The microbes most successful at colonizing human bodies are those that live inside the bodies of animals—especially other mammals, such as bats and pigs, and birds—which have acted as reservoirs of human pathogens for millennia.

Historically, zoonotic microbes have made only slow incursions into the human body. For an animal microbe to move from its wild host to a human, the two species must come into intimate, prolonged contact. Further, to cause a pandemic, that microbe must reach sufficient numbers of susceptible human hosts, often by being ferried into large and distant populations. In the preindustrial world, such opportunities were scarce. Just a few hundred years ago, the world was dominated by forests and wetlands. Urban centers were few, and transport between them was slow and uncertain. A 2010 study estimates that most of the planet’s surface was wild or semiwild in 1700. These conditions offered relatively few opportunities for animal microbes to turn into human pathogens and cause pandemics.

But as industrial activities expanded, the landscape transformed. Today, human settlements and activities dominate more than half the planet’s land. Less than a quarter of the global landscape is still wild. This shrinkage of habitats forces the remaining species to cram into patches of land closer to towns, cities, farms, and mines, increasing the probability that an animal microbe will come into intimate contact with a human body. Once such microbes spill over into humans, they can spread around the world on fast-moving trains, trucks, ships, and airplanes—the transportation systems humans have devised to ferry goods and commodities from one part of the planet to another. Industry’s domination over the planet has paved a wide path for animal microbes to turn into human pathogens.

Human consumption, not population growth, has driven these changes in land use. Over the past 50 years, human populations have doubled, but consumption of the planet’s natural resources has tripled. Traditionally, people living in high-income, industrialized countries consume most of the world’s natural resources. Despite efforts to recycle and increase efficiency, these populations consume more than 13 times as much per capita as populations living in low-income countries. Since 2000, a rise in global household incomes has led people in middle-income countries, such as China and India, to become major consumers, as well. Instead of relying on locally sourced staples and minimally processed foods, wealthier households purchase more animal products, which, per calorie, require 76 percent more land to produce than plant-based foods. The business of growing, processing, and transporting these resource-intense products paves over more wildlife habitats and increases the likelihood of a pathogen spreading from animals to humans.

Tropical developing countries—which grow the luxury products that the rising middle class demands, such as coffee, tea, and cacao—fulfill about a quarter of the global demand for natural resources. The tropics have greater biodiversity than the temperate regions but more limited disease-surveillance and health-care systems that could spot and contain outbreaks. Not surprisingly, two of the most successful pandemic-causing pathogens—cholera and HIV—erupted during the era of colonial expansion into tropical regions; cholera was prompted by the spread of rice farming into the Bangladeshi wetlands (known as the Sundarbans) under the British Raj in the nineteenth century, and HIV emerged after the city of Leopoldville expanded into the jungles of Belgian Congo in the early twentieth century.

This expanding industrial footprint has accelerated the flow of pathogens into new territories around the world. In Central Africa, the growth of bushmeat hunting—linked to a dearth of local fish due to Chinese and EU overfishing—has spread monkeypox, a smallpox-like virus, from rodents to humans. In China, the growing prosperity of the middle class has led to an increased demand for the luxury “yewei” cuisine, which revolves around the consumption of rare, exotic wild animals; live animal (or “wet”) markets, where such wild animals are sold, have grown accordingly. These wet markets facilitated the emergence of SARS-CoV-1 in bats, civet cats, and humans in 2002 and, some speculate, the novel coronavirus in 2019. And in southeast Asia, rising incomes have led to the increased consumption of pork and the growth of pig farms. The expansion of swine farming in Malaysia precipitated the transmission of Nipah virus from bats to pigs and then humans in 1998; similarly, in China, the expansion of swine farming has led to the frequent emergence of highly virulent forms of avian influenza viruses and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Humans are not the only victims of novel pathogens as boundaries between habitats erode. Pathogens have also been carried by humans into animals. Since the late 1990s, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a fungus most likely spread by humans, has decimated amphibians around the world. Spelunkers and other people visiting caves have introduced Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or white-nose syndrome, to North American bats, millions of which have died of the fungal pathogen since 2007. And in 2014, a highly virulent strain of avian influenza—hatched in Asia’s booming factory farms—decimated North American poultry, causing what the U.S. Department of Agriculture called the worst animal disease epidemic in U.S. history.

For years, expanding human appetites and growing industrialization have helped unleash a steady stream of pathogens, from cholera and the Ebola virus to SARS and the novel coronavirus. Preventing these pathogens from emerging and spreading in the first place requires taming the underlying drivers that allow them to do so.

Mass consumption would be impossible without the global bonfire of fossil fuels, which powers the machines that cut down the forests, provides the petrofertilizers for industrial farms, and fuels the airplanes that spread pathogens around the world, just as it thickens the blanket of carbon in the atmosphere. Preventing the next pandemic, then, will be impossible without greener policies.

To date, neither the growing toll of the climate crisis nor the thousands of extinctions caused by habitat destruction have convinced political leaders to embrace sustainable consumption of energy and other natural resources. Perhaps the mass graves being excavated to bury COVID-19 victims and the economic devastation suffered by tens of millions of people who have lost their livelihoods due to nationwide lockdowns will. If so, the COVID-19 pandemic may present a unique opportunity for the kind of transformative lifestyle changes that could save lives, livelihoods, wild species, and our shared ecosystems.

Source: Mass Consumption Is What Ails Us | Foreign Affairs

The Pandemic and the Toll of Transatlantic Discord | Foreign Affairs

As if anyone needed another reminder of fraying transatlantic ties, the novel coronavirus pandemic has made abundantly clear just how bad relations between the United States and Europe have become. After years of mutual grievance—over defense spending, trade, and much more—divergent national responses to this latest crisis have brought new sources of tension and complaint. In the face of medical-supply shortages, both the United States and Europe have turned inward. Washington ordered the 3M company to halt its exports of N95 masks and to reroute its overseas production to the United States as part of a broader effort to meet domestic demand, loosening restrictions only in the face of a vocal backlash.

The European Union banned the export of face shields, gloves, masks, and protective garments for the same reason. These beggar-thy-neighbor policies threaten to make the virus’s toll even worse. U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral transatlantic travel ban also sparked anger among European leaders, who lamented the United States’ failure to consult with them first.

Yet the pandemic should make another reality equally clear: transatlantic cooperation is essential to finding effective solutions to shared challenges—for the United States and Europe, and for the world. Accordingly, even as the pandemic has spawned the latest round of transatlantic grievance, it can—and should—also provide countries a needed spur to move beyond ongoing disputes and focus on a new transatlantic project: forging cooperative responses to the pandemic. Crisis brings opportunity, to both develop more effective policies and build a renewed sense of transatlantic solidarity that can last through this emergency and beyond.

The first step the United States and the European Union should take is to lift all export bans and tariffs on medical equipment. In March, roughly three dozen countries restricted exports of critical products such as hospital masks, medical protective clothing, and other personal protective gear. Europe is the main source of U.S. imports of breathing masks, CT scanners, hand sanitizers, patient monitors, and x-ray equipment. Any protectionist impulse to limit such trade is self-defeating and threatens lives on both sides of the Atlantic.

These trade barriers have also damaged existing alliances. During the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, France and Germany blocked the export of needed medical equipment to other EU members, despite the fact that the EU is supposed to be a single market. Only after pressure from Swedish officials did the French government lift its export restrictions on masks and rubber gloves (a Swedish company was trying to send these products to Italy and Spain from a storage center in France). Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, reminded her EU counterparts in a tweet about the importance of showing “that the internal market works even in times of crisis.” Meanwhile, the United States was slow to offer any help to its counterparts, including Italy, its hardest-hit European ally.

This harsh reality created an opening that Russia and China rushed to exploit. On March 22, just 24 hours after speaking to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent nine planes loaded with medical supplies to Italy. Russia’s aid has been controversial—some reports claim that most of the equipment was of little or no use—but Italians, feeling abandoned by their traditional allies, embraced the help.

China was even quicker to respond to Italy’s situation, shipping specialized medical staff, gloves, masks, and ventilators. Luigi Di Maio, the Italian foreign minister, praised the effort, rejoicing that “there are people in the world who want to help Italy.” Other countries, including the Czech Republic, France, Greece, and Spain, also expressed appreciation for Chinese help. In April, the EU began to mobilize, announcing significant financial, economic, and medical support programs, but considerable damage to European cohesion had already been done.

Americans and Europeans have championed an open trading system since the end of World War II; the coronavirus should not be allowed to undo it by exacerbating already existing transatlantic trade tensions. The pandemic should instead be a moment for the transatlantic community to reaffirm and recommit to shared principles of serving citizens and allies—whether it means getting health-care workers the protective equipment they need or helping the sick to recover. Lifting these harmful bans and tariffs would make good policy and good geopolitics.

The United States and Europe should also use the virus as an opportunity to broaden their definitions of national and international security to include public health. COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) has made crystal clear that a germ can kill as easily as a bullet.

To that end, the United States and Europe should expand NATO’s capacity. The organization has already proved vital during the current pandemic, delivering urgent medical equipment and using its military transport capacities for relief efforts. But given the collective need for medical supplies that has arisen during the COVID-19 crisis, NATO should provide further assistance by creating public health stockpiles.

If NATO can stockpile military equipment, it can also stockpile medical equipment on a collective basis, with the guarantee that all partners will make those medical necessities available to others when the need arises.

This shift would not only permit greater cooperation where it is sorely needed but also alleviate fissures in the transatlantic security alliance. The scramble for medical equipment among NATO members is deeply damaging cohesion. French and German officials, for example, complained about being outbid for supplies by U.S. buyers. And earlier this month, Berlin accused the United States of seizing its shipment of 200,000 masks in Thailand. Berlin’s interior minister, Andreas Geisel, called this “an act of modern piracy.” (Geisel later backtracked on his claim, but the bitterness was already clear.)

Mandating NATO to stockpile medical supplies would also reaffirm that the organization is relevant to twenty-first-century threats. Over the past decade, public enthusiasm for the alliance has fallen. According to Pew Research Center data, favorable views of NATO have dropped 16 percentage points in Germany—from 73 percent in 2009 to 57 percent in 2019—and 22 percentage points in France—from 71 percent in 2009 to 49 percent in 2019. Expanding NATO’s stockpiles to include personal protective equipment and other medical supplies would allow the organization to step up its assistance during a pandemic, and it would make clear that the alliance stands ready to protect its members from today’s most immediate existential threats, whether from an aggressive Russia, an unstable Middle East, or a pandemic.

Finally, Americans and Europeans should respond to future international pandemics by creating a shared system of global medical surveillance. When transatlantic allies detect a disease outbreak trending toward an epidemic at the local or national level, they must be prepared to send rapid-response medical teams to assess the extent of the threat and the response needed. This policy must be based on an agreed transatlantic pandemic strategy that defines what constitutes a pandemic, explains protocols for early containment and mitigation, and details how to manage the outbreak collectively if it spreads globally. This medical surveillance should be followed up by joint efforts to help other countries contain future outbreaks, and it should be designed as the nucleus of a more effective global system operated by the World Health Organization.

The WHO currently lacks the power and the resources to operate such a system, and Trump’s recent decision to suspend the WHO’s funding will only make matters worse. The United States and Europe should instead strive to strengthen the role of the WHO through initiatives such as a comprehensive global “responsibility to report”—an early-warning commitment made not only by national governments but also by regional health authorities, research labs, and companies to report outbreaks of epidemic diseases.

As the coronavirus crisis has spread, citizens have stepped up. When the British government sought volunteers to help the National Health Service fight COVID-19, more than 750,000 people signed up within four days, marking the largest surge of volunteers since World War II. Billionaires are also answering the call: the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged $1 billion to pandemic relief. But none of this can make up for the void left by governments.

Now is the moment for the United States to draw on its immense global leadership potential. The United States, together with its closest allies in Europe, can form the core of a worldwide response to the pandemic and push others to work together, as well.

Citizens on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly recognize that they need more, rather than less, international cooperation. Citizens expect their governments to protect them, and many feel that their leaders have failed them during the current pandemic. The United States government and its European counterparts urgently need to work together to tackle the coronavirus. These proposed initiatives are one way to express transatlantic solidarity when, as now, allies are in serious need. They are also a mechanism for ensuring that the world does not face a recurrence of COVID-19 and that allies will not fight the next pandemic alone.

Source: The Pandemic and the Toll of Transatlantic Discord | Foreign Affairs

The End of Grand Strategy | Foreign Affairs

Whatever else U.S. President Donald Trump has done in the field of international relations, he can claim one signal accomplishment: making grand strategy interesting again. For decades, American foreign policy elites in both parties embraced liberal internationalism, the idea that Washington should sustain and expand a global order that promoted open markets, open polities, and multilateral institutions. But Trump has repeatedly attacked the key pillars of liberal internationalism, from questioning the value of NATO to blowing up trade agreements to insulting allies. When, in July 2017, his national security team met with him in a windowless Pentagon meeting room known as “the Tank” to educate him about the virtues of the liberal international order, Trump blasted them as “a bunch of dopes and babies,” according to The Washington Post.

Trump’s disruptions have forced foreign policy analysts to question first principles for the first time in decades. With bedrock assumptions about liberal internationalism dislodged, the debate over U.S. grand strategy has experienced a renaissance. New voices have entered the fray, ranging from far-left progressives to populist nationalists on the right. Advocates of retrenchment and restraint have received a fuller hearing, and unusual alliances have formed to advance common agendas.

Yet even as these debates have flowered, the very concept of grand strategy has become a chimera. A grand strategy is a road map for how to match means with ends. It works best on predictable terrain—in a world where policymakers enjoy a clear understanding of the distribution of power, a solid domestic consensus about national goals and identity, and stable political and national security institutions. In 2020, none of that exists anymore.

The changing nature of power, along with its diffusion in the international system, has made it much more difficult for the United States to shape its destiny. The rise of multiculturalism and the populist backlash against it have eroded shared narratives and a common identity. Political polarization has hollowed out the country’s domestic political institutions, meaning that each new administration takes office bent on reversing whatever its predecessor did. Antiestablishment fever has debased policy debate and loosened the checks on executive power that generate consistency.

We write as three scholars who do not agree on much when it comes to politics, policy, or ideology. We do agree, however, that these new factors have rendered any exercise in crafting or pursuing a grand strategy costly and potentially counterproductive. None will be effective, and none will be long standing. Rather than quarrel over contending strategic doctrines, academics, pundits, think tankers, and policymakers should focus on more pragmatic forms of problem solving. From military intervention to foreign aid, policy made on a case-by-case basis will be at least as good, and likely better, than policy derived from grand strategic commitments. To debate grand strategy is to indulge in navel-gazing while the world burns. So it is time to operate without one.

A successful grand strategy must be grounded in an accurate perception of the global distribution of power. One that grossly exaggerates a foe or underestimates a threat is not long for this world, because it will trigger policy choices that backfire. Indeed, one reason so many have attacked the United States’ strategy of liberal internationalism over the past decade is that they believe the strategy failed to appreciate the rise of China.

Power in global politics is no longer what it once was. The ability of states to exercise power, the way they exercise power, the purposes to which they put power, and who holds power—all have fundamentally changed. The result is an emerging world of nonpolarity and disorder. And that is not a world where grand strategy works well.

Many things remain the same, of course. People still define their identities largely in terms of nationality. Countries still seek control over crucial resources and access to vital sea-lanes and clash over territory and regional influence. They still want to maximize their wealth, influence, security, prestige, and autonomy. But amassing territory is no longer the prize it used to be. Today’s great powers seem determined to do two things more than anything else: get rich and avoid catastrophic military contests. They understand that states move up the ladder of international power and prestige by building knowledge-based economies and by promoting technological innovation and connectedness within global networks.

Meanwhile, power is becoming more about the ability to disrupt, block, disable, veto, and destroy than it is about the ability to construct, enable, repair, and build. Consider the “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities that China is pursuing—mainly cyberwarfare techniques and antisatellite weapons—with the goal of raising the risks to U.S. forces operating in the western Pacific. Iran is believed to be doing the same thing in the Persian Gulf, using submarines, antiship missiles, and sophisticated mines in an effort to make the area a no-go zone for the U.S. Navy.

When power is used for constructive purposes, it is becoming increasingly issue specific, unable to translate from one domain into another. Military power rarely achieves national goals or fixes problems anymore; interventions usually only make bad situations worse. The yawning outcome gap between the first and the second Gulf wars makes this plain. Power simply isn’t as fungible as it used to be. No wonder, for example, that the Trump administration’s efforts to hinge security and intelligence cooperation on renegotiated trade deals have fallen flat.

Finally, the diffusion of power throughout the international system is creating a nonpolar world. Many point to the rise of China and other competitors to say that the world is returning to multipolarity (or to bipolarity within a more multipolar setting), but that view understates the tectonic shift currently underway.

International relations will no longer be dominated by one, two, or even several great powers. Because economic and military power no longer yield influence as reliably as they once did, the top dogs have lost their bite. The weak and the mighty suffer the same paralysis and enjoy the same freedom of action. Moreover, new actors, from local militias to nongovernmental organizations to large corporations, each possessing and exerting various kinds of power, increasingly compete with states. Relatively few states represented in the UN can claim a monopoly on force within their territorial borders. Violent nonstate actors are no longer minor players. Ethnic groups, warlords, youth gangs, terrorists, militias, insurgents, and transnational criminal organizations—all are redefining power across the globe.

These changes in power are producing a world marked by entropy. A world populated by dozens of power centers will prove extremely difficult to navigate and control. In the new global disorder, even countries with massive economies and militaries may not be able to get others to do what they want. It is essentially impossible for modern states, no matter how militarily and politically powerful, to influence violent groups that prosper in ungoverned spaces or online. Not only do such actors offer no clear target to threaten or destroy, but many are also motivated by nonnegotiable concerns, such as the establishment of a caliphate or their own separate state. Worse still, violence is for many a source of social cohesion.

With traditional power no longer buying the influence it once did, global order and cooperation will be in short supply. International relations will increasingly consist of messy ad hoc arrangements. The danger comes not from fire—shooting wars among the great powers or heated confrontations over human rights, intellectual property, or currency manipulation. The danger comes instead from ice—frozen conflicts over geopolitical, monetary, trade, or environmental issues. Given the immense costs of warfare, great powers that cannot resolve their disputes at the negotiating table no longer have the option—at least if they are rational—of settling them on the battlefield. When political arrangements do materialize, they will be short lived. Like flocking birds or schooling fish, they promise to lose their shape, only to form again after a delay.

Grand strategy is not well suited to an entropic world. Grand strategic thinking is linear. The world today is one of interaction and complexity, wherein the most direct path between two points is not a straight line. A disordered, cluttered, and fluid realm is precisely one that does not recognize grand strategy’s supposed virtue: a practical, durable, and consistent plan for the long term. To operate successfully in such an environment, actors must constantly change their strategies.

A sustainable grand strategy must also rest on a shared worldview among key political constituencies. If each new government enters office with a radically different understanding of global challenges and opportunities, no strategy will last long. Each new government will tear up its predecessor’s policies, shredding the very idea of a grand strategy. Containment endured because every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan largely adhered to its underlying vision of global affairs. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all embraced variations on liberal internationalism.

Such a consensus no longer exists. Over the last half century, across the West, there has been rising skepticism of the virtues, and even the reality, of nations—of “imagined communities,” in the words of the political scientist Benedict Anderson, each unified by a shared narrative. That skepticism arose from a good place: a growing awareness that dominant narratives can be repressive, that they often reflect the interests and experiences of the powerful and silence the voices of communities on the margins. Beginning in the early 1970s, in the Vietnam War’s dying days, multiculturalism began to hold sway, at least in the United States. More than just a strategy to manage diversity in a fair and inclusive way, the concept was grounded in mounting doubt that societies should be rooted in some common identity.

Some effects of this cultural revolution, such as the explosion of weeks and months designated to celebrate specific ethnic and racial heritages, strike most Americans as innocuous and even good. But one consequence is particularly problematic: Americans today lack a common national narrative. For good reason, few speak any longer of the assimilative “melting pot.” As the historian Jill Lepore lamented in these pages in 2019, historians stopped writing about the nation decades ago. Listen to any Democratic debate this presidential campaign season, and you will see how uncomfortable American politicians on the liberal left have become with the rhetoric of American nationalism.

Yet nationalism has proved an enduring force, as has people’s desire for a shared narrative to make sense of their world. Cultural conservatives in the United States have long mined this vein. They have sought to define a cultural core, manifest in such books as The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, in which the academic E. D. Hirsch, Jr., attempted to list the figures, events, and works that “every American needs to know.” They have waged war against bilingual education, and they have led a decades-long campaign—successful to date in over half of American states—to declare English the official language. They have charged that the United States is coming apart at the seams, blaming new immigrants for refusing to buy into the national creed. Liberals have vacillated on American exceptionalism, as in 2009, when Obama declared, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Conservatives, by contrast, have leaned into it. Unlike the Democrats, Trump is very comfortable with nationalist language—although he deploys it in a manner that excludes half the country.

Among the victims of a fractured national narrative has been grand strategy. Grand strategy rests on a security narrative that sets out the main protagonists of global politics, tells a story about what those actors have done and will do, and depicts the global backdrop against which events will take place. Debates over contending grand strategies are typically debates over one or more of these narrative elements. Those advocating deep engagement, for instance, believe that American and global security are indivisible, whereas those calling for restraint believe the opposite. In the absence of the rhetorical tropes that a shared national narrative supplies, crafting a grand strategy that can resonate with diverse constituencies becomes impossible. It becomes harder to implement a particular strategy across various policy areas and to sustain that strategy over time.

One manifestation of the narrative divide in the United States is the stark polarization that has come to define American politics, and not just on hot-button domestic issues. Across a wide array of foreign policy questions—climate change, counterterrorism, immigration, the Middle East, the use of force—Americans are divided along party lines. That is no environment for a useful debate about grand strategy. For one thing, it eviscerates the utility of expert feedback. Political scientists have found that an expert consensus can alter public attitudes about issues on which the public was not already polarized, such as how to respond to China’s currency manipulation. When the public is already split along party lines, however, as it is on climate change, polarization renders an elite consensus worse than useless. Expert opinions from nonpartisan sources simply make partisans double down on their preexisting beliefs.

Political polarization also makes learning difficult. For grand strategy to improve, there has to be agreement on what failed and why. In a polarized political environment, the side that fears being held responsible will not accept the premise that its policy failed until long after the fact. Republicans, for example, insisted that the Iraq war was a triumph for years after it was obvious that the United States had lost the peace. To support their leader, partisans have a persistent incentive to bend the truth to fit their arguments, robbing the foreign policy discussion of the agreed-on facts that ordinarily frame debate.

Most important, polarization means that any party’s grand strategy will last only as long as that party controls the executive branch. Because Congress and the courts have granted the president a near monopoly on the articulation of the national security narrative, a single president can radically shift the country’s grand strategy. And so can the next president from the other party.

Grand strategy requires a robust marketplace of ideas, backed by sturdy institutions, to help policymakers correct course over time. Even an enduring grand strategy must cope with changes in the strategic environment, and even well-considered strategies will result in policy missteps that need to be reversed. The United States made its share of foreign policy errors during the Cold War, but the push and pull between the establishment and its critics and between the executive branch and Congress eventually reined in the worst excesses of American activism and prevented the overembrace of restraint.

Over the last half century, once-stable structures of authority have eroded, and the American public has grown increasingly skeptical of the federal government, the press, and every other major public institution. Americans’ distrust extends to the foreign policy establishment, and on this, it is hard to blame them. U.S. foreign policy elites largely endorsed the use of force in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and none of those interventions could be called a success. As revealed in “The Afghanistan Papers,” a collection of government documents published by The Washington Post late last year, for over a decade, civilian and military leaders lied to the public about how the war in Afghanistan was going. The 2008 financial crisis and the Arab Spring caught foreign policy elites unprepared. Clearly, some healthy skepticism of experts is warranted.

Too much skepticism, however, can be corrosive. Calling into doubt the value of foreign policy expertise undermines a healthy marketplace of ideas on grand strategy. As the journalist Chris Hayes warned in Twilight of the Elites, “If the experts as a whole are discredited, we are faced with an inexhaustible supply of quackery.” Furthermore, new entrants are advancing their arguments in part by bashing the preexisting consensus on grand strategy. They are exploiting narratives about failed foreign policies of the past to argue that they could hardly do worse. As Trump told voters at a campaign rally in 2016, “The experts are terrible. They say, ‘Donald Trump needs a foreign policy adviser.’ . . . Would it be worse than what we’re doing now?”

The death of respect for expertise is just one element of the biggest political story of the twenty-first century: the proliferation of right-wing populist nationalism as part of mainstream politics across the West. It is no flash in the pan, because its rise is rooted partly in economic dislocation but equally, if not more, in the politics of cultural reaction. And populism renders grand strategy moot.

At the heart of all forms of populism lies a simple image of politics. The populist leader asserts the existence of a morally pure people, set in contrast to corrupt elites, and he claims that he alone knows the people’s will. Populist politics therefore tilts authoritarian. In sweeping away supposedly corrupt elites and institutions, the populist leader weakens all forces standing in his way. Asserting his unmediated line to the people, the populist leader claims to represent them better than any political process can. Critics becomes enemies, constitutional constraints become obstacles to democracy, and the tyranny of the majority becomes a virtue, not a vice.

Populism is not hospitable to grand strategy. First, populism accentuates internal divisions. Polarizing by design, it narrows the sphere of the supposedly authentic people so that, within the nation as a territorial and legal entity, there can be no unity. Second, populist politicians regularly mobilize the people in righteous anger against enemies. When heated rhetoric is in the air, emotional responses to the crisis of the day threaten to overtake rational strategy. Strategy becomes less supple, as leaders have trouble pursuing conciliatory tactics in a climate of affront and retribution. Finally, populism concentrates authority in the charismatic leader. It disempowers bureaucrats and institutions that can check fickle rulers and block extreme decisions. Policy in a populist regime is thus a reflection of the leader—whether of his ideological commitments or his whims. If the populist leader does pursue something akin to a grand strategy, it will not outlive his rule.

Grand strategy is dead. The radical uncertainty of nonpolar global politics makes it less useful, even dangerous. Even if it were helpful in organizing the United States’ response to global challenges today, an increasingly divided domestic polity has made it harder to implement a coherent and consistent grand strategy. Popular distrust of expertise has corroded sensible debate over historical lessons and prospective strategies. Populism has eviscerated the institutional checks and balances that keep strategy from swinging violently.

The nation’s strategic thinkers, however, remain in the early stages of grieving for grand strategy. The raging debate over contending strategic options suggests that many are still in denial. The ire directed at the Trump administration for its lack of strategic thinking implies that many are stuck on anger. We ourselves differ on whether to mourn or to celebrate the demise of grand strategy, but we agree that it is high time we moved on to the final stage of the grieving process: acceptance.

Moving forward without grand strategy requires embracing two principles: decentralization and incrementalism. Highly uncertain conditions call for decentralized but mutually coordinated decision-making networks. The corporate sector has learned that managers must avoid the temptation to control every decision and instead figure out how to steer innovation, by shaping the environment within which choices emerge. Smart corporations decentralize authority and responsibility, encourage employees to address problems through teamwork, and take an informal approach to assigning tasks and responsibilities. Governments should organize their foreign policy machinery in the same way. Appreciating regional knowledge and trusting expert feedback is a better way to handle trouble spots and emergent problems and to defuse crises before they metastasize.

Organizational change must go hand in hand with a cultural one: toward prizing the virtues of bottom-up experimentation. Grand strategy wagers that careful planning at the center produces the best results. It presumes that the costs of being too flexible outweigh those of being too rigid. But that is unwise when change can occur rapidly and unpredictably. Incrementalism is the safer bet. It does not require putting all your eggs in one basket. It cannot achieve victory in one fell swoop, but it does avoid disastrous losses. It allows for swift adaptation to changing circumstances. In practice, it would mean devolving responsibility from Washington to theater commanders, special envoys, and subject-matter experts. In other words, it means taking the exact opposite tack of so many past administrations, which concentrated ever more decision-making in the White House.

Aspiring national security advisers should give up competing for the title of the next George Kennan. Crafting a durable successor to containment is neither important nor possible for the near future. Improving U.S. foreign policy performance is. Given the recent record of U.S. foreign policy, that goal doesn’t seem half bad.

Source: The End of Grand Strategy | Foreign Affairs

EU leaders agree plans for ‘unprecedented’ stimulus against pandemic  |

EU leaders have tasked the European Commission with designing the recovery plan for the deep economic crisis that the coronavirus COVID-19 will cause in Europe.

The mandate came after a four-hour teleconference on Thursday (23 April), in which recent tensions over how to finance the recovery, in particular between The Netherlands and Italy, were absent.

“Tensions, if they were there at all, are not there any longer,” Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said after the videocall.

Source: EU leaders agree plans for ‘unprecedented’ stimulus against pandemic  –

Senate Democrats Propose Creating Hundreds of Thousands of New National Service Jobs | Government Executive

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats announced a proposal to supplement the health care workforce through a massive outreach and training program, part of a larger effort to expand national service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said they would introduce legislation to recruit and train hundreds of thousands of individuals to form a “health force” that will support the understaffed health care workforce during the pandemic.

The bill also will include a proposal by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Ed Markey D-Mass., to expand the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s workforce. The measures are among a series of proposals by a working group of Democrats led by Delaware Sen. Chris Coons.

Source: Senate Democrats Propose Creating Hundreds of Thousands of New National Service Jobs – Government Executive