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    Academic Webinar: Human Rights in Latin America
    José Miguel Vivanco, adjunct senior fellow for human rights at CFR and former executive director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, leads the conversation on human rights in Latin America. FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the Fall 2023 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record. The video and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share them with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have José Miguel Vivanco with us to discuss human rights in Latin America. Mr. Vivanco is an adjunct senior fellow for human rights at CFR and partner at Dentons Global Advisors. He formerly served as the executive director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, where he supervised fact-finding research for numerous reports on gross violations of human rights and advocated strengthening international legal standards and domestic compliance throughout the region. He is the founder of the Center for Justice and International Law, an international civil society organization providing legal and technical assistance with the Inter-American Human Rights System. So, José Miguel, thank you very much for being with us today. I thought you could begin by giving us an overview of what you see as the most important human rights challenges and advances in Latin America today. VIVANCO: Well, thank you very much for this invitation. It is a pleasure to be with you all and to talk for an hour about human rights problems, human rights issues in Latin America. Let me first make a couple of points. First, I think it’s very important that, in retrospect, if you look at Latin America in the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s, it was a region that was pretty much run by military dictatorships. So if you look at historically, the region is not in such a bad shape. I know that this comment is quite controversial and many experts who follow the region closely might disagree with that statement, but objectively speaking I think we need to recognize that most of the region is run today—with the exception, obviously, of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua—by democracies, weak democracies, the kind of democracies that we have in Latin America are facing very serious challenges and with endemic problems such as corruption, abuse of power, lack of transparency, lack of proper accountability, and so on and so forth. But in general terms, this is a region that has a chance to conduct some self-correction. In other words, electoral democracy is a very, very important value in the region, and the citizens—most of the people are able to either reward or punish the incumbent government at the times of elections. That is not a minor detail. It is extremely important, especially if you take into account that during the last twenty years in Latin America, if I’m not wrong, the vast majority of the governments elected were from the opposition. The statistics, I think, show that in eighteen of the twenty last presidential elections, the winner has been the party of the opposition; which means that even though our democracies in Latin America are dysfunctional, weak, messy, slow, you know, short-term-oriented, obviously, but at least citizens take their rights seriously and they exercise their powers so that is why you see a regular zigzag or, you know, transfer of power from a left-wing government to a right-wing government or vice versa. And that is, again, something that is, obviously, a very, very important tool of self-correction. And that, obviously, includes or has an impact in terms of the human rights record of those countries. You know, I’m not—I’m not addressing yet—I will leave it for the Q&A section—conditions in those three dictatorships in Latin America. Let me just make some few more remarks about one of the biggest challenges that I see in the region. And that is, obviously, the rise of autocracy or autocratic leaders, populist leaders, leaders who are not interested or as a matter of fact are very hostile to the concept of rule of law and the concept of independence of the judiciary. And they usually are very charismatic. They have high level of popular support. And they run and govern the country in a style that is like a permanent campaign, where they normally go against minorities and against the opposition, against the free media, against judges and prosecutors who dare to investigate them or investigate the government. Anyone who challenges them are subject of this type of reaction. And that is, unfortunately, something that we have seen in Mexico recently and until today, and in Brazil, especially during the administration of President Bolsonaro. The good news about, in the case of Brazil, is that, thanks to electoral democracy, it was possible to defeat him and—democratically. And the second very important piece of information is that even though Brazil is not a model of rule of law and separation of power, we have to acknowledge that, thanks to the checks-and-balance exercise by the Supreme Court of Brazil, it was possible to do some permanent, constant damage control against the most outrageous initiatives promoted by the administration of President Bolsonaro. That, I think, is one of the biggest challenges in the region. Let me conclude my—make crystal clear that there are serious human rights problems in Latin America today regarding, for instance, abuse of power, police brutality, prison problems. Prisons are really, in most of the countries in the region, a disaster. And you know, a big number of prisoners are awaiting trial, in detention and unable to really exercise their rights. And unfortunately, populist leaders use the prison system or essentially criminal law, by expanding the practice and enlarging the numbers of crimes that could be subject of pretrial detention, and—you know, regardless of the time that it will take for that case to be prosecuted in full respect for the rule—due process, and so on and so forth. And that—the reason is very simple. There is a real demand in Latin America for policies that will address insecurity, citizen security. If you look at statistics in terms of crime rate, it is going up in most of the country. Obviously, there are big difference between countries like Mexico, for instance, or Colombia, and if you link—if you look at the power of cartels and big mafias, and gangs in other countries, or petty crime impacting the daily life of the citizens. Regardless of that point, one of the biggest demands in Latin America is for better and more public security. And that’s why political leaders, usually the solution for that request and demand is to put people in prison with essentially no real due process and increase the number of prisoners without conviction. There are challenges for free speech occasionally, of those leaders who resent scrutiny of their practice. And normally there is a campaign against free media. And there are some attempts in some countries to constantly look for ways to undermine the independence of the judiciary. Keep in mind, for instance, that now in Argentina the whole Supreme Court is under impeachment, and it’s essentially an impeachment promoted by the current government because they disagree with the rulings, positions of the Supreme Court. All the justices on the Supreme Court are subject of this political trial conducted by the Argentine Congress. That is a concrete example of the kinds of risks that are present for judges and the judiciary in general, when they exercise their power and they attempt to protect the integrity of the constitution. So let me stop here and we can move on to the most interesting part of this event. FASKIANOS: Well, that was quite interesting. So, thank you, José Miguel. We appreciate it. We going to go to all of you now for your questions. (Gives queuing instructions.) We already have some hands up. We will go first to Karla Soto Valdes. Q: My name is Karla Soto. I’m from Lewis University. My question is, what specific measures could be implemented to address and/or prevent trafficking within the asylum-seeking community during their journey to the U.S.? VIVANCO: Irina, are we going to take several questions, or? FASKIANOS: I think we should do one at a time. VIVANCO: Well, Karla, there are multiple tools to address that specific issue. But this applies to essentially most of the human rights problems all over the world. The menu is pretty ample, but depends on one important factor—whether the government involved cares about its own reputation. That is a very important premise here, because if you we are dealing with a democratic government, once again, it’s not—when I refer to a democratic government, I don’t have in mind a sort of Jeffersonian model, I’m referring to the kind of democracies that we have in Latin America. But, if the leaders in charge are—you know, they care about their own reputation, they care about domestic debate, very important, because these types of revelations usually have ramifications at the local level. If they pay close attention to those issues, I think it’s possible to apply, essentially, the technique of naming and shaming. In other words, collecting information, documenting what exactly is happening, and revealing that information to the public, locally and internationally. That is going to create naturally a reaction, a process, an awareness, and local pressure is—hopefully, it’s not just twenty-four hours news, so splash—big splash, but also will trigger some dynamics. If we are dealing with a country that is run by a dictatorship, it is a very, very different question, because normally you’re facing a leader, a government, who couldn’t care less about its own reputation. They have taken already and assume the cost of doing business in that type of context. Now, sometimes conditions are kind of mixed, where you have democratic country in general—so there is still free media, there is an opposition, there is Congress, there are elections. But the government in charge is so—is run by an autocratic leader. That makes, you know, quite—a little more challenging to just document and reveal that information. And you need to think about some particular agenda, governmental agenda. Some specific interests of the government in different areas. Let me see—let me give you an example. Let’s say that the Bolsonaro administration is seriously interested in an incorporation into the OECD in Paris. That is an important piece of information. Whatever you think that is relevant information regarding the record of that government, you could provide information to an entity that is precisely evaluating the record of the government. And the government will be much more willing to address those issues because they have a genuine interest in achieving some specific goal at the international level. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. We’re going to go to Nicole Ambar De Santos, who is an undergraduate student at the Washington University in St. Louis: When we consider weak democracy in a more personal sense, like Peru, the controversy of obligation to help these nations arises. How much third party or other nations, such as the United States, intervene? VIVANCO: Tricky question. Peruvian democracy is quite messy. Part of the problem is that the system, the political system, needs some real reform to avoid the proliferation of small political parties and to create the real link or relationship between leaders, especially in Congress, and their constituencies, and so they are much more accountable to their community, the ones who elected them. I don’t think the U.S., or any other government, has a direct role to play in that area. My sense is that when we are looking into a dysfunctional democracy that deserve some probably even constitutional reforms, that is essentially a domestic job. That is the work that needs to be done by Peruvians. Without a local consensus about the reforms that need to be implemented in the political system, my sense is that it’s going to be very difficult for the U.S. or any other large democracy, to address those kinds of points. It’s very different, that type of conversation, from a conversation or an assessment of universal values, such as human rights. When we are looking into cases of police brutality, for instance, the international community has a role to play. But if I were part of the conversation or evaluation by the U.S. government or the European Union with regard to this dysfunctional democracy in Peru, I would approach very carefully by suggesting creating the right type of incentives, more than questions of punishment, or sanctions. It’s incentives for them to create the right conditions to address the domestic problem that is—has become quite endemic, in the case of Peru. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Matthew. Matthew, you don’t have a last name, so can you identify yourself? Q: Hello. Yes, my name is Matthew. I am a junior student from Arizona State University studying business, but working on a thesis that has to do with human rights and the ethics of supply chain management. My question is, you were talking at the very beginning kind of just about history and how understanding history is important. And what I was hoping to get was, why is understanding history and culture important when working to address human rights issues, history of dictatorship, colonialism? In cultures it’s socially acceptable things, like child labor, in some countries, that’s not acceptable in Western ideology. So, yeah, just how is history and culture important when working to address human rights for the future? VIVANCO: Matthew, I think you’re referring to two different issues. History is central. It’s really, really relevant. Because that helps you—if you—if you follow your history, especially periods of time when massive and gross violations were committed in Latin America, it’s important to put things in context and value what you have today. And the job is to—not only to preserve democracy, but also to look for ways to strengthen democracy. Because part of the problem is that domestic debate is so polarized today, not just in Latin America, all over the world, that sometimes people—different, you know, segments of society—in their positions, they’re so dismissive of the other side, that they don’t realize that we need to frame our debate in a constructive way. Let me put it—one specific example. If the government of Argentina, who is a government very receptive and very sensitive to vast and gross violations of human rights committed during the military dictatorship, so in other words, I don’t need to lecture that government on that subject. They are actually the people who vote for the current government of Argentina—not the new government, the current government of Argentina—is deeply committed to those kinds of issues. I think that one of the biggest lessons that you should learn from the past is the relevance of protecting the independence of the judiciary. If you don’t have an independent judiciary, and the judiciary becomes an entity that is an appendix of the ruling party or is intimidated by politics, and they could be subject of impeachment procedures every time that they rule something, that the powerful—the establishment disagree, I think they’re playing with fire, and they’re not really paying attention to the lessons that you learn from recent history in Latin America. That would be my first comment regarding that type of issue. And the second one, about you mentioned specifically cultural problems, culture, tensions or conflicts. And you mentioned—your example was child labor. And, and you suggested that that—the combination of child labor is something typical of Western ideology. If I’m not wrong, that was the language that you used. I would—I would push back on that point. And because this is not just a Western or European commitment. This is a universal one. And this is reflected on international treaties, and that are supposed to eradicate that kind of practice. If you give up to the concept of local traditions, you know, cultural, you know, issues that you need to pay attention, sure, as long as they are not to be in conflict with fundamental human rights. Otherwise, in half of the planet you’re not going to have women rights, and women will be subject of traditional control. And you wouldn’t have rights for minorities, and especially—and not only, but especially—the LGBTQ community. And you wouldn’t have rights for racial minorities, or different religious beliefs. So, we have to watch and be very careful about what type of concessions we make to cultural traditions. I am happy to understand that different communities in Latin America might have different traditions, but there is some firm, solid, and unquestionable minimum that are the these universal human rights values that are not the property or monopoly of anyone. You know, these are—and this is not an ethical conversation. This is a legal one, because these values are protected under international law. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to combine or take two questions. The first question is from Lindsay Bert, who is at the department of political science at Muhlenberg College, who asks if you could speak on the efficacy of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in addressing the human rights violations you described. And the second question is from Leonard Onyebuchi Ophoke, a graduate student at Cavendish University in Uganda: Why is it almost impossible to hold the actors that violate human rights accountable? What could be done to make the mechanism more enforceable? VIVANCO: The inter-American system of human rights protection, there is nothing similar to inter-American system of human rights protection in the Global South. You don’t have something similar in Asia, or Africa, or the Middle East. In other words, you don’t have a mechanism where ultimately a court, a court of law—not just a commission, a court of law—handle individual cases, specific complaints of human rights abuses, and governments participate in public hearings. The parties involved have the obligation to present evidence before the court, and the court finally ruled on the specific matters where its decisions are binding. The number of issues that have been addressed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the last thirty years in Latin America are really incredible. And the impact—this is most important point—the impact at a local level is remarkable. In the area, for instance, of torture, disappearances. I’m referring to the elaboration of concepts and the imposing the obligation of local governments to adjust their legislation and practice, and to address specific problems or issues by providing remedies to victims. That is quite unusual. And the court has remarkable rulings on free speech, on discrimination issues, on indigenous populations, on military jurisdiction. One of the typical recourse of governments in the region when security forces were involved in human rights atrocities was to invoke military jurisdiction. So they say, no worries, we are going to investigate our own crimes. And the court has been actually very, very firm, challenging that notion to the point that I don’t think there is a single case in Latin America today—once again, with the exception of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, that I hope that somebody will ask me a question about those three countries—and I don’t think there is a single case where today security forces try to—or attempt to shield themselves from investigation invoking military jurisdiction. And the credit is to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I can elaborate, and give you—provide you with a long list of examples of areas where the court has been actually really, really critical in advancing human rights in the region. Let me give you actually one last example that I think is very—is very illustrative, very revealing. In Chile, something like probably twenty years ago or fifteen years ago, full democracy. Full democracy. No Chile under Pinochet. The Supreme Court of Chile ruled that a mother who was openly lesbian did not qualify for the custody of her children because she was lesbian. And she had a couple. So that was sufficient grounds to rule in favor of the father, because the mother didn’t have the moral grounds to educate her own kids, children. And this was decided by the Supreme Court of Chile. Not just a small first instance tribunal. And I will point out that the vast majority of the—I mean, the public in Chile was pretty much divided, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of Chileans thought that the Supreme Court was right, you know? The case went to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. And fortunately, after a few years, the court not only challenged that decision of the Supreme Court, forced Chile to change its legislation, and to change the ruling of the Supreme Court of Chile, which is supposed to be the last judgment in the country. And the impact of that one, not only in Chile, in the rest of the region, because it shapes the common wisdom, the assumptions of many people. It helps for them to think carefully about this kind of issues. And the good news is that that mother was able to have the custody of her kids. And not only that, the impact in Chilean society and in the rest of the region was remarkable. Now, the second question that was asked was about how difficult it is to establish accountability for human rights abuses against the perpetrators of those abuses. I mean, it’s a real challenge. It depends on whether or not you have locally an independent judiciary. If you do have an independent judiciary, the process is slow, it’s messy, it’s complicated. But there is a chance that atrocities could be addressed. And that is— especially human rights atrocities or abuses committed during the military dictatorship. There are countries in the region, like for instance, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, where there are people in prison for those type of atrocities. In Brazil, thanks to an amnesty law that was passed in 1978, real investigation and prosecution of those atrocities actually never happened. And an important lesson that you could bear in mind is that Brazilian military are very dismissive of these type of issues, of human rights issues. But not only that, my sense is that Brazilian military officers at very high level are not afraid of stepping into politics, and give their opinion, and challenge the government. In other words, they were actually very, very active, and I’m referring to top officials in the Brazilian Army, during the Bolsonaro administration. There were top leaders who actually publicly argued that if they have to organize a coup again in Brazil, they are ready. That kind of language you don’t find in Argentina, in Chile, in other countries where there have been some accountability. For one simple reason, the top military officers running the show are very much aware that if they get involved in politics, that they are part tomorrow of a coup d’état or something like that, at the end of the day they will be responsible. And they might be subject of criminal prosecution for atrocities committed during that period. And so there is a price to pay. So their calculation is much more, shall we say, prudent regarding this issue. But again, once again, how difficult it is? It’s very difficult to establish accountability, and much more difficult when you’re dealing with dictatorship, where you need to rely on the work done by, for instance, the ICC, the International Criminal Court, which is pretty active in the case of Venezuela. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Fordham. Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Vivanco. My name is Carlos Ortiz de la Pena Gomez Urguiza, and I have a question for you. El Salvador is currently battling crime and gangs with strategies such as mano dura, which have shown a significant decrease in crime at the cost of violating human rights. Do you see a possible effective integration of such policies in high-crime-rate countries, such as Mexico, to stop the growth of narco and crime gang activity? And if so, how? VIVANCO: Well, look, yeah, Carlos, very good question. Bukele in El Salvador is a real, real challenge. It’s really, really a complicated case, for several reasons. He’s incredibly popular. No question about it. He has managed to—thanks to that popularity—to concentrate power in his own hands. He fully controls Congress. But, much more relevant, he fully controls the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court today is subordinated to the executive branch. And he is constantly going after the civil society, and free media, and the opposition. Now, in violation of the Salvadorean constitution, he’s going to run for reelection. And he will be reelected, because he’s also very popular. And his policies to go after gangs are cruel, inhuman, and without—not even a facade of respect for due process. Essentially, the policy which is not sustainable and is—I don’t think is something that you could export to other countries—is a policy—unless you have full control, unless you have some sort of dictatorship or quasi dictatorship. Which is based, in essence, in the appearance, in the number of tattoos that people, especially in the marginal communities in the periferia in El Salvador, where shanty towns are located. The police has a, you know, green light to arrest anyone who fit that profile. And then good luck, because it’s going to be very, very difficult for that person to avoid something like several months in prison. The whole point of having an independent judiciary and due process is that law enforcement agencies have the—obviously, not only the right, the duty to prevent crimes and to punish criminals. Not physically punish them. You know, it’s to arrest them, to detain them, and to use proportional force to produce that attention. But they need to follow certain rules. They cannot just go around and arrest anyone who they have some sort of gut feelings that they are involved in crimes, because then you don’t—you’re not—the whole system is not able to distinguish and to make a distinction between potential criminals and innocent people. But it is complicated, the case of Bukele, because, for instance, I was referring initially to the technique of naming and shaming as a technique, as a methodology to expose governments with deplorable human rights record. But in the case of Bukele, he couldn’t care less about. In other words, actually, I think he used the poor perception that exists, already that is established outside El Salvador as a result of his persecution of gangs in El Salvador—he used that kind of criticism as a way to improve his support domestically. In other words, when the New York Times published a whole report about massive abuses committed by Bukele’s criminal system, in the prison system in El Salvador, what Bukele does is to take that one, that criticism, as actually ammunition to project himself as a tough guy who is actually, you know, doing the right thing for El Salvador. It’s a question of time. It’s a question of time. All of this is very sad for El Salvador, one of the few democracies in Central America with some future, I think, because I think they managed after the war to create institutions that are—that were much more credible than in the neighboring countries, like Guatemala, Honduras, and I’m not going to even mention Nicaragua. But under the control of this strongman, everything is possible today in El Salvador. He will be able to govern El Salvador this way as long as he’s popular. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has relaxed its attention and pressure on that government, based on the question of migration. So they are hostage by the cooperation of Bukele government to try or attempt to control illegal immigration into the U.S. So that point trumps or, I mean, supersedes everything else. And that is actually very unfortunate. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next two questions, written questions. One is on the subject that you wanted, from Brittney Thomas, who is an undergraduate at Arizona State University: How come the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are socialist or communist while other Latin America countries are predominantly democracies? And then from Roger— VIVANCO: I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand the question. Obviously, it’s about Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, but? FASKIANOS: Why are they socialist or communist while other Latin American countries are predominantly democracies? VIVANCO: Oh, I see. OK. FASKIANOS: Yeah. And then the next question is from Roger Rose, who is an associate professor of political science at University of Minnesota, Morris: Given the recent decline in the norms of U.S. democracy in the last seven years, does the U.S. have any credibility and influence in the region in promoting democracy? And, again, if you could comment specifically on nations with the least democratic systems—Venezuela, Nicaragua—how could the U.S. play a more constructive role than it is currently? VIVANCO: The U.S. is always a very important player, very, very important. I mean, it’s the largest economy in the world and the influence of the U.S. government in Latin America is huge. However, obviously, I have to acknowledge that our domestic problems here and serious challenges to the fundamentals of the rule of law, and just the notion that we respect the system according to which one who wins the election is—you know, has the legitimacy and the mandate to form a new government. If that notion is in question, and there are millions of American citizens who are willing to challenge that premise, obviously undermines the capacity of the U.S. to exercise leadership on this—in this context. And the autocrats and the autocracies in the region—I’m not referring to the dictatorships, but I’m referring to the Andrés Manuel López Obrador, once again, from Mexico, or Bolsonaro in Brazil—they take those kinds of developments in the U.S. as green lights to do whatever they want at local level. So that is a serious—obviously, it’s a serious problem. And what is going on here has ramifications not only in the region, but also in the rest of the world. Now, Cuba is a historical problem. It’s going to be too long to address the question in terms of why Cuba is a dictatorship and the rest of the region. Part of the problem with Cuba is that you have a government that violates the most fundamental rights and persecutes everyone who challenges the official line. And most of the Cubans today are willing to leave the country and to go into exile. But the problem is that we don’t have the right tool, the right instrument in place, to exercise pressure on Cuba. And the right instrument today is the embargo. And that embargo, that policy is a total failure. The Cuban government is the same, exactly the same dictatorship. There has been no progress. And there’s going to be no progress, in my view, as long as the U.S. government insist on a policy of isolation. You should be aware that every year 99 percentage of the states in the world condemned the isolation against Cuba, with the exception and the opposition of the U.S. government, Israel, and in the past was the Marshall Islands. Now, I don’t think even the Marshall Islands joined the U.S. government defending that policy. So the policy is incredibly unpopular. And the debate at international level is about the U.S. government policy on Cuba and not about the deplorable human rights record of Cuba. That’s why I was actually very supportive of the change of policy attempted during the Obama administration. Unfortunately, the isolation policy depends on Congress. And since the times of Clinton, this is a matter of who is the one in control of Congress. And the policy of isolation, it once again makes Cuba a victim of Washington. And Cuba, by the way, is not isolated from the rest of the world. So the U.S. is incredibly, I would say, powerless with regard to the lack of democracy and human rights in Cuba. And at the time, offers a fantastic justification for the Cuban government to present itself as a victim. I think that is the—this is one of the most serious mistakes of the U.S. foreign policy in Latin America that I hope that one day will be—will be addressed effectively. The case of Nicaragua and Venezuela is different, in the sense that we are looking into countries that—Venezuela in particular—have democracy for—a very questionable democracy, very weak, subject of tremendous corruption, and so on and so forth. But they have a system of political parties, free media, and so on, for many, many years. And they end up electing a populist leader whose marching orders and, you know, actually first majors was to establish some effective control of the judiciary. And the Supreme Court became an appendage of the government many, many, many years ago, which means that they managed during the Chavez administration to run the country with some sort of facade of democracy. Today, under Maduro it’s no a longer a façade, it’s a clear dictatorship responsible for atrocities. Fortunately, it is under investigation by the ICC. And the case of Nicaragua is an extreme case, similar to Venezuela. And it’s—it’s a dictator who has managed to put in prison everyone who is not in full alliance with the government, including religious leaders, and academics, and opposition leaders, civil society, et cetera. The case of Nicaragua is more complicated because Nicaragua is subject of sanctions by the U.S. government, and the European Union, and Canada, and some governments in the region. But still, we don’t see much progress there. FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to Nassar Nassar, who has a raised hand. You can unmute yourself and state your affiliation. Q: Yes. Hello. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. Q: Hi. My name is Nassar Nassar. I’m from Lewis University. So my question is, which are the most significant actors in the global governance of human trafficking? And how effective are they in tackling that? VIVANCO: Well, this is a matter that is usually—the main actors—so this is organized crime. This is organized crime. This is a question regarding—this is a—it’s a huge business, and extremely profitable. And if you want to address these kinds of issues, you need regional cooperation, which is very challenging. Keep in mind that at a local level, in many of the most democratic countries in the region, you have tremendous tensions among the local police and different police. For instance, the local FBI—equivalent to an FBI, is usually in tension with other branches of law enforcement. And if you expect to have cooperation from the rest of the countries in the region, it’s extremely challenging. So these type of issues require effective cooperation, adjustment on legislation. Require more better intelligence. The reason why you have this type—proliferation of this type of business is because, obviously, corruption and lack of accountability. So this is—my point is that it is a reflection of how weak is our law enforcement system, and how unprofessional, and subject many times of corruption. FASKIANOS: Just to follow up on that, a written question from Patricia Drown, who’s at Regent University. How are the cartels and mafia being armed, and by whom? VIVANCO: Well, in the case of, for instance, Mexico, weapons comes from the U.S. Sometimes even legally. You know, the Second Amendment plays a role here. It’s so easy to have access to weapons, all kind of weapons, in the U.S. So that helps. And a lack of actually an effective control mechanism to stop that type of traffic. The amount of money that cartels moved in countries like Mexico, but Colombia as well, and this mafia scene in Central America is significant. So they do have capacity to corrupt local enforcement officials that belongs to the police, the army, even the judiciary. And as long as you don’t address the root cause of the problem, which is the lack of presence of the state—in other words, there are vast—as you know, there are regions of Colombia that are not under the control of the government, the territories in Colombia. And there are regions of Mexico that, unfortunately, are increasingly under more effective control of cartels than law enforcement and legitimate officials. So that unfortunately, is the—in my view, one of the reasons why it is relatively easy to witness this type of proliferation of illegal business. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. I think we are out of time. We have so many written questions and raised hands. Maybe I’ll just try to sneak in one more from Andrea Cuervo Prados. You have your hand raised. I think you also wrote a question. So if you can be brief and tell us who you are. Q: OK. Hello. I’m adjunct faculty at Dickinson State University. And, Mr. Vivanco, I have a question related to Colombia. What do you think about the state of the human rights in Colombia under the new leftist president, Gustavo Petro, compared to the previous president, Ivan Duque? VIVANCO: Andrea, I think it’s pretty much the same. When we witness actually an improvement of human rights conditions in Colombia, it was during the negotiations with the FARC. I’m referring to the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos. And with the signature of the peace agreement, when they signed the peace agreement, the numbers shows a serious decline in the cases of, for instance, internally displaced people, torture cases, executions, abductions, and many other of those typical abuses that are committed in Colombia in rural areas where this organized crime and irregular armed groups are historically present. But then the policies implemented during the Duque administration were actually not very effective. There was a sort of relaxation during that period, and not effective implementation of those commitments negotiated with the FARC. That had an implication in terms of abuses. And today I don’t see a major shift. My sense is that the local communities are subject of similar abuses, including human rights activists as well as social leaders, in areas where there is a very weak presence of the state. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. José Miguel Vivanco. We really appreciate your being with us today. And I apologize. Great questions. I’m sorry, we couldn’t get to all of the written ones or raised hands. It’s clear we will have to do this—focus in on this again and have you back. You can follow José Miguel on X at @VivancoJM. And the next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, November 29, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Shibley Telhami, who’s a professor at the University of Maryland, will lead a conversation on public opinion on Israel and Palestine. And in the meantime, I encourage you to learn about CFR paid internships for students and fellowships for professors at You can follow us at @CFR_Academic. And visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Again, José Miguel, thank you very much for today, and to all of you for joining us. VIVANCO: Thanks a lot. FASKIANOS: Take care. (END)
  • Military Operations
    Academic Webinar: Military Strategy in the Contemporary World
    Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at CFR and professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, leads the conversation on military strategy in the contemporary world. FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the fall 2023 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share them with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Stephen Biddle with us to discuss military strategy in the contemporary world. Dr. Biddle is an adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at CFR and professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. Before joining Columbia he was professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He regularly lectures at the U.S. Army War College and other military schools and has served on a variety of government advisory panels and analytical teams, testified before congressional committees on issues relating to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; force planning; conventional net assessment; and European arms control, just to name a few. And, finally, Dr. Biddle is the author of numerous scholarly publications and several books, including his most recent, Nonstate Warfare, published by Princeton University in 2021 and he just recently authored a piece in CFR’s magazine Foreign Affairs in the September/October 2023 issue entitled “Back in the Trenches: Why New Technology Hasn’t Revolutionized Warfare in Ukraine,” and we shared that out in the background readings for this conversation. So, Steve, thank you for being with us. I thought you could give us an overview of the changes you’ve seen in military operations as a result of technological innovation and say a few words about wartime military behavior especially as you’ve studied it over the years and what we’re seeing now in Ukraine and now with the Israel-Hamas war. BIDDLE: Yeah, I’d be happy to. There’s a lot going on in the world of military affairs and strategy at the moment between Gaza, Taiwan Straits, and, of course, Ukraine. Maybe as a conversation starter I’ll start with Ukraine but we can go in whatever direction the group wants to go in, and the spoiler alert is in the headline of the article from Foreign Affairs that you’ve already assigned. There’s a big debate over what Ukraine means for the future of warfare and what Ukraine means for the way the United States should organize its military, modernize its equipment, write its doctrine and so on. One of the most common interpretations of what Ukraine means for all this is that it’s harboring—it’s a harbinger of a revolutionary transformation. The new technology, drones, space-based surveillance, precision-guided weapons, hypersonics, networked information, artificial intelligence, this whole panoply of things in this argument is making the modern battlefield so lethal, so radically more lethal than the past is that in the present and in the future offensive maneuver will become impossible and we’ll get the dawn of some new age of defense dominance in conventional warfare, which, if true, would then have all sorts of implications for how the United States should make all these kinds of defense policy decisions. As those of you who read the Foreign Affairs article know I don’t buy it because I don’t think the evidence is consistent with that supposition. You’ll be happy to hear that I’m not planning to do a dramatic reading of the Foreign Affairs essay, entertaining as I’m sure that would be, but I did think it might be useful for me to briefly outline the argument as a way of teeing up the subsequent conversation. And the basic argument in the article is that whereas there are, indeed, all sorts of very new technologies in use in this war, when you actually look carefully at the results they’re producing, at the attrition rates that they’re actually causing, at the ability of the two sides to gain ground and to suffer the loss of ground, the actual results being produced by all this very new technology are surprisingly less new than is assumed and supposed in the argument that we’re looking at some transformational discontinuous moment in which a new age of defense dominance is dawning. This doesn’t mean that nothing’s changing or that the United States military should do in the future exactly what it’s done in the past. But the nature of the change that I think we’re seeing is evolutionary and incremental as it has been for the last hundred years, and if you think what’s going on is incremental evolutionary change rather than discontinuous transformation that then has very different implications for what the U.S. should do militarily. So just to unpack a little bit of that by way of pump priming let me just cite some of the examples of what one actually observes and the outcomes of the use of all these new technologies as we’ve seen in Ukraine. So let’s start with casualty rates and attrition. At the heart of this argument that new technology is creating a new era of defense dominance is the argument that fires have made the battlefield so lethal now that the kind of offensive maneuver you saw in World War II or in 1967 or in 1991 is now impossible. And, yet, the actual attrition rates of, for example, tanks, right—tanks tend to be the weapon system that gets the most attention in this context—are remarkably similar to what we saw in the world wars. So in the first twelve months of the fighting in Ukraine, depending on whose estimates you look at the Russians lost somewhere between about half and about 96 percent of their prewar tank fleet in twelve months of fighting. The Ukrainians lost somewhat in excess of 50 percent of their prewar tank fleet, and intuitively that looks like a heavy loss rate, right? Fifty (percent) to 96 percent of what you opened the war with, that seems pretty—you know, pretty dangerous. But in historical context it’s actually lower than it frequently was in World War II. In 1943, the German army suffered an attrition rate to the tanks it owned at the beginning of the year of 113 percent. They lost more tanks in 1943 than they owned in January 1943. Their casualty rate went up in 1944. They lost 122 percent of all the tanks they owned in January of 1944. So these attrition rates while high aren’t unusually high by historical standards. What about artillery, right? Artillery is the single largest casualty inflicter on the modern battlefield defined as since the turn of the twentieth century, 1900. As far as we can tell the attrition rate from Ukrainian artillery fire of Russian forces in this war looks to be on the order of about eight casualties inflicted per hundred rounds of artillery fired and that’s higher than in World War II but not discontinuously radically higher. In World War II that figure would have been about three casualties per hundred rounds fired. In World War I that figure would have been about two casualties per hundred rounds fired. If you chart that over time what you see is an essentially linear straight line incremental increase over a hundred years of about an additional .05 casualties per hundred rounds fired per year over a century of combat experience. There’s no sudden discontinuous increase as a result of drones or networked information or space-based surveillance at the end of the period. What about ground gain and ground loss? The purpose of attrition on a modern battlefield is to change who controls how much territory and the whole transformation argument is that all this putatively much more lethal technology is making ground gain much, much harder than in the past, and yet the Russia offensive that opened the war, mishandled as it was in so many ways, took over 42,000 square miles of Ukraine in the first couple of months of the war. The Ukrainian Kyiv counteroffensive retook more than 19,000 square miles. Their Kharkiv counteroffensive retook 2,300 square miles. The Kharkiv counteroffensive took back more than 200 square miles. There’s been plenty of defensive stalemate in the war, right? The Russian offensive on Bakhmut took ten months to take the city. Cost them probably sixty (thousand) to a hundred thousand casualties to do it. The Mariupol offensive took three months to take the city. But this war has not been a simple story of technologically determined offensive frustration. There have been offensives that have succeeded and offensives that have failed with essentially the same equipment. Drones didn’t get introduced into the war in the last six months. Drones were in heavy use from the very outset of the fighting and this kind of pattern of some offensives that succeed, some offensives that don’t, like the attrition rate is not particularly new. I mean, the popular imagination tends to see World War I as a trench stalemate created by the new technology of artillery and machine guns and barbed wire and World War II as a world offensive maneuver created by the new technologies of the tank, the airplane, the radio. Neither World War I nor World War II were homogeneous experiences where everything was defensive frustration of World War I and everything was offensive success in World War II. That wasn’t the case in either of the two world wars. The Germans advanced almost to the doorsteps of Paris in the initial war opening offensive in 1914. In 1918, the German spring offenses broke clean through Allied lines three times in a row and produced a general advance by the Allies and the subsequent counteroffensive on a hundred-eighty-mile front. There was a lot of ground that changed hands in World War I as a result of offensives in addition to the great defensive trench stalemate of 1915 to mid-1917. In World War II some of the most famous offensive failures in military history were tank-heavy attacks in 1943 and 1944. The Battle of Kursk on the Russian front cost the German attackers more than a hundred and sixty thousand casualties and more than seven hundred lost tanks. The most tank-intensive offensive in the history of war, the British attack at Operation Goodwood in 1944, cost the British a third of all the British armor on the continent of Europe in just three days of fighting. So what we’ve seen in observed military experience over a hundred years of frequent observational opportunity is a mix of offensive success and defensive success with technologies that are sometimes described as defense dominant and, yet, nonetheless, see breakthroughs and technologies that are sometimes seen as offense dominant and, yet, sometimes produce defensive stalemates and what really varies is not so much driven by the equipment, it’s driven by the way people use it. And the central problem in all of this is that military outcomes are not technologically determined. The effects of technology in war are powerfully mediated by how human organizations use them and there are big variations in the way human organizations use equipment. And if you just look at the equipment alone and expect that that’s going to tell you what the result of combat is going to be and you don’t systematically account for how the human organizations involved adapt to what the technology might do on the proving ground to reduce what it can do on the battlefield then you get radically wrong answers and I would argue that’s what’s going on in Ukraine. Both sides are adapting rapidly and the nature of the adaptations that we’re seeing in Ukraine are very similar to the nature of the adaptations we’ve seen in previous great power warfare. Again, incremental lineal extensions of emphases on cover, emphases on concealment, combined arms, defensive depth, mobile reserve withholds—these are the ways that all great power militaries have responded to increasingly lethal equipment over time to reduce their exposure to the nominal proving ground lethality of weapons in actual practice. The problem is this collection of techniques—and in other work I’ve referred to them as the modern system, this kind of transnational epistemic community of practice and the conduct of conventional warfare—to do all these things right and minimize your exposure is technically very challenging. Some military organizations can manage this very complex way of fighting; others cannot. Some can do it on one front and not on another front, and the result is we get a lot of variance in the degree to which any given military at any given moment embraces the entirety of this doctrinal program. Where they do, defenses have been very hard to break through for a hundred years. This isn’t something that came about in February of 2022 because of drones and networked information. This has been the case repeatedly for a century of actual combat. But where they don’t, where defenses are shallow, where reserve withholds are too small, where combined arms aren’t exploited, where cover and concealment isn’t exploited, then casualty rates go way, way up. Then breakthrough becomes possible. Then attackers can gain a lot of ground with tanks or without tanks. The German offensives that broke clean through Allied defensive lines in 1918 had almost no tanks. The first of them, Operation Michael, was a one-million soldier offensive that had exactly nine tanks in support of it. So the differences that have mattered are the interaction of increasingly lethal technology with these variations and the ability of real human organizations to master the complexity needed to fight in a way that reduces exposure to this and that’s the same thing we’ve seen in Ukraine. Where defenses have been shallow and haven’t had enough reserves behind them you’ve gotten breakthroughs. Where they’ve been deep, adequately backed by reserves, as we’ve seen in this summer counteroffensive over the last three or four months, for example, they’ve not been able to break through and this isn’t a new story. This is just a recapitulation of a hundred years’ worth of military experience. If that’s so then what difference does it make to the U.S.? So, again, as I suggested earlier, that doesn’t mean don’t change anything, right? A 1916 tank on a modern battlefield would not fare well. Part of the stability in these kinds of outcomes is because people change the way they do business. They change the way they fight. They update their equipment. They execute measure/countermeasure races and so we need to continue to do that. Depth is probably going to increase. Reserve withhold requirements are going to go up. Demands for cover and concealment are going to increase. There will be technological implications stemming from the particular measure/countermeasure races that are emerging now especially with respect to drones. Almost certainly the U.S. Army is going to have an incentive, for example, to deploy counter drone escort vehicles as part of the combined arms mix, moving forward. But the principle of combined arms that’s behind so much of the way the U.S. Army fights is very unlikely to change very much. What’s going to happen is a new element will be added to the combined arms mix, and escort jammers and anti-aircraft artillery and other air defense systems that are optimized for drones will become part of the mix of tanks and infantry and engineers and signals and air defense and all the rest, moving forward. The whole revolution argument, though, is not that, right? The reason people refer to this as a revolution, as transformation, is they’re using language that’s designed to tee up the idea that ordinary orthodox incremental updating business as usual isn’t enough in this new era because of drones, because of hypersonics, or space-based surveillance or whatever. We need something more than that, and I think if we look closely at what’s going on in Ukraine what we see is not an argument that we need to transform the way the U.S. military does business. What we see is an argument for incremental change that implies incremental adaptation is appropriate, that it’s not the wrong thing to do. I think it’s possible to over-innovate. I think there are ample historical examples of militaries that have gone wrong not by being resistant to innovation—there are plenty of those, too—but by doing too much innovation. In the 1950s and 1960s U.S. Air Force transformed itself around an idea that conventional warfare is a thing of the past, all wars of the future will be nuclear, and they designed airplanes for nuclear weapon delivery that were horribly ill-suited to the conventional war in Vietnam that they then found themselves in. The U.S. Army transformed its doctrine following a particular understanding of the lethality of precision-guided anti-tank weapons in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, adopted a concept called active defense that relied on static defense in a shallow disposition from fixed positions, emphasizing the ostensible new firepower of anti-tank weapons. Found that that was very innovative but very ineffective and abandoned it in favor of the airline battle doctrine that’s a lineal descendant of the doctrine we use now, which was much more orthodox and conventional. There are plenty of examples of militaries that have over-innovated. This language of revolution and transformation is designed to promote what I’m concerned could be over-innovation again. I think we could talk more about the particulars of what incremental adaptation should comprise but I think that’s the right way forward in light of what we actually observe about what’s going on in Ukraine. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you for that, Steve. That was great. Let’s go now to all of you for your questions. (Gives queuing instructions.) And so don’t be shy. This is your time. We have our first question from Terrence Kleven. Q: Hello. Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. If you could tell us your affiliation that would be great. Q: Yes, very good. Terrence Kleven. I’m at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and I teach in a philosophy and religious studies department and I teach quite a lot of Middle Eastern studies. Thank you very much for your presentation because so much of this we don’t talk about enough and we don’t understand, and I appreciate the opportunity to hear what you have to say and look forward to reading your—some of your material. Just kind of a practical question, why aren’t the Russians using more planes in this war or are they and we just don’t have a report of that? I assume that the Russian air force is much superior to what the Ukrainians have but it doesn’t seem to give them a great advantage. What’s missing? What’s going on? BIDDLE: Yeah. You’re raising a question that has bedeviled military analysts in this war since its beginning. Part of the issue is the definition of what plane is, right? If we define a plane as something that uses aerodynamic lift to fly through the air and perform military missions the Russians are using lots of planes; they just don’t have pilots. We call them drones. But a drone, to a first approximation, is just a particular inexpensive, low-performance airplane that is relatively expendable because it’s inexpensive. But because it’s inexpensive it’s also low performance. If by airplanes one includes drones, then there’s lots of airplane use going on. What you had in mind with the question, I’m sure, is the airplanes that have people in them—why aren’t they more salient in the military conduct of the war, and the Russians have tried to use piloted aircraft. The trouble is the loss rates have kept them, largely, out of the sky. So this again gets back to the question of human adaptation to new technology. Air forces—and navies, by the way, but that’s a different conversation—are much more exposed to more technology increases—the technology changes that produce increasing lethality than ground armies are. Ground armies have much easier access to cover and concealment. It’s hard to find much cover and concealment up there in the sky, right? You’re highlighted against a largely featureless background. There are things you can do as an air force to try and reduce your exposure to precision-guided anti-aircraft weapons and the U.S. Air Force, for example, practices those extensively. But the complexity of operating an air force to be effective at the mission called SEAD—suppression of enemy air defenses—is very high and it requires a lot of practice and it requires a lot of flight hours and it requires you to burn a lot of fuel in training, and the U.S. Air Force is willing to do that. The Russians historically have not. Therefore, they’re not very good at it. Therefore, they’re very—they have been very exposed to the lethality precision-guided Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses and, therefore, they’ve mostly decided not to expose themselves to this fire. They fly mostly over friendly terrain, especially in metropolitan Russia, and they fly at low altitudes that keep them under the radar, which is a cliché that’s leached into public conversation because of the actual physics of the way radar works and responds to the curvature of the earth. If the Russians operate over Russian territory at low altitude and launch cruise missiles at huge distances then their airplanes don’t get shot down as much. But then the airplanes are a lot less effective and contribute a lot less and that’s the tradeoff that the Russians have accepted with respect to the use of airplanes. The airplanes they use a lot are unpiloted cheap low-performance drones which they are willing to get shot down in huge numbers and they do get shot down in huge numbers. But piloted aircraft have played a limited role because the air defense environment is too lethal for an air force with skills no better than the Russians are to survive in it. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Mike Nelson. Q: Thanks for a very interesting overview. I work at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and also have taught at Georgetown on internet policy and the impacts of digital technologies. Seems to me that one of the big changes with this war has been the incredible transparency, more information on what’s actually going on on the ground from social media, satellite photos, drone photos. I saw a tweet today about how they’re able to infer how many Russian soldiers have mutinied by counting these soldiers marching back from the front, presumably under armed guard. It just seems that there’s a lot more information on what’s going on hour by hour. I wonder if that is causing some changes on both the Russian and the Ukrainian side and whether the insertion of disinformation to make it appear that things are going differently than it seems is also something that’s getting better and better. Thank you. BIDDLE: Yeah. I mean, the information environment in Ukraine is complicated in ways that the debate often doesn’t deal with very well, in my view. So starting at the superficial level, public perceptions of what the lethality of first-person view kamikaze drones has been against tanks and artillery are wildly exaggerated and the reason why the public impression is wildly exaggerated is because the medium formerly known as Twitter puts up endless videos of successful attacks. But nobody posts a video of their failed attack so we only see the subset of all drone missions that succeeded. The ones that don’t are invisible. Therefore, the public gets this impression that all—that there are successful drone missions by the millions all the time and that that’s—there are serious selection effects with the way the public understands drone success rates in light of that. So one point is that the apparent transparency is subject to a variety of selection biases that lead to misunderstandings of the transparency on the battlefield as a whole. Similarly, there are lots of videos of images of Russian soldiers in a trench and especially videos of Russian soldiers in a trench before a quadcopter drone drops a grenade on them and then kills them. You don’t see any video feeds of a drone flying over a camouflaged position where you can’t see anything because nobody’s going to post that, right? It’s not interesting enough. But, therefore, again, we get the selection effect. People believe that everything is visible and everything is transparent because every video feed they see, and they see a lot of them, shows a visible target. The trouble is you’re not seeing the failed drone missions that didn’t produce a visible target and those are the vast majority as far as we can tell from more careful analyses that try to look at the totality of drone missions rather than just the selected subset that appear on now X, formerly Twitter. Now, that leads to the general issue of how transparent is the modern battlefield and I would argue that the modern battlefield is a lot less transparent than people popularly imagine that it is. The cover and concealment available in the earth’s surface to a military that’s capable of exploiting it is still sufficient to keep a sizeable fraction of both militaries’ targets invisible to the other side most of the time and that’s why the artillery casualty rate hasn’t gone up dramatically as a result of all this. It’s because cover and concealment is still keeping most of the targets out of the way. So I would argue the battlefield is less transparent than we often assume that it is and in part that’s because the systems that would generate information are countered by the other side so that they generate less information. Again, take drones, which have been the thing that everybody’s been focusing on. There have been multiple waves of measure/countermeasure races just on the technical side, setting aside technical adaptation, with respect to drones already. When the war opened the primary drone in use, especially on the Ukrainian side, was the Bayraktar TB2, Turkish-built large, you know, capable, fairly expensive drone which was very lethal against exposed Russian armored columns. Then several things happened. One is the armored columns decided to get less exposed. Smart move on the Russians’ part. The other thing is the air defense system under the Russians adapted and started shooting down Bayraktar TB2s at a huge rate to the point where the Ukrainians stopped flying them because they were so vulnerable and, instead, drones shifted from big expensive higher performance drones to smaller, cheaper, lower performance drones, which were so cheap that it didn’t make sense to fire expensive guided anti-aircraft missiles at them anymore and then the air defense environment shifted to emphasize jamming, which is even cheaper than the drones, and anti-aircraft artillery firing bullets that are cheaper than drones. So the systems that would create this transparency and that would give you this information don’t get a free ride. The opponent systematically attacks them and systematically changes the behavior of the target so that the surviving seekers have less to find, and in addition to cover and concealment and complementary to it is dispersion and what dispersion of ground targets does is even if you find a target it may very well not be worth the expenditure of an expensive precision munition to kill. A guided 155-millimeter artillery shell costs on the order of a hundred thousand dollars a shell. If you’re shooting it at a concentrated platoon of enemy infantry that’s a good expenditure. If you’re shooting it at a dispersed target where they’re in one- or two-soldier foxholes now even if you know where all the foxholes are—even if your drones have survived, the concealment has failed and the drone has accurately located where every single two-soldier foxhole is does it make sense to fire a $100,000 guided artillery shell at each of them or are you going to run out of guided artillery shells before they run out of foxholes, right? So the net of all of this—the technical measure/countermeasure race and the tactical adaptation is that I would argue that the battlefield is actually not as transparent as people commonly assume. If it were we’d be seeing much higher casualty rates than what we’re actually seeing. There’s incremental change, right? The battlefield is more transparent now, heaven knows, than it was in 1943. But the magnitude of the difference and the presence of technical measures and countermeasures is incremental rather than transformational and that’s a large part of the reason why the change in results has been incremental rather than transformational. FASKIANOS: So we have a lot of questions but I do want to just ask you, Steve, to comment on Elon Musk’s—you know, he shut down his Starlink satellite communications so that the Ukrainians could not do their assault on the—on Russia. I think it was the submersible—they were going to strike the Russian naval vessels off of Crimea. So that, obviously—the technology did affect how the war was—the battlefield. BIDDLE: It did, but you’ll notice that Crimea has been attacked multiple times since then and metropolitan Russia has been attacked multiple times since then. So there are technical workarounds. On the technical side rather than the tactical side there are multiple ways to skin a cat. One of these has been that the U.S. has tried to make Ukraine less dependent on private satellite communication networks by providing alternatives that are less subject to the whims of a single billionaire. But tactical communications of the kind that Starlink has enabled the Ukrainians are very useful, right? No doubt about it, and that’s why the U.S. government is working so hard to provide alternatives to commercial Starlink access. But even there, even if you didn’t have them at all the Ukrainian military wouldn’t collapse. I mean, in fact, most military formations were taught how to function in a communications-constrained environment because of the danger that modern militaries will jam their available communication systems or destroy communication nodes or attack the satellites that are providing the relays. Certainly, the U.S. military today is not prepared to assume that satellite communications are always going to be available. We train our soldiers how to operate in an environment in which those systems are denied you because they might be. So, again, I mean, tactical adaptation doesn’t eliminate the effects of technological change—having Starlink, being denied Starlink, right, this Musk-owned communication satellite constellation that was the source of all the kerfuffle. It’s not irrelevant whether you have it or not but it’s less decisive than you might imagine if you didn’t take into account the way that militaries adapt to the concern that they might be denied them or that the enemy might have them and they might not, which are serious concerns. Certainly, if the U.S. and Russia were true belligerents both the danger of anti-satellite warfare destroying significant fractions of those constellations is serious, or jamming or otherwise making them unavailable is a serious problem so militaries try to adapt to deal with it—with their absence if they have to. FASKIANOS: Great. We have a question—a written question from Monica Byrne at—a student at Bard College: Can you share thoughts and strategy for Israel and Gaza, given the conditions in Gaza? BIDDLE: Yeah. So shifting gears now from Ukraine to the Middle East, given Israel’s declared war aim, right—if Israel’s aim is to topple the Hamas regime and then hopefully replace it with something that’s another conversation. But let’s for the moment just talk about the military dynamics of realizing their stated war aim of toppling the Hamas regime. That will certainly require a ground invasion that reoccupies at least temporarily the entirety of Gaza, right? Airstrikes aren’t going to accomplish that war aim. Special forces raids aren’t going to accomplish that war aim. The Hamas administrative apparatus is, A, too large and, B, too easily concealed, especially underground, for those kinds of techniques to be sufficient. So if the Israelis really are going to topple Hamas a large-scale ground invasion is needed. That has obvious horrible implications for collateral damage and civilian fatalities in Gaza—urban warfare is infamously destructive of capital and of civilian human life—but also for military casualties to the Israelis. Urban warfare is a radically advantageous military environment for defenders and so Israel inevitably will take serious losses if they really expect to completely reoccupy Gaza as would be needed to depose Hamas. Now, there are ways that conventional militaries can try and reduce either the loss of innocent civilian life or casualty rates to their own forces but none of these things are perfect and the techniques militaries use to reduce civilian fatalities can be exploited by defenders who want to take advantage of them to increase Israeli military casualties and limit the Israelis’ ability to limit collateral damage. You can fire only at identified targets and not at entire buildings. You can use small-caliber weapons rather than large-caliber artillery and missiles. You can warn the civilian occupants of a building either with leaflets or text messages or the Israeli technique that’s called knocking on the roof where they drop a nonexplosive weapon on the ceiling to create a sound that tells the occupants they are about to be attacked so they leave. There are a variety of things like that that you can do and that the U.S. should hope that the Israelis are going to do. But the whole problem here is that the Hamas political and military infrastructure is deeply intermingled with the civilian population in Gaza, and so even if you’re going to be as discriminating as modern technology and military skill potentially could make you, you’re still going to kill a lot of civilians and Hamas is not going to conveniently remove the military infrastructure from the civilian population to make it easier for the Israelis to kill the fighters and not kill the civilians. They’re going to keep them tightly intermingled. Now, the Israelis can reduce their losses by being slower and more deliberate and methodical in the way they enter Gaza. There’s been a discussion in recent weeks about the difference between Mosul and Fallujah and the U.S. experience of urban warfare in Iraq. In Fallujah, we entered quickly with a large ground force that was fairly dependent on small arms direct fire and relatively less reliant on artillery and airstrikes. In Mosul with Iraqi allies on the ground, we did the opposite. Very slow entry. The campaign took months. Limited exposure, small-caliber weapons, heavy emphasis on airstrikes and artillery to reduce the ground—even so, thousands of civilians were killed in Mosul. Even so, our Iraqi allies took serious casualties. There’s no way for the Israelis to do this Gaza offensive if they’re going to realize their war aim that won’t destroy Gaza, kill a lot of civilians, and suffer a lot of casualties themselves. All these things are marginal differences at the most. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Dan Caldwell. Q: Oh, Steve, thanks very much for a very interesting overview. I’d like to raise another subject that is, obviously, very broad but I would really appreciate your comments on it and that’s the question of intelligence and its relationship to military operations that you’ve described. Broadly speaking, we can separate out tactical intelligence from strategic intelligence, and in the case of tactical intelligence the use of breaking down terrorists’ cell phones’ records and things like contributed to military successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a strategic sense, the breaking of the Japanese codes, Purple, and the Ultra Enigma secret in World War II contributed to the Allies’ success, and in terms of the Middle East the strategic failures of Israeli intelligence in 1973 and, I would argue, in the recent Hamas attacks contributed to the losses that Israel has suffered. So how do you think about the relationship of intelligence to military strategy? BIDDLE: Yeah. I mean, intelligence is central to everything in security policy, right? It’s central to forcible diplomacy. It’s central to preparation for war. It’s central to the conduct of military. So intelligence underlies everything. All good decision making requires information about the other side. The intelligence system has to provide that. The ability of the intelligence system to create transformational change is limited. Let’s take the national level strategic intelligence question first and then we’ll move to things like Ultra and battlefield uses. As you know, the problem of military surprise has been extensively studied, at least since the 1973 war in which Israel was famously surprised by the Egyptian attack in the Sinai. There’s been an extensive scholarly focus on this problem of intelligence failure and surprise—how can this possibly happen. And the central thrust of that literature, I would argue, has been that almost always after a surprise you discover later that the surprised intelligence system had information that should have told them an attack was coming. They almost always receive indicators. They almost always get photographic intelligence. All sorts of pieces of information find their way into the owning intelligence system. And yet, they got surprised anyway. How could this happen? And the answer is that the information has to be processed by human organizations, and the organizational challenges and the cognitive biases that individuals have when they’re dealing with this information combine in such a way to frequently cause indicators not to be understood and used and exploited to avoid surprise and part of the reason for that—the details, of course, are extensive and complex. But part of the reason for that is you get indicators of an attack that didn’t—that then didn’t happen way more often than you get the indicators of the attack that does happen. You get indicators all the time but usually there’s no attack and the trick then is how do you distinguish the indicator that isn’t going to become an attack from the indicator that is going to become the attack when you’ve always got both. And if you—especially in a country like Israel where mobilizing the reserves has huge economic consequences, if you mobilize the reserves every time you get indicators of an attack you exhaust the country and the country stops responding to the indicators anymore. It’s the cry wolf problem. I mean, the first couple of times you cry wolf people take it seriously. The eighth, ninth, tenth, twelfth time they don’t. So because of this the ability to change, to do away with surprise, with, for example, new technology, all right, a more transparent world in which we have a better ability to tap people’s cell phones and tap undersea cables to find out what governments are saying to themselves we have better ability to collect information. But there are still organizational biases, cognitive problems, and just the basic signal-to-noise, wheat-to-chaff ratio issue of lots and lots of information, most of which is about an attack that isn’t going to happen. And distinguishing that from the ones that are going to happen is an ongoing problem that I doubt is going to be solved because it isn’t a technological issue. It resides in the structure of human organizations and the way the human mind operates to filter out extraneous and focus on important sensory information, and human cognitive processes aren’t changing radically and human organizations aren’t either. So at the strategic level I don’t see transformation coming soon. Then we’ve got the battlefield problem of what about intercepted communications, for example, which have changed the historiography of World War II in an important way. We’ll note that that didn’t cause the Allies to defeat the Germans in 1944, right? I mean, the Allies cracked the German and the Japanese codes long before the war ended and, yet, the war continued, and this gets back to this question of how militaries adapt to the availability of information about them on the other side. At sea where there’s not a lot of terrain for cover and concealment, right, then these kinds of communications intercepts were more important and as a result the Japanese navy was, largely, swept from the Pacific long before the war ended in 1945. But wars are ultimately usually about what goes on on land, and on land even if you intercept people’s communications if they’re covered, concealed, dispersed, and in depth being able to read German communications, which we could do in 1944, didn’t enable us to quickly break through, rapidly drive to Berlin and end the war three months after the Normandy invasions. In spite of the fact that we could read the communications traffic we couldn’t do those things because the communications traffic is only part of success and failure on the battlefield. So if that was the case in World War II where we had, you know, unusually good comment and usually good ability to break the enemy’s codes and read their message traffic, again, I would argue that improvements in intelligence technology today were certainly helpful, and they’re worth having and we should pursue them and use them, but it’s not likely to transform combat outcomes in a theater of war any more than—to a radically greater degree than it did when we had that kind of information in 1944. FASKIANOS: So I’m going to combine the next two questions because they’re about innovation from the Marine Corps University and Rutgers University: You mentioned over innovation. Can you explain what that is and how it can be detrimental? And then are you concerned that the Department of Defense R&D program could be at risk of being out of balance by over emphasizing advanced technology versus getting useful technology deployed and into the field? BIDDLE: I think that’s one of the most important implications of this war is that the United States has historically chosen to get way out on the envelope of what technology makes possible for weapon acquisition, creating extremely expensive weapons that we can buy in very small numbers that we evaluate and we decide to buy because of their proving ground potential because what they can do against targets that haven’t adapted to them yet. What the record of adaptation in Ukraine, I think, shows is that the actual lethality of very sophisticated weapons is not as high as it looks on a proving ground because the targets are going to be noncooperative and the real-world performance of extremely expensive sophisticated technologies is normally less than it looks, and if that’s the case we are probably overspending on very sophisticated, very expensive weapons which we can only buy in very small numbers and which if they don’t produce this radical lethality wouldn’t be worth the expenditure that they cost. And if the adaptation of the target is going to reduce their lethality and increase their vulnerability, which is certainly what we’re observing in Ukraine, then we’re going to have a dickens of a time replacing them when they get lost, right, because very sophisticated high technology weapons, among other things, require a supply chain of materials that are often quite scarce—rare earths, cobalt, lithium. One of the reasons why the American Defense Industrial Base has had a hard time responding rapidly to the demands that the expenditure rate of things in Ukraine has created is because of these complicated supply chains that we can manage when we’re building things in small numbers, which we think is sufficient because we’re expecting that each one of them is going to be tremendously lethal. If we now realize that they’re less lethal in practice than we expect them to be and therefore we need larger numbers of them, how are we going to get the materials we need to do that? And the experience in Ukraine has been that the kind of revolution in military affairs expectation for the lethality of high technology just hasn’t been realized. Yes, weapons are very lethal in Ukraine, but not orders of magnitude differently than they were in 1944, right, and so I think this ought to suggest to us that the historical post-World War II U.S. strategy emphasizing very high technology at very high cost in very small numbers to compensate for small numbers with radical lethality may very well be misguided. It works well when you’re fighting an opponent like the Iraqis who can’t handle the complexity of cover and concealment, combined arms, and all the rest. They’re exposed and the weapons have the kind of proving ground effect that you expect because the targets are not undercover. Not clear that it has been producing that kind of results in Ukraine and it’s not clear that it would produce those kinds of results for the United States in a coming great power conflict. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going take the next question from Genevieve Connell at the Fordham graduate program in international political economy and development. How much does successful military strategy rely on stable domestic economic systems to fund it or is this less of an issue when one or both sides have strong geopolitical support and aid? BIDDLE: War is very expensive, as the Ukraine war is reminding us, right? This isn’t news. The expenditure rates in modern industrial age warfare are massively expensive to maintain and that in turn means that the strength of the national economy is a fundamental foundational requirement for success in modern great power warfare. This, of course, leads to the set of tradeoffs that are fundamental in grand strategy, right? Grand strategy, as opposed to operational art, military strategy, or tactics, integrates military and nonmilitary means in pursuit of the ultimate security objectives of the state and one of the more important of the nonmilitary means is the economy. So you need a large GDP to support a large expensive war effort. The way you maximize GDP is with international trade. International trade makes you vulnerable to cutoff in time of war through blockade. Therefore, if we just maximize GDP in the short run we run the risk—we increase our vulnerability in time of war or blockades. We say: Oh, no, we don’t want to do that. Let’s reduce the amount of international trade we do, make ourselves more self-sufficient. Now GDP growth rates go down and now the size of the military you can support in steady state goes down. There’s a fundamental tradeoff involving the interaction between classically guns and butter in the way you design the economy in support of the grand strategy you have in mind for how you’re going to pursue your security interest in the international system at any given time. So, yeah, a productive expanding economy is essential if you plan to be able to afford the cost of modern warfare. The implications for what that means for things like international trade, though, are complicated. FASKIANOS: Great. I’ll try to sneak in one last question from David Nachman. Q: Thank you. Thank you for this really interesting presentation. I teach at the Yale Law School, nothing related to the topic of today’s submission and discussion. I’m just wondering, and you captured it towards the end here where you said something about wars are won and lost on land. With the advent of cyber and all the technological development that we’re seeing in our armed forces is that still true as a matter, you know, and are we—is the Ukraine and even Gaza experience sort of nonrepresentative of the true strategic threats that the United States as opposed to its allies really faces at sea and in the air? BIDDLE: Yeah. Let me briefly address cyber but then extend it into the sea and the air. One of the interesting features of cyber is it’s mostly been a dog that hasn’t barked, at least it hasn’t barked very loudly. There were widespread expectations as Russia was invading that cyberattacks would shut down the Ukrainian economy, would shut down the Ukrainian military effort, or vice versa, and neither of those things have happened. So I don’t—there have been plenty of cyberattacks, right, and there have been plenty of efforts at break in and surveillance and manipulation. So far none of them have been militarily decisive and it’s an interesting and I think still open question for the cyber community about why that has been so and what, if anything, does that tell us about the future of cyber threats to national military projects. But so far it hasn’t radically—it hasn’t produced a result that would have been different in the pre-cyber era. Now, when I say wars are won on land what I mean by that is that people live on the land, right? People don’t live in the air and people don’t live on the surface of the water. People live on land. Economies are on land. Populations are on land. That means that usually the stakes that people fight wars over are things having to do with the land. That doesn’t mean that navies and air forces are irrelevant. We own a large one. I’m in favor of owning a large one. The Navy—my friends in the Navy would be very upset if I said otherwise. But the purpose of the Navy is to affect people who live on the land, right? In classic Mahanian naval strategy the purpose of the Navy is destroy the opposing fleet, blockade the enemy’s ports, destroy the enemy’s commerce, and ruin the land-based economy and it’s the effect of the land-based economy that causes surrender or compromise or concession to the opponent or whatever else ends the war in ways that you hope are favorable to you. What this means then is that especially where we’re dealing with large continental powers like Russia, classically—China’s an interesting sub case but let’s talk about Russia—the ability to influence the Russian decision-making calculus that leads to an end to a war or the beginning of a war without affecting the life of people on land is very limited. Cyber has not proven able to do that. Air attack historically has not been a good tool for doing that. Navies do that by affecting the land-based economy and I don’t see that changing rapidly anytime soon. FASKIANOS: Well, Steve, thank you very much for this really insightful hour. I’m sorry to all of you we couldn’t get to the questions, raised hands, so we’ll just have to have you back. And thanks to all those of you who did ask questions. I commend to you, again, Steve Biddle’s Foreign Affairs piece, “Back in the Trenches,” and hope you will read that. Our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, November 8, at 1:00 p.m. (EST) with José Miguel Vivanco, who is an adjunct senior fellow here for human rights, to talk about human rights in Latin America. So, Steve, thank you again. BIDDLE: Thanks for having me. FASKIANOS: And I—yes. And I’d just encourage you all to learn about CFR paid internships for students and fellowships for professors at Our tenured professor and our fellowship deadlines is at the end of October. I believe it’s October 31, so there’s still time. And you can follow us on X at CFR_Academic. Visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Thank you all again for being with us today. (END)
  • Africa Program
    Academic Webinar: Africa on the Global Stage
    Landry Signé, senior fellow in the global economy and development program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and executive director and professor of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, leads the conversation about Africa on the global stage. FASKIANOS: Thank you and welcome to today’s session of the Fall 2023 CFR Academic Webinar series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, And, as always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Landry Signé with us to discuss Africa on the global stage. Dr. Signé is a senior fellow in the global economy and development program and the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings Institution. He’s also a professor, executive director, and the founding codirector of The Globalization 4.0 and Fourth Industrial Revolution Initiative at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, and distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Center for African Studies. He serves as chairman of the Global Network for Africa’s Prosperity and is also the author of numerous scholarly publications and several books. His most recent is entitled, Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. And it was published by Cambridge University Press this summer. So, Dr. Signé, thank you very much for being with us today. I’m going to throw you a very big question, and you can take us in the direction you would like, by talking about the important challenges and opportunities facing countries across Africa. SIGNÉ: Hello, everyone. And thank you so much, Dr. Irina, for so kind an introduction. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you today. So when it comes to Africa, I want to highlight a few key trends why Africa is playing such an important role in the global sphere. So the first thing that I want to share to everyone is Africa’s transformation is more substantial than what most people will think. And this is for many reasons. One is that, especially pre-pandemic, trade and in and with the rest of the world have grown for about 300 percent, which exceeds the global average of a little bit less than 200 percent. So that is a key dimension to highlight. And this is also driven by the competition between emerging countries, such as, of course, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, China, and more established and industrialized nations such as the United States, France, and others. So that is one of the key trends that I want to highlight. So Africa is richer and is transforming much more than what most people will be thinking. So the second trend that I also want to highlight, why Africa is so important in the global sphere, is that by the end of this century Africa could reach about 40 percent of the global population. Listen, I said 40 percent. So this is incredible, especially as the continent represent now only about 17 percent of the global population. So that is a key dimension to take into consideration when speaking about Africa, how Africa engages with the rest of the world. A third trend that I also want to highlight is really the rise of global partnerships and the competition, as I highlighted, between emerging and established powers. So, as a matter of fact, between 2006 and 2016, for example, China trades with Africa surge with imports increasing by 233 percent, and exports increasing by about 53 percent. This is a substantial growth in engagement. And if we compare—so with Russia, for example, it was about 142 percent of change in imports from Africa and about 168 percent change in exports with Africa. So in comparison, and with the rest of the world was only about 56 percent for change in imports and 18 percent for change in export. So this is another key trend. And a country like the United States still needs to expand and to do much more in terms of those engagement. This also apply with—to the countries in the European Union in general. So another trend that I want to highlight is really the, let’s say, fast urbanization that we see on the continent. So the continent will be growing from about five cities—will reach about five cities of more than ten million inhabitants, in comparison of only three in 2015. And will exceed fifteen cities of more than five million inhabitants, in comparison of about five to six in the recent year. So another point, when people speak about Africa, I want to speak about industrialization in Africa. Of course, we have to acknowledge the diversity of the continent. Some would say fifty-four member states, because we have about—those other ones recognized by the United Nations. But don’t be surprised if you also hear people mentioning instead fifty-five countries, because the Western Sahara is also consider as a member of the African Union. So when speaking about industrialization, people may—some people may consider Africa as deindustrializing. But that is because they’re not looking at one of the things that we call at the Brookings Institution industries without smokestacks. Those industries are important because they have similar characteristic when they compare to traditional manufacturing. And those similar characteristics include, for example, the tradability, they are labor intensive, and the store—they absorb a high quantity of moderately skilled workers. But they are also—they also have a high level of productivity. Irina, you mentioned my book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I want to connect, because when people speak about digitalization, innovation, they will mostly think about the Silicon Valley. They will think about some of the emerging nations—Israel, India—in addition to the U.S., of course. A key dimension to highlight is that in the 1990s New York City had more mobile phone subscribers than the entire continent of Africa, where now the continent has hundreds of millions of mobile phone subscribers. So in addition, we have disruptive innovations such as mobile banking, with M-PESA, for example, which is a digital application allow—which allow to provide banking services, digital banking services, to African citizens. This is another illustration of the important dynamics with Africa. Let me finish with about two or three additional points, and I’m looking very much forward to the conversation. I will highlight the critical importance of regional integration. We have, for example, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which was adopted in 2018, ratified by a sufficient number of country in 2019, and was officially launched in January 2021. And that is an incredible speed from the signing to the coming into force of the second-largest trade organization in the world, or let’s say trade area in the world, after the World Trade Organization, of course, in terms of number of countries. So this is a key dimension. And another trend to highlight, despite some of the challenges that we see in many African countries in terms of democratic retreat. The overall trend is that African citizens want democracy. So they want accountability. But they also want democracy to deliver. And let me finish with a trend related to business. The combined consumer and business spending in Africa will reach or exceed $16 trillion U.S. dollars by 2050, and about $6.7 trillion U.S. dollars by 2030. So Africa really is a place with phenomenal opportunities, despite the challenges that we see. Climate change affects Africa more than other regions, for example. Some of the most vulnerable countries in terms of state fragility. We have, as I also mentioned, some democratic recession. But despite those challenges, the continent is really growing and is really transforming at a very important pace. And I enthusiastically look forward to engaging, to answering your many questions. Thank you so much. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. That was a great overview. Obviously, this is such a big topic. So now we’re going to go to all of you for your questions. (Gives queuing instructions.) Alright, so the first question we’re going to take is from Pearl Robinson. Pearl over to you. Q: Hello. Very pleased to meet you. I have a question, something I’m going to ask you to do. I’m at Tufts University. FASKIANOS: Thanks, Pearl. Q: Can you use this wonderful, optimistic introduction, and connect it with a discussion of the wave of coups in the West African Sahel? Because I find myself having to talk about both. And I thought that you began with the last decade’s narrative of Africa’s growth and opportunities. And today, everybody is talking about democratic decline and all of these coups in the context of everything. So I’d like you to put your talk onto an introduction for me to talk about the coup situation. SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Thank you so much for the question. So I have studied the—also the democratic situation in Africa from the—from the independence to the last decade. And one of the reasons, of course, when you have democratic interruption, there are serious reasons to be concerned. And this is mostly related to the ability of democratic governance to deliver. Typically when democracy is promoted with many of the Africans, one of the key argument which was chose is that democracy allows citizens to have a better standard of living, deliver economic outcomes, education, health, security, good governance, less corruption, among others. And many of the countries which have faced a coup are countries—when you think about Mali, we think about Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, among others—there are countries where citizen are facing serious economic—a serious economic situation, deteriorated by the pandemic, of course. They are not the only country but deteriorated by the pandemic. You also have a question—the security question in the Sahel especially, with violent extremism. But I want to put things in perspective because democratic development is a slow-moving process. And although it is very unfortunate some of the development that you are seeing in terms of coups, when you look at Africa in the long-term perspective, when I was looking, for example, in the 1980s, almost the entire continent was red. Red, meaning authoritarian. But now the majority of African countries have elections. More than half of those country have free, fair, and transparent, meaningful elections. They are able to choose their government. And this so I’d just highlight those point, to say I classify those countries—I had them in four categories. So one was the uninterrupted democracy. So the countries which once they become democracies, they remain uninterrupted democratic. And those countries are outperforming overall, economically speaking and with many of the other benefits of democracy that I’ve mentioned. But the countries which are interrupted are mostly the countries where democracy is not necessarily delivering wealth. But will that change the broader trend on the continent? I don’t think so. So I think, yes, we have to acknowledge those challenges. We have to act vigorously to address them to reduce the negative impact. But those are not necessarily—I don’t think that that makes Africa a hopeless continent, as depicted by the Economist in the early 2000s, as discussed before. I’ll pause there. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take a written question from Tanisha Fazal’s student Jack Drouin, and they’re at the University of Minnesota: Will Africa as a whole ever compete at the same level as the United States and China in international trade and production? SIGNÉ: So the idea behind the African continental trade area is to make Africa stronger internationally when dealing with the rest of the world, while unlocking also the potential of trade within Africa. For example, when African countries trade with one another, more than 40 percent of products exported are manufactured products. Which mean that they create jobs and opportunities for young people, for women, for the economy. They accelerate industrialization. And when African countries trade with the rest of the world, about only 17 percent of those countries—of those—of the products exported are manufactured products. So the idea really behind the African Continental Free Trade Area is not just to grow African trade with—and improve countries’ trading with one another. But it is also really to make Africa stronger when engaging with other countries. As a matter of fact, Africa still represents less than 3 percent of global exports. So this the reason why when I engage with some leaders, some are wondering if whether the AfCFTA was really needed. There is no doubt that the African Continental Free Trade Area was needed, because partnering and coming together to engage with them makes the continent stronger. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’ve never seen so many questions. So I’m going to go next to Fordham IPED. They have their raised hand. It’s the International Political Economy and Development Program at Fordham. Q: Hi. My name is Julisha. I’m a student here at Fordham in the IPED Program. And thank you for your presentation, Landry, if I may call you that—I’m sorry, Professor. My question is—and I come from the continent. My question to you is, you seem very optimistic about Africa, as we call it. But why exactly? What gives you this optimism, given the fact that different countries have varying problems, and also we’ve got different levels of infrastructure and productive capacities? And then also, we haven’t had that much success in relation to the regional FTAs. So why optimistic specifically about this one? Should we focus more on maybe building stronger regional bodies and then come together as one consortium? SIGNÉ: Thank you so much for your question. I don’t think that it is either/or. And you have to put in perspective also, again, when—I like to look at things from a historical perspective, putting things in context. And when we put things in context—again, I mentioned, for example, before, in less than a couple of decades Africa went from being a continent almost full of authoritarianism, to a continent where in perhaps the past six, seven years you have had an incredibly important number of countries which where the incumbent lost the election or was changed through an electoral process. So those are important gains not to overlook. When we also speak about poverty, for example, so we are also seeing positive—although, and I published an article at Brookings about it—why, despite the fast economic growth just before the pandemic, the continent had an important number of poverty. The key dimension here was poverty in terms of percentage of the population went down, but the continent is also growing at a fast rate, the population of the continent. So which means that even if you’re in relative number you have a reduction of poverty, in absolute number we can still have an important number of poor. But if you also put that further in context, by removing—of course, you could not remove them—but by considering Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo, which are countries with the highest concentration—not the highest, but an important number of poor, the picture related to poverty on the continent will be very different. Another reason of my lucid optimism is that Africa—more than 50 percent of the African—close to 60 percent of the African population is below the age of twenty-five. So what this means, that everything is possible in an incredibly short duration. You probably know what we have named the Cheetah—what George Ayittey has named the Cheetah Generation. So the generation of young Africans who are dynamic, they are innovative, in opposition to the elephant who are moving slowly. So this is also another characteristic. When you look at innovation and you look at entrepreneurship, the general entrepreneurship survey globally, when you compare Africa to the rest of the world, the percentage of optimism, of interest in innovation, in entrepreneurship, of willingness and of respect for the field is also higher in general. So, again, I understand why most people will be focusing on challenges versus opportunity. But you also know, like me, that when in 2000 the Economist wrote that article about a hopeless Africa, in 2011 they wrote another issue about Africa rising, apologizing about their previous assessment. Because six to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies in the first decade—the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century, were located in Africa. So yes, we have numerous challenges. But most countries, which were at the level of development of many of the African countries, have also had challenges. So. yes, we have to address those challenges. And that is also part of what my work does with the Brookings Institution—identifying how to bridge the gap between the policy intentions and the implementation outcome. And a part of doing that is also to shift the mindset from looking exclusively at the challenges that Africa is facing, to also think about what are the opportunities? How can we identify those opportunities? How can we transform those opportunities into reality, into positive outcomes? Because the young generation in Africa deserve it. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question from Dayanara Miranda, who’s an undergraduate student at Lewis University: My question is, besides agricultural and mineral resources, what other markets can African countries enter to grow their economies? SIGNÉ: So, that is another extremely important question. And let me say, overall Africa—so, it depends as to whether we are speaking about the consumer spending, household consumptions, or whether we are speaking about business spending. In terms of household consumption, by 2030 the continent will receive about $2.5 trillion U.S. dollars of household consumption or consumer spending. And some of the largest sector include food and beverage because people need to eat, but also include housing, healthcare, financial services, transportation, and education. So to put things in perspective, African countries will be growing faster in some of those sectors compared to the growth of other developing economies. Now, if I also think now about the business-to-business spending, so the continent will be home of about—of more than $4 trillion U.S. dollars by 2030. Of course, the largest area for that spending will include agriculture and agri-processing. But we will also have manufacturing, construction, utilities, transportation, wholesalers, and retailers in terms of resources. So, yes, a place—Africa is an important business destination for people who are, again, open to identify opportunities and to manage the risk. Of course, have risk, but those risks also exist in Latin America, exist in the Middle East. exist in the broader—in the broader Asia, and also in the—in some of the advanced economies. So, again, I think, like, a change of mindset is important. One of the reasons why China become the first trade partner of Africa, the first investor in infrastructure amount order, is because while other countries were looking at the challenges that Africa is facing, China and other emerging countries were looking at opportunity and how to manage their risk amount order. Of course, that is not to say that the Chinese model of engagement is necessarily the right one, but it’s just to say that the difference of mindset may explain why some country may be identifying more opportunities than other. But I’m also very happy to highlight the fact that recently, the U.S. administration has also been very much active—much more active in terms of engaging with Africa from an economic perspective, from an opportunity business perspective, including the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Thank you. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Dorian Brown Crosby. Q: Yes. Hello. Thank you, Professor Signé, for this discussion. I’m from Spelman College. And I do have a question regarding remittances. Can you speak to the current impact of remittances that those in the diaspora are sending to African countries? And how is that affecting Africa’s economic trajectory? Or even speak to a specific country. Thank you. SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Thank you very much for the questions. Remittances are playing a key role in Africa. In some of the countries they are exceeding even, let’s say, the official development assistance. So that is a key point to highlight. Perhaps the nuance that I want to bring is that most of the remittances are sent for consumption, for family consumptions, among others. A shift that we may want to see happen is to turn—(inaudible)—to increase perhaps those remittances, and especially the category of remittances, shifting only from consumption, for productive use, for economic use, for entrepreneurial activities, as well on the continent. But, yes, remittances are key for development. They are extremely important. They are making a difference. And I connect with that question with the notion of diaspora. The rising role of the diaspora is also one of the key trends. Of course, I didn’t—I wanted to be brief in my preliminary comments, but diaspora are really playing a key role in fostering the relations between Africa and the rest of the world. They play the role of investor. You have also the remittances, as you have just mentioned. They are diplomat. In addition of the higher representation that we are also seeing of people of African origin in international organizations, whether we speak about the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Finance Corporation, among other. So there’s really a trend where the diaspora playing a key role, both financially to remittances and have an increased demand, also for investment. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to combine two questions, two written questions, because they are along the same lines. One from Thomas at Oklahoma State University and Kihoa from Adelphi University, and it has to do with China: China’s trade with—China’s aid to Africa, is it purely altruistic? Should African states be receiving Chinese aid? And should Africa be giving aid to historically authoritarian regimes? And then the second question is to have you talk a little bit about the Belt and Road Initiative, and how that initiative is influencing trading partners with other Western countries. SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Thank you for the important question. So let me—to further speak about China in Africa, some key trends to highlight is that, first, you have an exponential growth of exports to Africa, increase imports from Africa, substantial lending to African countries. So China is already one of those, the major lending on transport, power, and mining, the Ex-Im Bank is really leading the way in terms of loans. I do prefer to speak about development versus assistance, development finance instead of developing assistance, or on the longer term, a growing trend in terms of FDI. So China is dominating also the important investment on the continent. You have an important presence of Chinese workers, and forgot—not to forget the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which remains critical to an action of the multiplication of the of the Confucius Institutes on the continent. Despite that important presence, a key element you mentioned is that per Afrobarometer survey, African citizen still prefer the U.S. model of development to the Chinese one. So this is an important dimension that I want to highlight. And whether China is altruistic, it’s important to mention when we speak about the commitment, they are not necessarily—China is a country with its own national interests. Perhaps the way of doing business is different, but they are not acting toward Africa, from my perspective, from an altruistic perspective. They’re really looking to achieve interest, whether from a geopolitical dimension, economic interest to secure especially energy, power, mining, oceans, agricultural lands for food security in China, among others. And many of the other countries in the world are doing the same. So I’m not—so, of course, we are speaking more about China, but most of the countries when they’re acting globally they are acting in alignment of their interests. And probably Jentleson, for example, has mentioned when we speak about the U.S. foreign policy as some of their drivers, which include what are the—of course, we have power, we have peace, we have prosperity, and we have principles. So foreign policy decisions are usually, let’s say, the result of a tradeoff between either power consideration, peace consideration, or security consideration, economic consideration, and principle consideration, which could include democratic development, and, of course, humanitarian intervention, and so on. So it depends on which country we are talking about. And to just connect it to the broader Belt and Road Initiative, I think that, of course, it is part from my perspective of China ambition to become the next global power. And in my conversation with many of the African leaders, their main concern—including head of states and head of governments—so their main concern is given the gap, the infrastructure gap that we have on the content, financing gap that you have on the continent, China is providing an alternative and China is acting quickly. However, many of the leaders with whom I’m engaging will prefer to deal instead with, for example, the United States. The United States is probably acting slower than some of the other players. But this is also because of the democratic process and the compliance mechanism, among others. But despite that, I think that there are still tools which can allow to be compliant, to respect the democratic principle, but also act faster, with more agility. And we are having conversations. I testified before the Senate on some of those questions, before the House of Representatives, before the U.S. International Trade Commission, sharing perspective on how the U.S. can further leverage its strength and the alignment to advance U.S.-Africa prosperity. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next oral question from John O’Toole. Q: Well, thank you, because my question directly kind of follows off of that. So that’s very fortunate. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Q: So my question was related to, like, Africa on, like, the global security scale. So, like you said, like, Russia and China are investing heavily, are—and becoming, like, major players, some might argue, in an attempt to be, like, first to market, in a way, in terms of being, like, colleagues with Africa. And you can’t really pick and choose who your partners are, especially if the people you want to work with, like the United States or the EU, aren’t moving as fast. But is there a concern that growing relationships with China and Russia could morph into a global security conflict? And that some African leaders might be afraid of becoming perhaps the next Lumumba where they’re characterized as, you know, perhaps a communist pawn, or something? Is that part of the thought process? SIGNÉ: Thank you for the important question. So it’s important to highlight a few considerations here. Typically, when many of the more established powers, whether you’re speaking about France, the United States, UK, when they are engaging with many of the African countries they take into consideration the principles that I mentioned before, whether we speak about democratic principles, human rights consideration, humanitarian consideration, among other. So those are really key dimensions that are taken into consideration with more traditional African partners, although it is not uniform. So you will also have the same country which will be trading both with some of the authoritarian countries. But when doing so, they will often bring the question of democratic governance, of human rights in the conversation. And the difference there with countries such as China or Russia, is they are decoupling trade, investment, and principle quotient of democracy—democratic quotients, human rights quotients. For obvious reason, when you look also at your level of democratic development, or at the situation of human rights in your—in your countries. So now, what are the potential risk for the continent? I think that the—many of the—we have seen the presence, whether in an official capacity or in an unofficial capacity of foreign forces in Africa, including from Russia. So to what extent are they influencing the political sphere? To what extent are they fueling or contributing to fuel some of the insecurity and conflict that we have, as we say, in the Sahel? Or to what extent are they helping those country to address some of the challenges faced? I think the growing support that we have seen for Russia, or China, or for some of the emerging countries is related to a narrative, which may not always be founded, but a more appeasing and more respectful narrative that they have when engaging with some of the African countries. But that doesn’t mean that they are acting in a way which better advance the interests of those countries. And African leaders are often in a complex situation where they don’t necessarily—some of them, of course, will be very clear in terms of their preferences for Western countries. And others, in between, where they want to be certain that they will not be dropped, if I can use the terms. And this is because historically, even some of the best partners of the West—and we look at the case of Niger, when the military coup happened, so despite some political discourses the West was not able to do much. So those are elements which create also a certain level of insecurity on the continent. So yeah, your question is extremely important. And I think that there are risks which are associated with the—with the growing involvement of those emerging powers, like China, especially as it is shifting or has shifted from the economic quotient to a more security, military quotient and cooperation. But some of the countries with which they are cooperating, or perhaps even most of those countries in terms of military engagement, are not necessarily countries with their reputation or leaders with the reputation of—or with the best record in terms of democratic progress or in terms of human rights. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Zachary Billot, a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas: How will increased environmental challenges related to climate change impact institution and governmental efficacy in Africa? Can Africa be expected to transition to green energy if there isn’t substantial foreign investment? SIGNÉ: Absolutely. It is extremely important. Thank you for the question. It’s extremely important to highlight the consequences of climate change on the continent, especially in the fragile countries, in the fragile regions, especially also when combined with governance challenges. So many of the conflicts in the Sahel—and I publish a—I co-published a report with Brookings on the question on how—on the nexus—on the climate change-security-development nexus. So many—if climate change doesn’t necessarily—the relation between climate change and conflict is not necessarily causal, but there is a strong correlation at least when it comes to exacerbating initial conditions in regions where you have poverty and where governance is already quite weak. So the question is, yes, climate change is increasing the likelihood of conflict, especially in an area where we already have bad governance, or poor performance. And how to address some of those questions? Of course, we have involved also in drafting the human development—the Sahel Human Development Report, where the topic is on using energy to unlock Africa potential to contribute to sustainable development, how we can leverage in a sustainable way. And, yes, I do believe that the continent has a path. So of course, I will not necessarily disclose the findings, because they will have to be officially launched by the United Nations Development Program later this year, early the next one. But there is a clear path for Africa to achieve a greener future, especially as the continent has, I would say, the luxury of learning from what has been done on the negative experiences of some of the advanced economies. But also on capitalizing on technology to achieve those goals. Now, you mentioned about investment. Yes, that is an area where global partners who have committed, including the United States, France, Canada, among others, to support a greener revolution, economic revolution, energy transition, industrial development on the continent also have to play their part. Of course the global community, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, among others. So Africa has the potential to achieve it, but not alone. With the collaboration of global partners, including some of the biggest polluters. FASKIANOS: Great, thank you. I’m going to go next to Alicia Hoffman. Q: Hello. How are you? I have a question regarding some previous legal agreements that were put forth between the ACP countries and the European Union. So my question is, I would like for you to highlight and discuss the role of the comprehensive legal agreements such as the Rome Agreement, that is now defunct, the Lomé Agreement, the Cotonou Agreement and now the post-Cotonou Agreement, which was just finalized last month, and get some of your opinions or your thoughts about the post-Cotonou Agreement in fostering the economic development of African countries. And also mitigating the issues dealing with migration and even human trafficking that kind of were not really addressed clearly in those earlier agreements, such as the Rome, and Lomé, and the Cotonou. SIGNÉ: Thank you so much for the extremely important question. So I think that to put things in context, as you mentioned, the Lomé Agreement, the Cotonou Agreement, and other agreement, when we look—again, I like to look from an historical perspective. So we clearly see that if a single agreement was almost having the impact of a magic stick, Africa will be in a different position now. So all those agreements, of course, and some of those agreements are benefiting, at least per the perspective of some of the African countries, they are benefiting more the European Union countries and France than perhaps, per se, in the absolute term, the African countries. Because many of the key players in those countries in industrial development, among others, are foreign corporations, which are originating from those countries. But let me instead speak in a in a broader perspective. I think that the responsibility for Africa’s development really lie primarily with African leaders and citizens. So it’s a notion that I think we should really come back to. Of course, when we discuss then the relation within Africa and the rest of the world, Africa has been historically in a situation where it was abused—from slavery, to colonization, and so on. But as you have seen in in my permanent record, I’m also part—most of my work consists not only at looking at those structural asymmetries that we can see on the continent, but at giving back the responsibility, accountability of the African leaders, despite the asymmetrical relation they may be having with some of the other part of the world, still have the power and the responsibility to better deliver for their citizens. So, yes, I think that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), as I mentioned, also represents an opportunity to address some of those challenges. But, of course, some countries will—we also have the political economy of the AfCFTA, in the sense that some country—and the ones which are the most advanced, economically speaking—the most enthusiastic about accelerating the implementation. But the beauty of the AfCFTA is that they also acknowledge some of the country we may potentially be left behind and have specific growth or special and differential treatments allowing the countries with more challenges to be—to be developed. So, again, I think that, yes, it’s extremely important for Africa when engaging with the European Union to really find a configuration which would unlock the industrial development of the continent, and not necessarily just rely on the primary goods, among others. FASKIANOS: So, thank you. I’m you’re going next to Charlotte Langeveld, who’s a lecturer at Ocean County College: To which identity do the young African people prefer to be associated with, ethnic or national identity? While national identity is superficial and ethnic is real, it has consequences for the future of the continent. SIGNÉ: So yeah, so that is probably a specific survey should be developed and in a systematic way to provide a definitive response to that question. But we have different, again, multiple belonging. Like some African citizens, especially young people, will want to be presented as African, even beyond your nation, or as global citizens. But it is clear that ethnic—the ethnicity continues to play a role on the continent, because although younger Africans speak less than the previous generation local dialects and languages, so it is important to also highlight that it is part of a broader cultural system. So I don’t think that it is either/or. So if you think also about citizens of the Africa—of the European Union, are French people considering more French than European, or more European than French? I would say it probably depends, but that multiple belonging remain valid. And although the comparison is slightly different, are Californians believing that they are more Californian than American or are more American than Californian? So, but understanding also the potential implication of the question is that it is extremely important to keep—in nation-building to go beyond the questions or the notions which are dividing, to focus on the common values, and systems. So I don’t think that’s a problem for young people to have multiple belongings or ideas of belonging. What is—what could be a bad thing is to use those differences for discrimination, for poor governance, among others. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Kimberly Pace. Q: Hello, Landry. It’s nice to see you. I have—my question is—hi, University of Alaska, Anchorage. My question is regarding women and girls. My question is, you know, given the role that violent extremism has had in Africa, what is the effect—what do you think is the effect on the economic and political opportunities for girls and women across African countries? Would love to hear your response. SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Hello, Kimberly. And so great to see you. And so I’m looking forward to following up after this session. So this is an extremely important question. There is no future of Africa without a full acknowledgement of the critical importance of women and girls, and not just economically speaking, politically speaking, in all the spheres of society. Just speaking economically, the gross domestic product of the content in some country could be increased by more than 50 percent with the full—or, about 50 percent—increase from 2 to 48, 49 percent with the full integration of women in society, in the economy, among other. So, and it is incredibly painful to see how in some countries, especially in situations of conflict, some of the first victim—the main victims, are girls, are women, or young people in as well, in general. So it is therefore extremely important, I think, to further empower women. But when you speak about empowering women, most people will think about empowering them politically, in particular. But for my conversation with many heads of state—former head of states, including President Banda or President Gurib-Fakim, so in our conversation it appear clearly that one of the best way to empower women politically is first to empower them also economically. Because when you’re empowered economically you can organize a campaign, you can be a fully contributing member, and you can be independent. So, yes, addressing conflict, human rights challenges, will be a way to further protect women, because when you have war, when you have civil conflict, they are typically the most vulnerable people and they are often the one who are the most abused by a protagonist. So yeah. So I fully concur to the fact that we have to act in a more vigorous way to protect women, to create opportunities for women, and to empower women. And some of my best models, not to say most, are women. And starting with my mother, my sisters, and yeah. So I couldn’t agree more with you. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from William Decourt, who’s at Hamilton Lugar School at Indiana University: You mentioned surveys indicating widespread support for democracy across the continent. How have you seen public opinion in Africa responding to or shaping norms of liberal governance on the continent? And has it been affected by other challenges, such as the recent coups, influence from Russian mercenaries, and perhaps from increased Chinese investment too? SIGNÉ: So, just to be certain that I understand, and thank you so much for the important questions, is also about some of the trends on the continent related to democratic support, and the overall political situations. One of the reasons, and please, Irina, feel free to engage and follow up as needed. So one of the reasons why we have seen coups, of course, some—you have to put things in context. I mentioned that before. Many of the African citizens really want democracy to deliver. And not just democracy to deliver—if you live in rural contexts. At the origin of modern states is the social contract, which require that while a citizen will be giving up some of your fundamental—some of your rights, you will receive in exchange from states basic public services and goods, including security, economic opportunities, among others. But when those are not delivered, whether in a democracy or in a nondemocratic regime, that is when you have more challenges. Which could lead in some cases to a military coup, as we have seen, because then coup leaders may justify that—may justified their action by the imperative of restoring security or bringing about economic opportunities. So I think that is a point that I first want to highlight, to insist on the fact that, yeah, so the—those surveys show that on one hand, Africans want democracy. On the other hand, they want those democracies to deliver. And sometime even in democratic countries, some leaders are not necessarily governing in the way which is aligned with accountability. And those are the reasons why some coup leaders will also be supported by some citizens as an alternative, not to restore a long-term authoritarian system, but perhaps organize a transition. But from my perspective, it’s one of the reasons why I think that—for many reasons. But one of the key reasons why I think coups even in a very contested context are extremely bad is one of the best predictors of a coup is a previous coup. So once military got involved in politics, even after a successful short-term transition and return to power to the civilians, the likelihood of having another coup is high. So that is one of the reasons why I think it’s very important to invest in citizen, and invest in democratic development, and also invest in making democratic countries, African democracies, African democratic countries, deliver better for their citizens. FASKIANOS: Well, Landry, we are unfortunately out of time. And I apologize to all of you who had wonderful questions, we could not possibly get to them all, and raised hands. So we will just have to continue the conversation, and organize another conversation around these important issues. But, Landry Signé, thank you very much for being with us today. We really appreciate your comments and your analysis. And you can follow Landry on X, the app formerly known as Twitter, at @LandrySigne. It’s spelled S-I-G-N-E. And our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, October 25, at 1:00 p.m. (EDT) with Stephen Biddle, who’s an adjunct senior fellow here at CFR and professor at Columbia University, to talk about military strategy in the contemporary world. And in the meantime, I’d encourage you to learn about CFR paid internships for students and fellowships for professors at Please visit,, and We have been posting a lot of content there in light of the Israeli-Hamas conflict. So there are a lot of resources on our homepage that I commend to all of you. And again, Landry Signé, thank you very much for being with us today. SIGNÉ: Thank you so much, Irina. And thank you so much for the wonderful questions, conversation, and to the incredible team which has put everything together. FASKIANOS: Thank you. (END)
  • Education
    Higher Education Webinar: The Changing Landscape of Admissions Criteria
    Scott Jaschik, cofounder and former chief executive officer and editor of Inside Higher Ed, leads the conversation on the changing landscape of college and university admissions criteria. FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Scott Jaschik with us today to discuss the changing landscape of college and university admissions criteria. Mr. Jaschik was a cofounder and former chief executive officer and an editor at Inside Higher Ed, a media company and online publication that provides news, opinions, resources, and events focused on colleges and university topics. He previously served as editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education and was a former board member of the Education Writers Association. And he’s a leading voice on higher education issues, publishing articles in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. So, Scott, thank you very much for being with us today. There’s a lot here to cover, I thought maybe you could give us context and set the stage of the current trends in college and university admissions, as well as the role and importance of international students and scholars at U.S. universities. JASCHIK: Sure. Thanks very much for the invitation. And it’s great to speak to CFR people. And it’s great particularly because you’re a group whose interests extend far beyond higher education. And it just goes to show, higher education is important to every society and everyone, really. So I think this is a great opportunity for me to talk to you. And mainly, I’m excited to hear what the attendees have to say about these issues. But briefly, to give an overview. The big issue, and I want to say a few—one thing, in terms of setting the context. Admissions, talking about college admissions, can vary hugely depending on who you are talking about—by student, by institution, and so forth. So I’m going to talk, for instance, at the beginning about affirmative action. And I’ll talk about the institutions that are most affected by the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. But then I’m going to talk about a trend in the rest of higher ed, direct admissions, and how that affects people in higher ed. And then at the end, I’ll throw in a few comments on the international students. So on affirmative action, the big news was this summer the Supreme Court ruled six to three that colleges—that two colleges in particular, Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill, were not following the law with respect to how they used affirmative action in admissions. It was a very strong decision, a very thorough decision, but one that greatly upset most people in colleges. The general public generally is a little bit skeptical of affirmative action. But in higher ed, there is very strong support for affirmative action. Now, it’s important to remember that this decision will directly affect maybe two hundred institutions. Now, it may indirectly affect many more down the road. I’ll talk about that in a minute. But it’s important to remember, at most colleges—you know, you read these stories every year about how under 5 percent of applicants get into Harvard, Yale, and whatever. Well, most colleges admit most applicants. And I’ll just repeat that, because it’s really important to remember. Most colleges admit most applicants. I think that is largely lost in the coverage of late on affirmative action. And it’s really important, if you have an opportunity, to shout that out to the world. Because even if a student doesn’t feel comfortable applying to an elite college or university, it’s important to always say that there is a place in higher ed for that student, and for all students. But on higher ed, this is a big decision for higher education because most of the top colleges in the country have used affirmative action in admissions. They don’t maybe want to talk about it now, but they have used it for their admissions processes. And now they can’t. And, you know, there’s really a lot of skepticism about what it will be like. Now, the expectations are based on the University of California, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas, because in prior court rulings and in state votes they do not use affirmative action. And if you expect them to follow—to follow what’s going to go on, people will predict a major decline for Black students, Latino students. White students actually are not going to gain a lot. Asian students will gain. But that’s based on those past examples. There’s a big question mark this year which is about the admissions tests that in the past were required of all students, but now they aren’t. And test-optional admissions truly took off during the pandemic, because there was a period of time when students literally couldn’t take the SAT or ACT. But a secondary reason, and arguably, I think, the more important reason, colleges dropped the test-optional—or, went test-optional, is this decision. They knew it was coming and this gives them a lot more flexibility. So do I expect to happen what happened with the University of California? I would say yes, but, because nobody really knows what the impact will be of test-optional admissions. Now, very quickly, some other things on affirmative action to remember. Many colleges are adding essays specifically to reach students who are minority students or who have particular experiences that colleges want to have. And this is, again—remember, even if a college asks, are you Black, Latino, or whatever, they cannot use that information when they evaluate students. So that will be totally invisible to the colleges. The Supreme Court decision explicitly said that students can write about their experiences in life and how that affects them for higher ed. But the Court’s going to be watching very carefully and wants to make sure that anything that the students say is not just a way to go back to considering students differently, as the Court said, on the race and ethnicity. Also, there’s a group working to create a new system to evaluate students’ character, because character is something that many people cite but they don’t really have a way to cite it. That’s the kind of thing that we’re seeing. Now, there are other issues too. Legacy admissions, in which colleges favor the children of alumni or relatives, that is under real tight scrutiny right now. There was nothing in the Supreme Court decision to say they couldn’t do legacy admissions, but many colleges are uncomfortable given that they cannot use the systems they came up with to help Black, and Latino, and Asian American students get into college. They are uncomfortable with legacy admissions because it primarily helps white students get into college. And that’s not something they want to do. Similarly, early decision is something that is very controversial, because it primarily helps white students. Now what’s unknown is two things. One is the final rule, so to say, on admissions. That’s going to be decided not by anything I say or that anyone else says, but it’s going to be back in the courts. I would be absolutely certain it will return to the courts. And they will, you know, hash that out. Also, there’s the question of financial aid. Some colleges award—and this is many more colleges—award financial aid in part based on race and ethnicity. Is that legal? We don’t yet know. Some players on both sides have offered their opinions, but that will be a huge decision that will come down. Now I want to talk about another issue in higher ed that’s going on, which is direct admissions. And if you’re not familiar with direct admissions, in direct admissions students do not apply to colleges. Students simply fill out a form, which includes their transcript, any test scores they want to submit, and roughly where they want to go to college. I don’t mean institution names, but, like, I live in Connecticut and these are the—and I want to go to college near my home. It’s important to remember, most college students go to college near their homes. So and then after that, colleges will look at the application that they filled out. And colleges will admit those students. Now direct admissions is very popular among all the institutions that I wasn’t talking about before, because it is a good way to recruit more low-income students, who seem to really like this system. But direct admissions has primarily been used on a small scale. And that—we have to see what will happen as it goes to a larger scale. So that is something still to find out. And then on international students, with international students most colleges very much want international students. But there are key things that may make it difficult to recruit them. One is foreign—the foreign relations, as your group well knows. I mean, you’ve got the war in Russia and Ukraine, which didn’t send a lot of foreign students to the United States, but they sent some. And, interestingly, some of the colleges in New York City have both Russian and Ukrainian students at the same college. And they are dealing with issues related to that. But the most students have come from China. And our relations with China are, frankly, pretty bad right now, I would say. And that raises real questions about which students will come. My guess is that the top universities are not going to have a loss in foreign students, or at least not a substantial loss. But it’s important to remember, foreign students are enrolling at every type of college and university. And they may be affected at institutions that aren’t as competitive in admissions. So that’s my rough answer to your question. Have at it. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you so much. And now we’re going to go to all of you for your questions and comments. And please use this as a forum too to share best practices. (Gives queuing instructions.) So I’m going to take the first written question from Edie Gaythwaite, professor at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida: The issue of essays is now the use of AI-generated essays being submitted. So how do you see the admissions process moving forward with this in mind? JASCHIK: That’s a great question. And it’s something that’s getting a lot of attention right now. And I’m going to answer first for what’s going to happen this year, and then I want to talk about the future. Right now, this is making a lot of people in admissions very nervous, because every day someone does a story on—on the way AI can be used to write essays. Colleges don’t know. So they are nervous. Now, some of the services that colleges use to detect plagiarism can also be used, they say, to maybe detect the use of AI. So that’s one possibility. Others are suggesting that colleges should instead of using regular essays, should require an essay that is handwritten and was graded by a high school teacher, and to turn it in with the high school teacher’s grades. Now that’s a little—there’s something odd about that, in that that assumes that the student didn’t use AI in high school, which, you know, who knows if that’s true. But the reason I would say not to get a huge panic this year, is that a bunch of colleges are working on the issue. I suspect that by the end of this year, they are going to have better ways to deal with AI than they do right now. So I would say, you know, watch. But remember—and the other thing I would say is to remember past examples. Remember, when Wikipedia first started? There were people saying, no college student is ever going to write his or her own essay again. They’re all going to come from Wikipedia. Well, they’re not. And so because a lot of people figured out how to use Wikipedia, and how not to use Wikipedia. So I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but there may be a better way coming. FASKIANOS: Our next question comes from Beverly Lindsay. Beverly, please identify yourself and ask your question. Q: Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. We can. Q: Great. Beverly Lindsay, University of California, multicampus. Hello, Scott. Good to hear your comments. I have something that wasn’t quite covered. Because I have been at two major research universities, actually more, but two in particular. They actually have informal legacy admits. And I would like your speculation on how that will continue. The second part of the question relates to HBCUs, particularly the ones that are known as the Black Ivies. I was at two of them. And I also know that they are concerned about having more diverse students from different economic backgrounds. Could you comment on that as well? Thank you. JASCHIK: Sure. Those are very good questions. So, first, on the informal legacies, which is something I have heard about. And I, in fact, did a story about a university that said it was eliminating legacy admissions, but it turned out they weren’t. They still had legacy admissions. And that’s because legacy admissions is something that colleges like to talk about with their alumni, but maybe not with the public. It strikes me that informal legacy admissions really doesn’t make sense. If you believe in legacy admissions, defend it. But informal strikes me as inappropriate, frankly. Now, on the HBCUs, and particularly, the so-called top HBCUs, there’s interesting developments with regard to affirmative action. When California eliminated affirmative action way back when, more Californians started to go to Morehouse, and Spelman, and other very good HBCUs. And we are going to see more of this in the next year, I think. But at the same time, I would caution against assuming that HBCUs can provide the answers to everything here. Morehouse and Spelman, despite being great colleges, to not have the financial aid that Harvard and Stanford have. They just don’t. There’s not enough money there. And it’s a different kind of experience, a great experience for some students. But financially and otherwise, there are limits to what they can do. Now, if Morehouse and Spelman could grow by a thousand students, well, that would sound wonderful. But I don’t think they can grow by a thousand students, at least not immediately. So this year, I think we’re going to be watching what goes on at those colleges. So I hope I’ve answered. FASKIANOS: Great, thank you. I’m going to take the written question from Todd Barry, who is professor at Hudson County Community College? Excuse me. How safe is it geopolitically for U.S. professors to teach abroad? JASCHIK: How what is it? FASKIANOS: Safe is it. JASCHIK: Oh, how safe? I think it really depends on the country. In lots of countries it is totally safe, in that—you know, you have to be realistic. What is—how safe is it to teach in the United States is a legitimate question, in some parts of the country. To go abroad, there are real issues if the country is not secure, it does not have an adequate system for making sure that people are protected. And also, there are issues related to the potential in other countries for anti-American thought to happen and to be a cause of concern. At the same time, there are many countries where you will find yourself welcome. And I think it’s great for American college professors to look for those places and to go abroad. They will learn as much as they will teach. So I think that’s, you know, that’s great. FASKIANOS: Great. Don Habibi has raised his hand, and also written a—written a question. But, Don, I think you’ve put your hand down, but I’d love you to ask it yourself, if you could unmute yourself. Q: OK. Yes. Hi. Yeah, my question was triggered by the first AI question. And that is, what’s to prevent—or how do you check a student who writes a fabulous story of their overcoming adversity or their combat experience, or whatever it is that, you know, would just sort of bring them to the top of the applicant pool. And the likelihood of fact checking that sort of thing is pretty small. And I mentioned in the question that several times reporters won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on stories, and they made them up. FASKIANOS: And Don is—can you give us your affiliation? Q: I’m a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. FASKIANOS: Thank you. JASCHIK: Yes, that is a real concern. And it’s not just in admissions. Colleges are worried about that issue in the essays they will assign to students to write after—you know, after they’re enrolled. There, they—some people are arguing for in-person writing. You know, in class, where the students will be forced to write it down. Now, some students say they can’t write a long, handwritten essay anymore, because all they can do is type. And I have some sympathy for them, but that’s what they’re saying. It goes back to what I said before. Colleges are working on solutions to this and going to try. I would say that a good admissions counselor should be able to see some things that come out in their applications. Also, some colleges are changing their essays so that they are more about the college you are applying to, to make it more difficult to use a copied essay. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. The next question we’ll take from Melissa McGinnis, assistant director of admissions at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs: What are your thoughts on how these affirmative action issues impact graduate admissions for professional programs, not PhD? JASCHIK: Sure. Yeah, well, I’ll tell you about both. In law schools, medical schools, business schools, it is the same thing. That there’s no expectation that this decision doesn’t apply. And they have got to redo their systems and procedures just like their undergraduate counterparts do. PhD programs actually are interesting, though, because in many colleges and universities, those decisions are done by the department level. And it is more difficult to control a department than it is to control a whole school. You know, you may have six members of the English department or whatever deciding on admissions. But they can’t use race. That’s just—and if they do they’re going to get sued. So that’s just the rules. FASKIANOS: Great, thank you. We have a raised hand from Sneha Bharadwaj. Excuse me if I did not pronounce it correctly, but you can correct me. Q: OK. So my name is Sneha Bharadwaj. I’m from Texas Woman’s University here in Dallas, Texas. I was following up on other questions you answered regarding the holistic admission process. And I’m wondering, beyond the handwritten essay, are there any talks about video interviews or uploading video prompts, where you hear from that person? And if that is something that’s in the talks or is being considered, because I think we’re all in the same boat of wondering how this holistic admissions is going to work. JASCHIK: Right. Well, and Texas Woman’s University is a great example. It is a—it is a university in Texas that has men, for those who are not familiar with it. It is not—does not just admit women. And it’s—and in recent years, it’s become quite popular and is growing with more people using holistic admissions to get in. So, you know, to do an interview for everyone, on the one hand, it makes perfect sense. You meet the people, find out about them, find out about their interests, et cetera. But in most colleges, and I don’t know if this is true of Texas Woman’s University, that is a major undertaking, to interview everyone, even via Zoom. And most college admissions offices will be hard stretched to interview every student. Also, there have been charges that admissions interviews favor or don’t favor minority students. They are said to favor them, if colleges want to admit more minority students. They are said to disfavor them when the students don’t have the same expertise in doing interviews as wealthier students do. And most of the wealthy students are white students. So it is something that they are looking at, but I am not sure it will work at very many institutions this year. Q: Thank you. FASKIANOS: Thank you. So I’m going to take the next question from Kurt Schmoke, who is the president of the University of Baltimore: Which states are using direct admissions? And will this spread to other states? JASCHIK: Great question. Nice to have a president here. And so, there are not any statewide requirements, but Minnesota is the state to look at. In Minnesota, they made it possible for any college that wanted to, to use direct admissions. And most of the colleges opted in in part. One college opted in entirely. They said, that’s the way you’re going to apply to get into that college. Most colleges, though, are doing it on a piecemeal basis, admitting just some students. And I’m curious, does the University of Baltimore—did you use direct admissions? FASKIANOS: Kurt, if you want to unmute and respond, that would be great. We’d love to hear your experience. Q: Sure. The closest that we have to that is dual enrollment programs that allow students to obtain X number of credits. And it usually is with the community college, some with high schools. But now I’m quite interested in this direct admissions. So I’ll take a look at what Minnesota is doing. JASCHIK: Right. You should do that. In Minnesota, the colleges that definitely didn’t do it were the flagship University of Minnesota campus and Carleton College. You know, again, colleges that get tons of applicants don’t need to, but it was all the other colleges. And if you search on Inside Higher Ed’s website, you’ll find a bunch of stories on the players in direct admissions, EAB, the common app, et cetera. There are places you can go. Niche does direct admissions. There are places that would love to talk to you, I’m sure. Q: Good, thank you. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Kevin Collymore, who is an assistant dean of retention and persistence programs at the University of San Francisco: How will institutions handle donor gifts, scholarships intentioned for students of color moving forward? FASKIANOS: Very carefully. (Laughs.) They will have to say that a gift cannot be used by the college specifically for minority students. In fact, some think the best way will be for colleges to work with outside groups, and to say: Don’t give us the money. Give it to the such-and-such foundation. And then that group may decide to give financial aid to minority students at the University of San Francisco, or any university. But this is very much in play right now, in that I think it’s one of the issues about which there will be a court ruling soon. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’ll take the next question from Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech: Can you comment on anything that can be done about the time to get a U.S. visa? Students cannot join because they didn’t get visas on time. So I guess they couldn’t come this semester. JASCHIK: That is a terrible problem. And it has been a big issue this year. Many of the—going back to the pandemic—at the height of the pandemic, no one wanted to come to the United States. (Laughs.) And the United States didn’t really want them. Everyone was viewed as a threat, really, to the health of others. Since then, officially, they’ve opened up. But students from certain countries report incredible delays in getting their visas. And particularly these are students trying to travel to the United States from countries where there are many Muslim students, or many Muslim people and Muslim students. And they say they’re not rejected, but they just—it just takes forever for them to fill out and to get an answer. Now, why this is sort of—it’s subject to debate. Many of the people who work in processing visas say they are working as fast as they can, looking for the information they need, et cetera. Many in higher education view that very skeptically. And they see students who they cannot think of a good reason why that student should be denied a visa. And it just lingers. Some colleges have taken to educating students abroad for their first semester when they can’t get in. But that is something that only some colleges can do. And also, it denies the students what they’re seeking, which is a real experience at Virginia Tech, or any college. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Beverly Lindsay has her hand—I don’t know if that’s a residual from your last question or if you had a follow-on comment. OK. I’m going to move on, then. I’m going to take the next question from Michael Strmiska, a professor of world history at the Orange County Community College: Do you think that the ban on affirmative action in student admissions might eventually apply to academic employment? I teach in a community college with very low representation of non-white faculty and I think if the Supreme Court or other powers signaled that any diversity motivated hiring among minority faculty could come under dispute this would hamper or even halt our very slow progress toward creating a more diverse faculty. JASCHIK: You’re absolutely right. And many colleges do use affirmative action in hiring. The court decision itself did not speak to that. However, if you look at the justices on the court today and imagine a case involving academic hiring reaching them, it is hard for me to imagine the six justices would not also object to affirmative action in hiring. And that would be very limiting in terms of who colleges have to hire. Now, there is some leeway in that academic hiring decisions are mainly made at the department level, with some administration involvement. I don’t know if that will work. But I think you’re right to see that as a potential problem ahead. FASKIANOS: OK. The next question is from Galia Benitez, an associate professor of international relations at Michigan State University: You began the discussion by asserting that the number of Black and Latino students was going to decline. How do you see the actual class environment for professors and for minority students already in the system or in the future who form part of a minority would be teaching and learning in a less diverse environment? In short, what would be the consequences of these new admissions rules and learning? JASCHIK: The consequences aren’t good. We are already seeing racial incidents on campuses that sort of relate to the Supreme Court decision. And when the Supreme Court has taken up these issues in the past, they have similarly been incidents about race on campus. In terms for learning, again, I think it’s going to be very negative because students look to a diverse student body to learn, for all the reasons that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote back in 2003 still apply. Well, or I think they should still apply. They aren’t. They don’t apply because of the recent Supreme Court decision. I think it’s going to be tougher for faculty members who are truly committed on those issues. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I think Beverly has re-raised her hand, so I’m going to try again. Beverly, I’ll give you a few minutes to—seconds to unmute yourself. You’re still muted. There we go. Q: I don’t know what’s happening because I didn’t have another question. There may be a technical problem, but since I’m on I will ask something else. FASKIANOS: OK. (Laughs.) OK. Q: Scott, with reference to the international students and the international faculty, as we know in many of the tier one, AAU major research universities, and the ones also in our neighboring countries like Canada with the University of Toronto which is also a member of AAU and McGill, for example. A number of the faculty and the PhD students in particular—this is one of my areas of research—are in the STEM fields, but they’re from other countries. So how are we going to think of other ways to get diverse students, whether they’re Canadians in Canada, or Americans in the United States, to be able to pursue some of these programs in STEM fields? JASCHIK: It’s going to be very challenging. Look, in STEM fields international students are admitted not because only—in the past, haven’t been admitted only because of affirmative action. They’ve been admitted—there aren’t enough American students of any race or ethnicity to fill those classes. There aren’t. And that is true at any university in the country, really. Now it’s not that there aren’t talented Americans, but they are not—they’re just not in the right numbers to help. And so, you know, a bunch of things. When recruiting international students or recruiting any students, it’s money. And here, the University of California, I’m less worried about than colleges that are not as high in the rankings as UC is. But, you know, it’s money. And it’s also—it’s also mission. Why you come and do that. And it’s really important that professors have good answers to questions—to both of those questions, because they are going to be asked. But, no, it’s not going to be easy at all. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Beth Hillman. Beth, do you want to ask your question that you’ve written? Putting her on the spot. Q: Sure. I just—I’ll read it there. So how will the new return on investment economic models influence student choices about institutions and programs? JASCHIK: Return on investment, I don’t like the use of return on investment but I’m in a minority. And a lot of students and their parents love it. Look, return on investment is greater if you are a student in STEM at MIT than if you’re a student in English at any college or university. That’s just a fact. But to me what that misses is that in many areas the student studying English may have a perfectly good return on investment. And it’s important for colleges to publicize the actual returns that students get. Look, students who study English, and history, and political science, and whatnot, are not, in fact, as a group, ending up working at Starbucks And they, they have the ability to get good jobs. Now, most of them, they get good jobs by not staying as a—in that field. I am a history major. I am not a historian. And most people don’t seem to really understand that. But every year people will come up with more ways to rank colleges by return on investment. I don’t really put too much in it. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Please raise your hands if you have more questions. I see none—no more raised hands or written questions, but we’d love to hear from you. So I do have a couple, though. I wanted to ask you a little bit about how do you think the U.S. higher education admission strategies is affecting our image in the world, our global standing? JASCHIK: That’s a really important question. Look, most people abroad would love to attend a great American college or university. They felt that way during the Trump administration, during the Biden administration, during the Obama administration. They want a U.S. college. Now, that doesn’t mean that they favor the U.S. in terms of what the U.S. is doing around the world, but they do value American colleges and universities. There’s no doubt about that. And so, in fact, I’d say it’s a real loss that the U.S. doesn’t act with more on that, because—you know, potentially it’s a great, great reason to come to the U.S. FASKIANOS: And what resources do you recommend for higher ed leaders and administrators to better understand how to promote equitable missions, processes, or to navigate now what’s this current landscape? JASCHIK: Read Inside Higher Ed—(laughs)—and, you know, pay attention to the issues. If you are at an elite institution, there’s a set of questions that you have about early admissions, about legacy admissions. You know, why are you continuing those policies if they are specifically resulting in—(coughs)—excuse me—in the admission only of white students? Align your financial aid to admitting more low-income students. You can base it on income, not race and ethnicity. Totally legal. And, you know, why aren’t more colleges doing that? If you are a less-wealthy institution, and an institution of less stature, I would raise the same question, particularly about merit aid—so-called merit aid, is what I would call it. Because merit aid is really aid for those who don’t really need aid. And, you know, why do you do these policies that don’t—that don’t actually improve things in terms of your student bodies? FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Todd Barry. Again, it’s Hudson County Community College: Will any of President Biden’s debt forgiveness programs be upheld by the courts? And will college rankings involve more companies to become more diverse? JASCHIK: Companies? FASKIANOS: Todd, do you want to just clarify that second part of your question? Thank you. Q: Yes, thank you. Will there be more organizations that put out college rankings rather than just the two that do so already? JASCHIK: Ah, OK. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Q: Thank you. JASCHIK: I suspect there will be. I’ve yet to find a ranking that I truly like, because I personally believe that college—the way to pick a good college is not to look at what somebody else said are the rankings of colleges. It’s just not a good way. But it may be a good way for some people to make a lot of money, so the rankings will continue. I’m sorry. I just forgot. What was the first part of that question? FASKIANOS: The first part was—let me pull it back up—will any of President Biden’s debt forgiveness programs be upheld by the courts? JASCHIK: Ah, yes. I don’t know. (Laughs.) The most recent of his debt relief things are being challenged. And I don’t know. I really don’t know if he’ll be successful. It depends which judges the cases are before to tell. Yet, I think I saw—I read this weekend, four million have applied for the most recent debt relief, with more expected to. That’s a lot of people. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next question from Amanda Shanor, assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Why haven’t universities used First Amendment arguments to defend their admissions policies? And should they do so in the future? JASCHIK: I don’t think that that argument would carry the day with the current Supreme Court. I just don’t. They were—if you read the decision, if you listened to the arguments that were made, they were wholly committed to getting rid of affirmative action. It may help in the future with a different Court, but I think we have the current court for a while. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Edie Gaythwaite, again, a professor at Valencia College: To build off the global conversation, do you see institutions actively recruiting international students as admission applications decline? JASCHIK: Definitely. Many colleges—most colleges have some international recruitment strategy. Now, at—at Valencia, I don’t know what your strategy is. But, you know, many Florida colleges, they are trying to—they have a tremendous advantage in Latin America, as opposed to Europe and the Middle East. That may be something that they are trying. All types of colleges are pushing for more students. And it makes perfect sense. They should definitely recruit more. FASKIANOS: OK. And then we’re going to take the next question from Sneha again, from Texas Woman’s University: How does removing scholarships and merit aid impact enrollment and retention? JASCHIK: It depends what institution you’re at. Many institutions use merit aid to get students who wouldn’t otherwise attend. And that’s just a reality. Most students are making their choice based on a combination of factors, both the academic quality of the institution and the money. And so shifting it is a risky business. Now, some colleges that are more prestigious have managed to eliminate merit aid. But the main problem for colleges that are not in the elite is that they are trying to get some students who wouldn’t come, to come. And they’re very nervous about eliminating merit aid for that reason. FASKIANOS: And now that the—the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, have the admissions or the matriculation from international students—is that going up again? JASCHIK: Slightly. The big study comes out, I think, in December. So we don’t know yet for this year. FASKIANOS: Mmm hmm. Great. OK, so I’m doing a final call for questions from the group. Oh, I think—oh, one more from Kurt Schmoke: Do you think that the Court’s exemption of military academies will undermine their rationale for ending affirmative action? JASCHIK: You know, that’s really interesting. And the group that led the campaign against affirmative action, they are right now seeking plaintiffs at all the military academies. So I don’t think it’s going to last long. And I don’t know. The court may have left it in place because they truly believe it. But in reading the overall decision, I would have a hard time imagining them voting to uphold it anywhere. FASKIANOS: Thank you. We have a raised hand from Dena Bateh at NYU. Q: Yes. You pronounced that perfectly correct, thank you. My question is somewhat related, but maybe just on an alternative tangent. And it’s something that I’m going to be doing some research on. So I do teach at NYU, but I am an administrator at another institution. And I’ve noticed—I’m in New York City, of course. And I’ve noticed the pattern of referring to students as consumers or customers has been a prevalent topic. And I can’t even tell you how that boils my blood rather than, say, learner. So that’s my research topic. But I’m wondering, how is this being addressed? You know, to uphold the standards of higher education, what are your thoughts on moving forward beyond a Google certification or just certificates that will get students who are—who have not pursued higher education to a certain point, but then they’re going to need to return? What are your thoughts on that, I think, in general will be. JASCHIK: So I share your distaste, I guess, for calling students consumers. Look, you know, in a real higher ed environment, professors are teaching and they’re also testing students on what they’ve done, period. But there are some areas where a more consumer approach can work. I did a story about fifteen to twenty years ago about—I wanted to take an online course. And I sent off emails of my interest, didn’t say it was for journalism, to some nonprofit and for-profit places. And the for-profit places clearly saw me as a customer. And they wrote immediately—I mean, within an hour—and said, what can we do to help you? Blah, blah, blah. That spirit should be prevalent at any college, particularly that’s going to get a lot of low-income students. That’s how they will get more low-income students. So in some areas thinking about students as consumers is OK, but I hope they don’t do it overall. FASKIANOS: OK. I’m going to take the last question for Babafemi Akinrinade: In Washington State, minority students will number white students in a few years. Will the Supreme Court decision impact the efforts of colleges to recruit these minority students, especially as the state is worried about declining birth rates, while other states are poaching students from Washington State. And Babafemi is with Western Washington University. JASCHIK: So it shouldn’t. Look, it’s great if Washington State has great numbers of students. They should shout out to the world. More colleges should go and recruit. That’s just the fact of life. In the United States today, at Harvard—which was in this decision—they are a majority minority institution. So it didn’t really help them out, but it can help—but lots of colleges can recruit students of all kinds, in Washington State and elsewhere. And thanks so much for your invitation to speak today. And I hope you found it useful. FASKIANOS: We did indeed. Thank you very much, Scott Jaschik. I appreciate it. And to all of you for your questions and comments. We enjoyed this conversation. We will be posting the video and transcript online afterwards if you want to review it and share it with your colleagues. You will receive an invitation to our next Higher Education Webinar under separate cover. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on X, formerly known as Twitter, and visit,, and, for research and analysis on global issues. We also have a dedicated series for students and professors, so professors can invite their students to join the Academic Webinar series. And the first one of this semester is next Wednesday at, I believe, 1:00 p.m. So I hope you will join us for that. If you haven’t gotten an invitation, please do email us at [email protected]. Again, thank you all for being with us today. We look forward to your continued participation in our program series. (END)
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    Pablo Molina, associate vice president of information technology and chief information security officer at Drexel University and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, leads the conversation on the implications of artificial intelligence in higher education.   FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us. Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share it with your colleagues. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have Pablo Molina with us to discuss implications of artificial intelligence in higher education. Dr. Molina is chief information security officer and associate vice president at Drexel University. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Molina is the founder and executive director of the International Applies Ethics in Technology Association, which aims to raise awareness on ethical issues in technology. He regularly comments on stories about privacy, the ethics of tech companies, and laws related to technology and information management. And he’s received numerous awards relating to technology and serves on the board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for AI and Digital Policy. So Dr. P, welcome. Thank you very much for being with us today. Obviously, AI is on the top of everyone’s mind, with ChatGPT coming out and being in the news, and so many other stories about what AI is going to—how it’s going to change the world. So I thought you could focus in specifically on how artificial intelligence will change and is influencing higher education, and what you’re seeing, the trends in your community. MOLINA: Irina, thank you very much for the opportunity, to the Council on Foreign Relations, to be here and express my views. Thank you, everybody, for taking time out of your busy schedules to listen to this. And hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to learn much from your questions and answer some of them to the best of my ability. Well, since I’m a professor too, I like to start by giving you homework. And the homework is this: I do not know how much people know about artificial intelligence. In my opinion, anybody who has ever used ChatGPT considers herself or himself an expert. To some extent, you are, because you have used one of the first publicly available artificial intelligence tools out there and you know more than those who haven’t. So if you have used ChatGPT, or Google Bard, or other services, you already have a leg up to understand at least one aspect of artificial intelligence, known as generative artificial intelligence. Now, if you want to learn more about this, there’s a big textbook about this big. I’m not endorsing it. All I’m saying, for those people who are very curious, there are two great academics, Russell and Norvig. They’re in their fourth edition of a wonderful book that covers every aspect of—technical aspect of artificial intelligence, called Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. And if you’re really interested in how artificial intelligence can impact higher education, I recommend a report by the U.S. Department of Education that was released earlier this year in Washington, DC from the Office of Education Technology. It’s called Artificial Intelligence and Future of Teaching and Learning: Insights and Recommendations. So if you do all these things and you read all these things, you will hopefully transition from being whatever expert you were before—to a pandemic and Ukrainian war expert—to an artificial intelligence expert. So how do I think that all these wonderful things are going to affect artificial intelligence? Well, as human beings, we tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short run and really underestimate the impact of technology in the long run. And I believe this is also the case with artificial intelligence. We’re in a moment where there’s a lot of hype about artificial intelligence. It will solve every problem under the sky. But it will also create the most catastrophic future and dystopia that we can imagine. And possibly neither one of these two are true, particularly if we regulate and use these technologies and develop them following some standard guidelines that we have followed in the past, for better or worse. So how is artificial intelligence affecting higher education? Well, number one, there is a great lack of regulation and legislation. So if you know, for example around this, OpenAI released ChatGPT. People started trying it. And all of a sudden there were people like here, where I’m speaking to you from, in Italy. I’m in Rome on vacation right now. And Italian data protection agency said: Listen, we’re concerned about the privacy of this tool for citizens of Italy. So the company agreed to establish some rules, some guidelines and guardrails on the tool. And then it reopened to the Italian public, after being closed for a while. The same thing happened with the Canadian data protection authorities. In the United States, well, not much has happened, except that one of the organizations on which board I serve, the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Policy, earlier this year in March of 2023 filed a sixty-four-page complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Which is basically we’re asking the Federal Trade Commission: You do have the authority to investigate how these tools can affect the U.S. consumers. Please do so, because this is your purview, and this is your responsibility. And we’re still waiting on the agency to declare what the next steps are going to be. If you look at other bodies of legislation or regulation on artificial intelligence that can help us guide artificial intelligence, well, you can certainly pay attention to the U.S. Congress. And what is the U.S. Congress doing? Yeah, pretty much that, not much, to be honest. They listen to Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT, who recently testified before Congress, urging Congress to regulate artificial intelligence. Which is quite clever on his part. So it was on May 17 that he testified that we could be facing catastrophic damage ahead if artificial intelligence technology is not regulated in time. He also sounded the alarm about counterfeit humans, meaning that these machines could replace what we think a person is, at least virtually. And also warned about the end of factual evidence, because with artificial intelligence anything can be fabricated. Not only that, but he pointed out that artificial intelligence could start wars and destroy democracy. Certainly very, very grim predictions. And before this, many of the companies were self-regulating for artificial intelligence. If you look at Google, Microsoft, Facebook now Meta. All of them have their own artificial intelligence self-guiding principles. Most of them were very aspirational. Those could help us in higher education because, at the very least, it can help us create our own policies and guidelines for our community members—faculty, staff, students, researchers, administrators, partners, vendors, alumni—anybody who happens to interact with our institutions of higher learning. Now, what else is happening out there? Well, we have tons, tons of laws that have to do with the technology and regulations. Things like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, or the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Sarbanes-Oxley. Federal regulations like FISMA, and Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, Payment Card Industry, there is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, there is the Budapest Convention where cybersecurity insurance providers will tells us what to do and what not to do about technology. We have state laws and many privacy laws. But, to be honest, very few artificial intelligence laws. And it’s groundbreaking in Europe that the European parliamentarians have agreed to discuss the Artificial Intelligence Act, which could be the first one really to be passed at this level in the world, after some efforts by China and other countries. And, if adopted, could be a landmark change in the adoption of artificial intelligence. In the United States, even though Congress is not doing much, what the White House is trying to position itself in the realm of artificial intelligence. So there’s an executive order in February of 2023—that many of us in higher education read because, once again, we’re trying to find inspiration for our own rules and regulations—that tells federal agencies that they have to root out bias in the design and use of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, because they have to protect the public from algorithm discrimination. And we all believe this. In higher education, we believe in being fair and transparent and accountable. I would be surprised if any of us is not concerned about making sure that our technology use, our artificial technology use, does not follow these particular principles as proposed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and many other bodies of ethics and expertise. Now, the White House also announced new centers—research and development centers with some new national artificial intelligence research institutes. Many of us will collaborate with those in our research projects. A call for public assessments of existing generative artificial intelligence systems, like ChatGPT. And also is trying to enact or is enacting policies to ensure that U.S. government—the U.S. government, the executive branch, is leading by example when mitigating artificial intelligence risks and harnessing artificial intelligence opportunities. Because, in spite of all the concerns about this, it’s all about the opportunities that we hope to achieve with artificial intelligence. And when we look at how specifically can we benefit from artificial intelligence in higher education, well, certainly we can start with new and modified academic offerings. I would be surprised if most of us will not have degrees—certainly, we already have degrees—graduate degrees on artificial intelligence, and machine learning, and many others. But I would be surprised if we don’t even add some bachelor’s degrees in this field, or we don’t modify significantly some of our existing academic offerings to incorporate artificial intelligence in various specialties, our courses, or components of the courses that we teach our students. We’re looking at amazing research opportunities, things that we’ll be able to do with artificial intelligence that we couldn’t even think about before, that are going to expand our ability to generate new knowledge to contribute to society, with federal funding, with private funding. We’re looking at improved knowledge management, something that librarians are always very concerned about, the preservation and distribution of knowledge. The idea would be that artificial intelligence will help us find better the things that we’re looking for, the things that we need in order to conduct our academic work. We’re certainly looking at new and modified pedagogical approaches, new ways of learning and teaching, including the promise of adaptive learning, something that really can tell students: Hey, you’re not getting this particular concept. Why don’t you go back and study it in a different way with a different virtual avatar, using simulations or virtual assistance? In almost every discipline and academic endeavor. We’re looking very concerned, because we’re concerned about offering, you know, a good value for the money when it comes to education. So we’re hoping to achieve extreme efficiencies, better ways to run admissions, better ways to guide students through their academic careers, better way to coach them into professional opportunities. And many of this will be possible thanks to artificial intelligence. And also, let’s not forget this, but we still have many underserved students, and they’re underserved because they either cannot afford education or maybe they have physical or cognitive disabilities. And artificial intelligence can really help us reach to those students and offer them new opportunities to advance their education and fulfill their academic and professional goals. And I think this is a good introduction. And I’d love to talk about all the things that can go wrong. I’d love to talk about all the things that we should be doing so that things don’t go as wrong as predicted. But I think this is a good way to set the stage for the discussion. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you so much. So we’re going to go all of you now for your questions and comments, share best practices. (Gives queuing instructions.) All right. So I’m going first to Gabriel Doncel has a written question, adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware: How do we incentivize students to approach generative AI tools like ChatGPT for text in ways that emphasize critical thinking and analysis? MOLINA: I always like to start with a difficult question, so I very much, Gabriel Doncel, for that particular question. And, as you know, there are several approaches to adopting tools like ChatGPT on campus by students. One of them is to say: No, over my dead body. If you use ChatGPT, you’re cheating. Even if you cite ChatGPT, we can consider you to be cheating. And not only that, but some institutions have invested in tools that can detect whether or something was written with ChatGPT or similar rules. There are other faculty members and other academic institutions that are realizing these tools will be available when these students join the workforce. So our job is to help them do the best that they can by using these particular tools, to make sure they avoid some of the mishaps that have already happened. There are a number of lawyers who have used ChatGPT to file legal briefs. And when the judges received those briefs, and read through them, and looked at the citations they realized that some of the citations were completely made up, were not real cases. Hence, the lawyers faced professional disciplinary action because they used the tool without the professional review that is required. So hopefully we’re going to educate our students and we’re going to set policy and guideline boundaries for them to use these, as well as sometimes the necessary technical controls for those students who may not be that ethically inclined to follow our guidelines and policies. But I think that to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that these tools are not out there for students to use would be—it’s a disserve to our institutions, to our students, and the mission that we have of training the next generation of knowledge workers. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Meena Bose, who has a raised hand. Meena, if you can unmute yourself and identify yourself. Q: Thank you, Irina. Thank you for this very important talk. And my question is a little—(laughs)—it’s formative, but really—I have been thinking about what you were saying about the role of AI in academic life. And I don’t—particularly for undergraduates, for admissions, advisement, guidance on curriculum. And I don’t want to have my head in the sand about this, as you just said—(laughs)—but it seems to me that any kind of meaningful interaction with students, particularly students who have not had any exposure to college before, depends upon kind of multiple feedback with faculty members, development of mentors, to excel in college and to consider opportunities after. So I’m struggling a little bit to see how AI can be instructive for that part of college life, beyond kind of providing information, I guess. But I guess the web does that already. So welcome your thoughts. Thank you. FASKIANOS: And Meena’s at Hofstra University. MOLINA: Thank you. You know, it’s a great question. And the idea that everybody is proposing right here is we are not—artificial intelligence companies, at least at first. We’ll see in the future because, you know, it depends on how it’s regulated. But they’re not trying, or so they claim, to replace doctors, or architects, or professors, or mentors, or administrators. They’re trying to help those—precisely those people in those professions, and the people they served gain access to more information. And you’re right in a sense that that information is already on the web. But we’ve aways had a problem finding that information regularly on the web. And you may remember that when Google came along, I mean, it swept through every other search engine out there AltaVista, Yahoo, and many others, because, you know, it had a very good search algorithm. And now we’re going to the next level. The next level is where you ask ChatGPT in human-natural language. You’re not trying to combine the three words that say, OK, is the economics class required? No, no, you’re telling ChatGPT, hey, listen, I’m in the master’s in business administration at Drexel University and I’m trying to take more economic classes. What recommendations do you have for me? And this is where you can have a preliminary one, and also a caveat there, as most of these search engine—generative AI engines already have, that tell you: We’re not here to replace the experts. Make sure you discuss your questions with the experts. We will not give you medical advice. We will not give you educational advice. We’re just here, to some extent, for guiding purposes and, even now, for experimental and entertainment purposes. So I think you are absolutely right that we have to be very judicious about how we use these tools to support the students. Now, that said, I had the privilege of working for public universities in the state of Connecticut when I was the CIO. I also had the opportunity early in my career to attend public university in Europe, in Spain, where we were hundreds of students in class. We couldn’t get any attention from the faculty. There were no mentors, there were no counselors, or anybody else. Is it better to have nobody to help you or is it better to have at least some technology guidance that can help you find the information that otherwise is spread throughout many different systems that are like ivory towers—emissions on one side, economics on the other, academics advising on the other, and everything else. So thank you for a wonderful question and reflection. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next question written from Dr. Russell Thomas, a senior lecturer in the Department of International Relations and Diplomatic Studies at Cavendish University in Uganda: What are the skills and competencies that higher education students and faculty need to develop to think in an AI-driven world? MOLINA: So we could argue here that something very similar has happened already with many information technologies and communication technologies. It is the understanding at first faculty members did not want to use email, or the web, or many other tools because they were too busy with their disciplines. And rightly so. They were brilliant economists, or philosophers, or biologists. They didn’t have enough time to learn all these new technologies to interact with the students. But eventually they did learn, because they realized that it was the only way to meet the students where they were and to communicate with them in efficient ways. Now, I have to be honest; when it comes to the use of technology—and we’ll unpack the numbers—it was part of my doctoral dissertation, when I expanded the adoption of technology models, that tells you about early adopters, and mainstream adopters, and late adopters, and laggards. But I uncovered a new category for some of the institutions where I worked called the over-my-dead-body adopters. And these were some of the faculty members who say: I will never switch word processors. I will never use this technology. It’s only forty years until I retire, probably eighty more until I die. I don’t have to do this. And, to be honest, we have a responsibility to understand that those artificial intelligence tools are out there, and to guide the students as to what is the acceptable use of those technologies within the disciplines and the courses that we teach them in. Because they will find those available in a very competitive work market, in a competitive labor market, because they can derive some benefit from them. But also, we don’t want to shortchange their educational attainment just because they go behind our backs to copy and paste from ChatGPT, learning nothing. Going back to the question by Gabriel Doncel, not learning to exercise the critical thinking, using citations and material that is unverified, that was borrowed from the internet without any authority, without any attention to the different points of view. I mean, if you’ve used ChatGPT for a while—and I have personally, even to prepare some basic thank-you speeches, which are all very formal, even to contest a traffic ticket in Washington, DC, when I was speeding but I don’t want to pay the ticket anyway. Even for just research purposes, you could realize that most of the writing from ChatGPT has a very, very common style. Which is, oh, on the one hand people say this, on the other hand people say that. Well, the critical thinking will tell you, sure, there are two different opinions, but this is what I think myself, and this is why I think about this. And these are some of the skills, the critical thinking skills, that we must continue to teach the students and not to, you know, put blinds around their eyes to say, oh, continue focusing only on the textbook and the website. No, no. Look at the other tools but use them judiciously. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Clemente Abrokwaa. Raised hand, if you can identify yourself, please. Q: Hi. Thanks so much for your talk. It’s something that has been—I’m from Penn State University. And this is a very important topic, I think. And some of the earlier speakers have already asked the questions I was going to ask. (Laughs.) But one thing that I would like to say that, as you said, we cannot bury our heads in the sand. No matter what we think, the technology is already here. So we cannot avoid it. My question, though, is what do you think about the artificial intelligence, the use of that in, say, for example, graduate students using it to write dissertations? You did mention about the lawyers that use it to write their briefs, and they were caught. But in dissertations and also in class—for example, you have students—you have about forty students. You give a written assignment. You make—when you start grading, you have grading fatigue. And so at some point you lose interest of actually checking. And so I’m kind of concerned about that how it will affect the students’ desire to actually go and research without resorting to the use of AI. MOLINA: Well, Clemente, fellow colleague from the state of Pennsylvania, thank you for that, once again, both a question and a reflection here. Listen, many of us wrote our doctoral dissertations—mine at Georgetown. At one point of time, I was so tired of writing about the same topics, following the wonderful advice, but also the whims of my dissertation committee, that I was this close from outsourcing my thesis to China. I didn’t, but I thought about it. And now graduate students are thinking, OK, why am I going through the difficulties of writing this when ChatGPT can do it for me and the deadline is tomorrow? Well, this is what will distinguish the good students and the good professionals from the other ones. And the interesting part is, as you know, when we teach graduate students we’re teaching them critical thinking skills, but also teaching them now to express themselves, you know, either orally or in writing. And writing effectively is fundamental in the professions, but also absolutely critical in academic settings. And anybody who’s just copying and pasting from ChatGPT to these documents cannot do that level of writing. But you’re absolutely right. Let’s say that we have an adjunct faculty member who’s teaching a hundred students. Will that person go through every single essay to find out whether students were cheating with ChatGPT? Probably not. And this is why there are also enterprising people who are using artificial intelligence to find out and tell you whether a paper was written using artificial intelligence. So it’s a little bit like this fighting of different sources and business opportunities for all of them. And we’ve done this. We’ve used antiplagiarism tools in the past because we knew that students were copying and pasting using Google Scholar and many other sources. And now oftentimes we run antiplagiarism tools. We didn’t write them ourselves. Or we tell the students, you run it yourself and you give it to me. And make sure you are not accidentally not citing things that could end up jeopardizing your ability to get a graduate degree because your work was not up to snuff with the requirements of our stringent academic programs. So I would argue that this antiplagiarism tools that we’re using will more often than not, and sooner than expected, incorporate the detection of artificial intelligence writeups. And also the interesting part is to tell the students, well, if you do choose to use any of these tools, what are the rules of engagement? Can you ask it to write a paragraph and then you cite it, and you mention that ChatGPT wrote it? Not to mention, in addition to that, all the issues about artificial intelligence, which the courts are deciding now, regarding the intellectual property of those productions. If a song, a poem, a book is written by an artificial intelligence entity, who owns the intellectual property for those works produced by an artificial intelligence machine? FASKIANOS: Good question. We have a lot of written questions. And I’m sure you don’t want to just listen to my voice, so please do raise your hands. But we do have a question from one of your colleagues, Pablo, Pepe Barcega, who’s the IT director at Drexel: Considering the potential biases and limitations of AI models, like ChatGPT, do you think relying on such technology in the educational domain can perpetuate existing inequalities and reinforce systemic biases, particularly in terms of access, representation, and fair evaluation of students? And Pepe’s question got seven upvotes, we advanced it to the top of the line. MOLINA: All right, well, first I have to wonder whether he used ChatGPT to write the question. But I’m going to leave it that. Thank you. (Laughter.) It’s a wonderful question. One of the greatest concerns we have had, those of us who have been working on artificial intelligence digital policy for years—not this year when ChatGPT was released, but for years we’ve been thinking about this. And even before artificial intelligence, in general with algorithm transparency. And the idea is the following: That two things are happening here. One is that we’re programming the algorithms using instructions, instructions created by programmers, with all their biases, and their misunderstandings, and their shortcomings, and their lack of context, and everything else. But with artificial intelligence we’re doing something even more concerning than that, which is we have some basic algorithms but then we’re feeling a lot of information, a corpus of information, to those algorithms. And the algorithms are fine-tuning the rules based on those. So it’s very, very difficult for experts to explain how an artificial intelligence system actually makes decisions, because we know the engine and we know the data that we fed to the engine, but we don’t know the real outcome how those decisions are being made through neural networks, through all of the different systems that we have and methods that we have for artificial intelligence. Very, very few people understand how those work. And those are so busy they don’t have time to explain how the algorithm works for others, including the regulators. Let’s remember some of the failed cases. Amazon tried this early. And they tried this for selecting employees for Amazon. And they fed all the resumes. And guess what? It turned out that most of the recommendations were to hire young white people who had gone to Ivy League schools. Why? Because their first employees were feeding those descriptions, and they had done extremely well at Amazon. Hence, by feeding that information of past successful employees only those were there. And so that puts away the diversity that we need for different academic institutions, large and small, public and private, from different countries, from different genders, from different ages, from different ethnicities. All those things went away because the algorithm was promoting one particular one. Recently I had the opportunity to moderate a panel in Washington, DC, and we had representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And they told us how they investigated a hiring algorithm from a company that was disproportionately recommending that they hired people whose first name was Brian and had played lacrosse in high school because, once again, a disproportionate number of people in that company had done that. And the algorithm realized, oh, this must be important characteristics to hire people for this company. Let’s not forget, for example, with the artificial facial recognition and artificial intelligence by Amazon Rekog, you know, the facial recognition software, that the American Civil Liberties Union, decided, OK, I’m going to submit the pictures of all the congressmen to this particular facial recognition engine. And it turned out that it misidentified many of them, particularly African Americans, as felons who had been convicted. So all these artificial—all these biases could have really, really bad consequences. Imagine that you’re using this to decide who you admit to your universities, and the algorithm is wrong. You know, you are making really biased decisions that will affect the livelihood of many people, but also will transform society, possibly for the worse, if we don’t address this. So this is why the OECD, the European Union, even the White House, everybody is saying: We want this technology. We want to derive the benefits of this technology, while curtailing the abuses. And it’s fundamental we achieve transparency. We are sure that these algorithms are not biased against the people who use them. FASKIANOS: Thank you. So I’m going to go next to Emily Edmonds-Poli, who is a professor at the University of San Diego: We hear a lot about providing clear guidelines for students, but for those of us who have not had a lot of experience using ChatGPT it is difficult to know what clear guidelines look like. Can you recommend some sources we might consult as a starting point, or where we might find some sample language? MOLINA: Hmm. Well, certainly this is what we do in higher education. We compete for the best students and the best faculty members. And we sometimes compete a little bit to be first to win groundbreaking research. But we tend to collaborate with everything else, particularly when it comes to policy, and guidance, and rules. So there are many institutions, like mine, who have already assembled—I’m sure that yours has done the same—assembled committees, because assembling committees and subcommittees is something we do very well in higher education, with faculty members, with administrators, even with the student representation to figure out, OK, what should we do about the use of artificial intelligence on our campus? I mentioned before taking a look at the big aspirational declarations by Meta, and Google, and IBM, and Microsoft could be helpful for these communities to look at this. But also, I’m a very active member of an organization known as EDUCAUSE. And EDUCAUSE is for educators—predominantly higher education educators. Administrators, staff members, faculty members, to think about the adoption of information technology. And EDUCAUSE has done good work on this front and continues to do good work on this front. So once again, EDUCAUSE and some of the institutions have already published their guidelines on how to use artificial intelligence and incorporate that within their academic lives. And now, that said, we also know that even though all higher education institutions are the same, they’re all different. We all have different values. We all believe in different uses of technology. We trust more or less the students. Hence, it’s very important that whatever inspiration you would take, you work internally on campus—as you have done with many other issues in the past—to make sure it really reflects the values of your institution. FASKIANOS: So, Pablo, would you point to a specific college or university that has developed a code of ethics that addresses the use of AI for their academic community beyond your own, but that is publicly available? MOLINA: Yeah, I’m going to be honest, I don’t want to put anybody on the spot. FASKIANOS: OK. MOLINA: Because, once again, there many reasons. But, once again, let me repeat a couple resources. One is of them is from the U.S. Department of Education, from the Office of Educational Technology. And the article is Artificial Intelligence and Future of Teaching and Learning: Insights and Recommendations, published earlier this year. The other source really is And if you look at on artificial intelligence, you’ll find links to articles, you’ll find links to universities. It would be presumptuous of me to evaluate whose policies are better than others, but I would argue that the general principles of nonbiased, transparency, accountability, and also integration of these tools within the academic life of the institution in a morally responsible way—with concepts by privacy by design, security by design, and responsible computing—all of those are good words to have in there. Now, the other problem with policies and guidelines is that, let’s be honest, many of those have no teeth in our institutions. You know, we promulgate them. They’re very nice. They look beautiful. They are beautifully written. But oftentimes when people don’t follow them, there’s not a big penalty. And this is why, in addition to having the policies, educating the campus community is important. But it’s difficult to do because we need to educate them about so many things. About cybersecurity threats, about sexual harassment, about nondiscriminatory policies, about responsible behavior on campus regarding drugs and alcohol, about crime. So many things that they have to learn about. It’s hard to get at another topic for them to spend their time on, instead of researching the core subject matter that they chose to pursue for their lives. FASKIANOS: Thank you. And we will be sending out a link to this video, the transcript, as well as the resources that you have mentioned. So if you didn’t get them, we’ll include them in the follow-up email. So I’m going to go to Dorian Brown Crosby who has a raised hand. Q: Yes. Thank you so much. I put one question in the chat but I have another question that I would like to go ahead and ask now. So thank you so much for this presentation. You mentioned algorithm biases with individuals. And I appreciate you pointing that out, especially when we talk about face recognition, also in terms of forced migration, which is my area of research. But I also wanted you to speak to, or could you talk about the challenges that some institutions in higher education would have in terms of support for some of the things that you mentioned in terms of potential curricula, or certificates, or other ways that AI would be woven into the new offerings of institutions of higher education. How would that look specifically for institutions that might be challenged to access those resources, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities? Thank you. MOLINA: Well, very interesting question, and a really fascinating point of view. Because we all tend to look at things from our own perspective and perhaps not consider the perspective of others. Those who have much more money and resources than us, and those who have fewer resources and less funding available. So this is a very interesting line. What is it that we do in higher education when we have these problems? Well, as I mentioned before, we build committees and subcommittees. Usually we also do campus surveys. I don’t know why we love doing campus surveys and asking everybody what they think about this. Those are useful tools to discuss. And oftentimes the thing that we do also, that we’ve done for many other topics, well, we hire people and we create new offices—either academic or administrative offices. With all of those, you know, they have certain limitations to how useful and functional they can be. And they also continue to require resources. Resources that, in the end, are paid for by students with, you know, federal financing. But this is the truth of the matter. So if you start creating offices of artificial intelligence on our campuses, however important the work may be on their guidance and however much extra work can be assigned to them instead of distributed to every faculty and the staff members out there, the truth of the matter is that these are not perfect solutions. So what is it that we do? Oftentimes, we work with partners. And our partners love to take—(inaudible)—vendors. But the truth of the matter is that sometimes they have much more—they have much more expertise on some of these topics. So for example, if you’re thinking about incorporating artificial intelligence to some of the academic materials that you use in class, well, I’m going to take a guess that if you already work with McGraw Hill in economics, or accounting, or some of the other books and websites that they put that you recommend to your students or you make mandatory for your students, that you start discussing with them, hey, listen, are you going to use artificial intelligence? How? Are you going to tell me ahead of time? Because, as a faculty member, you may have a choice to decide: I want to work with this publisher and not this particular publisher because of the way they approach this. And let’s be honest, we’ve seen a number of these vendors with major information security problems. McGraw Hill recently left a repository of data misconfigured out there on the internet, and almost anybody could access that. But many others before them, like Chegg and others, were notorious for their information security breaches. Can we imagine that these people are going to adopt artificial intelligence and not do such a good job of securing the information, the privacy, and the nonbiased approaches that we hold dear for students? I think they require a lot of supervision. But in the end, these publishers have the economies of scale for you to recommend those educational materials instead of developing your own for every course, for every class, and for every institution. So perhaps we’re going to have to continue to work together, as we’ve done in higher education, in consortia, which would be local, or regional. It could be based on institutions of the same interest, or on student population, on trying to do this. And, you know, hopefully we’ll get grants, grants from the federal government, that can be used in order to develop some of the materials and guidelines that are going to help us precisely embrace this and embracing not only to operate better as institutions and fulfill our mission, but also to make sure that our students are better prepared to join society and compete globally, which is what we have to do. FASKIANOS: So I’m going to combine questions. Dr. Lance Hunter, who is an associate professor at Augusta University. There’s been a lot of debate regarding if plagiarism detection software tools like Turnitin can accurately detect AI-generated text. What is your opinion regarding the accuracy of AI text generation detection plagiarism tools? And then Rama Lohani-Chase, at Union County College, wants recommendations on what plagiarism checker devices you would recommend—or, you know, plagiarism detection for AI would you recommend? MOLINA: Sure. So, number one, I’m not going to endorse any particular company because if I do that I would ask them for money, or the other way around. I’m not sure how it works. I could be seen as biased, particularly here. But there are many there and your institutions are using them. Sometimes they are integrated with your learning management system. And, as I mentioned, sometimes we ask the students to use them themselves and then either produce the plagiarism report for us or simply know themselves this. I’m going to be honest; when I teach ethics and technology, I tell the students about the antiplagiarism tools at the universities. But I also tell them, listen, if you’re cheating in an ethics and technology class, I failed miserably. So please don’t. Take extra time if you have to take it, but—you know, and if you want, use the antiplagiarism tool yourself. But the question stands and is critical, which is right now those tools are trying to improve the recognition of artificial intelligence written text, but they’re not as good as they could be. So like every other technology and, what I’m going to call, antitechnology, used to control the damage of the first technology, is an escalation where we start trying to identify this. And I think they will continue to do this, and they will be successful in doing this. There are people who have written ad hoc tools using ChatGPT to identify things written by ChatGPT. I tried them. They’re remarkably good for the handful of papers that I tried myself, but I haven’t conducted enough research myself to tell you if they’re really effective tools for this. So I would argue that for the timing you must assume that those tools, as we assume all the time, will not catch all of the cases, only some of the most obvious ones. FASKIANOS: So a question from John Dedie, who is an assistant professor at the Community College of Baltimore County: To combat AI issues, shouldn’t we rethink assignments? Instead of papers, have students do PowerPoints, ask students to offer their opinions and defend them? And then there was an interesting comment from Mark Habeeb at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Knowledge has been cheap for many years now because it is so readily available. With AI, we have a tool that can aggregate the knowledge and create written products. So, you know, what needs to be the focus now is critical thinking and assessing values. We need to teach our students how to assess and use that knowledge rather than how to find the knowledge and aggregate that knowledge. So maybe you could react to those two—the question and comment. MOLINA: So let me start with the Georgetown one, not only because he’s a colleague of mine. I also teach at Georgetown, and where I obtained my doctoral degree a number of years ago. I completely agree. I completely agree with the issue that we have to teach new skills. And one of the programs in which I teach at Georgetown is our master’s of analysis. Which are basically for people who want to work in the intelligence community. And these people have to find the information and they have to draw inferences, and try to figure out whether it is a nation-state that is threatening the United States, or another, or a corporation, or something like that. And they do all of those critical thinking, and intuition, and all the tools that we have developed in the intelligence community for many, many years. And artificial intelligence, if they suspend their judgement and they only use artificial intelligence, they will miss very important information that is critical for national security. And the same is true for something like our flagship school, the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, one of the best in the world in that particular field, where you want to train the diplomats, and the heads of state, and the great strategical thinkers on policy and politics in the international arena to precisely think not in the mechanical way that a machine can think, but also to connect those dots. And, sure they should be using those tools in order to, you know, get the most favorable position and the starting position, But they should also use their critical thinking always, and their capabilities of analysis in order to produce good outcomes and good conclusions. Regarding redoing the assignments, absolutely true. But that is hard. It is a lot of work. We’re very busy faculty members. We have to grade. We have to be on committees. We have to do research. And now they ask us to redo our entire assessment strategy, with new assignments that we need to grade again and account for artificial intelligence. And I don’t think that any provost out there is saying, you know what? You can take two semesters off to work on this and retool all your courses. That doesn’t happen in the institutions that I know of. If you get time off because you’re entitled to it, you want to devote that time to do research because that is really what you sign up for when you pursued an academic career, in many cases. I can tell you one thing, that here in Europe where oftentimes they look at these problems with fewer resources than we do in the United States, a lot of faculty members at the high school level, at the college level, are moving to oral examinations because it’s much harder to cheat with ChatGPT with an oral examination. Because they will ask you interactive, adaptive questions—like the ones we suffered when we were defending our doctoral dissertations. And they will realize, the faculty members, whether or not you know the material and you understand the material. Now, imagine oral examinations for a class of one hundred, two hundred, four hundred. Do you do one for the entire semester, with one topic chosen and run them? Or do you do several throughout the semester? Do you end up using a ChatGPT virtual assistance to conduct your oral examinations? I think these are complex questions. But certainly redoing our assignments and redoing the way we teach and the way we evaluate our students is perhaps a necessary consequence of the advent of artificial intelligence. FASKIANOS: So next question from Damian Odunze, who is an assistant professor at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi: Who should safeguard ethical concerns and misuse of AI by criminals? Should the onus fall on the creators and companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft to ensure security and not pass it on to the end users of the product? And I think you mentioned at the top in your remarks, Pablo, about how the founder of ChatGPT was urging the Congress to put into place some regulation. What is the onus on ChatGPT to protect against some of this as well? MOLINA: Well, I’m going to recycle more of the material from my doctoral dissertation. In this case it was the Molina cycle of innovation and regulation. It goes like this, basically there are—you know, there are engineers and scientists who create new information technologies. And then there are entrepreneurs and businesspeople and executives to figure out, OK, I know how to package this so that people are going to use it, buy it, subscribe to it, or look at it, so that I can sell the advertisement to others. And, you know, this begins and very, very soon the abuses start. And the abuses are that criminals are using these platforms for reasons that were not envisioned before. Even the executives, as we’ve seen with Google, and Facebook, and others, decide to invade the privacy of the people because they only have to pay a big fine, but they make much more money than the fines or they expect not to be caught. And what happened in this cycle is that eventually there is so much noise in the media, congressional hearings, that eventually regulators step in and they try to pass new laws to do this, or the regulatory agencies try to investigate using the powers given to them. And then all of these new rules have to be tested in courts of law, which could take years by the time it reaches sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court. Some of them are even knocked down on the way to the Supreme Court when they realize this is not constitutional, it’s a conflict of laws, and things like that. Now, by the time we regulate these new technologies, not only many years have gone by, but the technologies have changed. The marketing products and services have changed, the abuses have changed, and the criminals have changed. So this is why we’re always living in a loosely regulated space when it comes to information technology. And this is an issue of accountability. We’re finding this, for example, with information security. If my phone is my hacked, or my computer, my email, is it the fault of Microsoft, and Apple, and Dell, and everybody else? Why am I the one paying the consequences and not any of these companies? Because it’s unregulated. So morally speaking, yes. These companies are accountable. Morally speaking also the users are accountable, because we’re using these tools because we’re incorporating them professionally. Legally speaking, so far, nobody is accountable except the lawyers who submitted briefs that were not correct in a court of law and were disciplined for that. But other than that, right now, it is a very gray space. So in my mind, it requires everybody. It takes a village to do the morally correct thing. It starts with the companies and the inventors. It involves the regulators, who should do their job and make sure that there’s no unnecessary harm created by these tools. But it also involves every company executive, every professional, every student, and professor who decides to use these tools. FASKIANOS: OK. I’m going to take—combine a couple questions from Dorothy Marinucci and Venky Venkatachalam about the effect of AI on jobs. Dorothy talks about—she’s from Fordham University—about she read something about Germany’s best-selling newspaper Bild reportedly adopting artificial intelligence to replace certain editorial roles in an effort to cut costs. Does this mean that the field of journalism communication will change? And Venky’s question is: AI—one of the impacts is in the area of automation, leading to elimination of certain types of jobs. Can you talk about both the elimination of jobs and what new types of jobs you think will be created as AI matures into the business world with more value-added applications? MOLINA: Well, what I like about predicting the future, and I’ve done this before in conferences and papers, is that, you know, when the future comes ten years from now people will either not remember what I said, or, you know, maybe I was lucky and my prediction was correct. In the specific field of journalism, and we’ve seen it, the journalism and communications field, decimated because the money that they used to make with advertising—and, you know, certainly a bit part of that were in the form of corporate profits. But many other one in the form of hiring good journalists, and investigative journalism, and these people could be six months writing a story when right now they have six hours to write a story, because there are no resources. And all the advertisement money went instead to Facebook, and Google, and many others because they work very well for advertisements. But now the lifeblood of journalism organizations has been really, you know, undermined. And there’s good journalism in other places, in newspapers, but sadly this is a great temptation to replace some of the journalists with more artificial intelligence, particularly the most—on the least important pieces. I would argue that editorial pieces are the most important in newspapers, the ones requiring ideology, and critical thinking, and many others. Whereas there are others that tell you about traffic changes that perhaps do not—or weather patterns, without offending any meteorologists, that maybe require a more mechanical approach. I would argue that a lot of professions are going to be transformed because, well, if ChatGPT can write real estate announcements that work very well, well, you may need fewer people doing this. And yet, I think that what we’re going to find is the same thing we found when technology arrived. We all thought that the arrival of computers would mean that everybody would be without a job. Guess what? It meant something different. It meant that in order to do our jobs, we had to learn how to use computers. So I would argue that this is going to be the same case. To be a good doctor, to be a good lawyer, to be a good economist, to be a good knowledge worker you’re going to have to learn also how to use whatever artificial intelligence tools are available out there, and use them professionally within the moral and the ontological concerns that apply to your particular profession. Those are the kind of jobs that I think are going to be very important. And, of course, all the technical jobs, as I mentioned. There are tons of people who consider themselves artificial intelligence experts. Only a few at the very top understand these systems. But there are many others in the pyramid that help with preparing these systems, with the support, the maintenance, the marketing, preparing the datasets to go into these particular models, working with regulators and legislators and compliance organizations to make sure that the algorithms and the tools are not running afoul of existing regulations. All of those, I think, are going to be interesting jobs that will be part of the arrival of artificial intelligence. FASKIANOS: Great. We have so many questions left and we just couldn’t get to them all. I’m just going to ask you just to maybe reflect on how the use of artificial intelligence in higher education will affect U.S. foreign policy and international relations. I know you touched upon it a little bit in reacting to the comment from our Georgetown University colleague, but any additional thoughts you might want to add before we close? MOLINA: Well, let’s be honest, one particular one that applies to education and to everything else, there is a race—a worldwide race for artificial intelligence progress. The big companies are fighting—you know, Google, and Meta, many others, are really putting—Amazon—putting resources into that, trying to be first in this particular race. But it’s also a national race. For example, it’s very clear that there are executive orders from the United States as well as regulations and declarations from China that basically are indicating these two big nations are trying to be first in dominating the use of artificial intelligence. And let’s be honest, in order to do well in artificial intelligence you need not only the scientists who are going to create those models and refine them, but you also need the bodies of data that you need to feed these algorithms in order to have good algorithms. So the barriers to entry for other nations and the barriers to entry by all the technology companies are going to be very, very high. It’s not going to be easy for any small company to say: Oh, now I’m a huge player in artificial intelligence. Because even if you may have created an interesting new algorithmic procedure, you don’t have the datasets that the huge companies have been able to amass and work on for the longest time. Every time you submit a question to ChatGPT, the ChatGPT experts are using their questions to refine the tool. The same way that when we were using voice recognition with Apple or Android or other companies, that we’re using those voices and our accents and our mistakes in order to refine their voice recognition technologies. So this is the power. We’ll see that the early bird gets the worm of those who are investing, those who are aggressively going for it, and those who are also judiciously regulating this can really do very well in the international arena when it comes to artificial intelligence. And so will their universities, because they will be able to really train those knowledge workers, they’ll be able to get the money generated from artificial intelligence, and they will be able to, you know, feedback one with the other. The advances in the technology will result in more need for students, more students graduating will propel the industry. And there will also be—we’ll always have a fight for talent where companies and countries will attract those people who really know about these wonderful things. Now, keep in mind that artificial intelligence was the core of this, but there are so many other emerging issues in information technology. And some of them are critical to higher education. So we’re still, you know, lots of hype, but we think that virtual reality will have an amazing impact on the way we teach and we conduct research and we train for certain skills. We think that quantum computing has the ability to revolutionize the way we conduct research, allowing us to do competitions that were not even thinkable today. We’ll look at things like robotics. And if you ask me about what is going to take many jobs away, I would say that robotics can take a lot of jobs away. Now, we thought that there would be no factory workers left because of robots, but that hasn’t happened. But keep adding robots with artificial intelligence to serve you a cappuccino, or your meal, or take care of your laundry, or many other things, or maybe clean your hotel room, and you realize, oh, there are lots of jobs out there that no longer will be there. Think about artificial intelligence for self-driving vehicles, boats, planes, cargo ships, commercial airplanes. Think about the thousands of taxi drivers and truck drivers who may end up being out of jobs because, listen, the machines drive safer, and they don’t get tired, and they can be driving twenty-four by seven, and they don’t require health benefits, or retirement. They don’t get depressed. They never miss. Think about many of the technologies out there that have an impact on what we do. So, but artificial intelligence is a multiplier to technologies, a contributor to many other fields and many other technologies. And this is why we’re so—spending so much time and so much energy thinking about these particular issues. FASKIANOS: Well, thank you, Pablo Molina. We really appreciate it. Again, my apologies that we couldn’t get to all of the questions and comments in the chat, but we appreciate all of you for your questions and, of course, your insights were really terrific, Dr. P. So we will, again, be sending out the link to this video and transcript, as well as the resources that you mentioned during this discussion. I hope you all enjoy the Fourth of July. And I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter and visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Again, you send us comments, feedback, suggestions to [email protected]. And, again, thank you all for joining us. We look forward to your continued participation in CFR Academic programming. Have a great day. MOLINA: Adios. (END)
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    Chris Li, director of research of the Asia-Pacific Initiative and fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, leads the conversation on U.S. strategy in East Asia. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to today’s session of the Winter/Spring 2023 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.  Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.  We’re delighted to have Chris Li with us to discuss U.S. strategy in East Asia. Mr. Li is director of research of the Asia-Pacific Initiative, and a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where he focuses on U.S.-China relations, Asia-Pacific security, and technology competition. Previously, he was research assistant to Graham Allison in the Avoiding Great Power War Project, and coordinator of the China Working Group, where he contributed to the China Cyber Policy Initiative and the Technology and Public Purpose Project, led by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.  Chris, thanks very much for being with us today. I thought we could begin with you giving us your insights and analysis of the Biden administration’s foreign policy strategy in East Asia, specifically vis-à-vis China.  LI: Great. Well, first of all, thanks, Irina, for the invitation. I’m really looking forward to the conversation and also to all the questions from members of the audience and, in particular, all the students on this seminar. So I thought I’d start very briefly with just an overview of how the Biden administration’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific has shaped up over the last two years, two and a half years. What are the key pillars? And essentially, now that we’re about halfway through the first term—or, you know, if there is a second term—but President Biden’s first term, where things are going to go moving forward?  So as many you are probably familiar, Secretary of State Tony Blinken laid out essentially the core tenets of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, of which China, of course, is a focal centerpiece. And he did so in his speech last summer at the Asia Society, where he essentially described the relationship between the U.S. and China as competitive where it should be, cooperative where it can be, and adversarial where it must be. So sort of three different pillars: competition, cooperation, a sort of balance between the two. And in terms of the actual tenets of the strategy, the framing was three pillars—invest, align, and complete.  And so briefly, just what that meant according to Secretary Blinken was really investing in sources of American strength at home. Renewing, for example, investment in technology, investment in STEM education, infrastructure, and many of the policies that actually became known as Build Back Better, a lot of the domestic spending packages that President Biden proposed, and some of which has been passed. So that first pillar was invest sort of in order to o compete with China, we need to first renew our sources of American strength and compete from a position of strength.  The second element was “align.” And in this—in this pillar, I think this is where the Biden administration has really distinguished itself from the Trump administration. Many folks say, well, the Biden administration’s China policy or its Asia policy is really just Trump 2.0 but with a little bit—you know, with essentially a nicer tone to it. But I think there is a difference here. And I think the Biden administration’s approach has really focused on aligning with both traditional security partners—our allies, our alliances with countries like the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines—but also invigorating those nontraditional partnerships, with India, for example.   I think another part of this strategy, another part of this dimension, has also been reinvigorating U.S. presence and U.S. leadership, really, in multilateral organizations. Not only, for example, taking the Quad and reestablishing some of the leader-level summits, the ministerials, proposing, for example, a COVID cooperation regime among new members of the Quad, but also establishing newer frameworks. So, for example, as many of you have read about, I’m sure, AUKUS, this trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. when it comes to sharing of nuclear submarine technology. That’s been a new proposed policy. And I think we’re about to see an update from the administration in the next couple of weeks.  And even with elements of the region that have been unappreciated and perhaps under-focused on. For example, the Solomon Islands was the focal point of some attention last year, and you’ve seen the administration propose the Partners in the Blue Pacific Initiative, which seeks to establish greater cooperation among some of the Pacific Island nations. And there was actually a summit hosted by President Biden last fall with leaders of the Pacific Island countries. So that alignment piece I think has really been significant as a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.  The third element, of course, competition, I think is the most evident. And we’ve seen this from some of the executive orders on semiconductors, the restrictions on advanced chips, to elements of trade, to even sort of advocacy for human rights and greater promotion of democracy. You saw the Summit for Democracy, which has been a pillar of the administration’s foreign policy agenda. So that’s basically what they’ve done in the last two and a half years.  Now, in terms of where that’s actually brought us, I think I’ll make four observations. The first is that, unlike the Biden—unlike the Trump administration, where most of the policy pronouncements about the People’s Republic of China had some tinge of inducing change in China—that was the phrase that Secretary Pompeo used in a speech on China policy—I think the Biden administration largely has said: The assumption and the premise of all of our policy toward China is based on the idea that the U.S. government does not seek fundamentally to change the Chinese government, the Chinese regime, the leadership, the administration, the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.  So that is both a markedly important difference, but it’s also a part of the strategy that I believe remains ambiguous. And here, the problem is, you know, invest, align, and compete, competitive coexistence, where does that all actually take us? And I think this is where analysts in the strategic community and think tank world have said, well, it’s great to invest, of course. You know, there’s bipartisan support. Alignment with partners and allies is, of course, a pretty uncontroversial, for the most part, approach. And competition is, I think, largely a consensus view in Washington, D.C. But where does this actually take us?  You know, for all of its criticisms, the Trump administration did propose a specific end state or an end objective. And I think the Biden administration has just sort of said, well, it’s about coexisting. It’s about just assuming to manage the relationship. I think there are, of course, valid merits to that approach. And on an intellectual level, the idea is that because this is not necessarily a Cold War 2.0, in the words of the Biden administration, we’re not going to have an end state that is ala the Cold War—in essence a sort of victory or demise, you know, the triumph of capitalism over communism, et cetera. In fact, it’s going to be a persistent and sustained rivalry and competition. And in order to harness a strategy, we essentially need to manage that competition.   So I think that’s—it’s an intellectually coherent idea, but I think one of the ambiguities surrounding and one of the criticisms that has been proposed is that there is no clear end state. So we compete, we invest, we align, but to what end? Do we just keep—does the administration continue to tighten up and enhance alliances with partners and allies, and then to what end? What happens next? And sort of where does this lead us—leave us in ten years from now? So I think that’s the first comment I’ll make about the approach to the Indo-Pacific.  The second is that one of the tenets, of course, as I describe, is this compartmentalization of compete, cooperate. In essence, you know, we will compete—we, being the United States—with China on issues of technology, issues of economics, but we will also cooperate on areas of shared concern—climate change, nonproliferation. I think what you’ve seen is that while the Biden administration has proposed this idea, we can split—we can cooperate on one hand and also compete on the other—the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government, has largely rejected that approach.   Where you’ve seen statements from senior officials in China that have said, essentially, we will not cooperate with you, the United States, until you first cease all of the behavior, all of the negative policies that we don’t like. In essence, if you will continue to sell arms to Taiwan, if you continue, the United States, to restrict semiconductors, to crackdown on espionage, to conduct military exercises in the region, then forget about any potential cooperation on climate, or forget about any cooperation on global health, et cetera.   So in essence, being able to tie the two compartments together has prevented a lot of what the Biden administration has sought to achieve. And we’ve seen that very clearly with Special Envoy John Kerry and his relentless efforts to conduct climate diplomacy. And I think largely—for example, last summer in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, you saw a lot of those collaborative efforts essentially derailed. That’s the second comment I’ll make, which is while this approach, again, logically to most Americans would seem sound, it’s actually met a lot of resistance because the Chinese reaction to it is not necessarily the same.  The third is I think we’ve seen increasingly, even though there has been an increased alignment since the Trump administration with allies and partners, there’s still a degree of hedging among countries in the region. And that makes sense because from the perspectives of many of those leaders of countries in the region, the United States is a democratic country. We have an election coming up in 2024. And there’s no guarantee that the next president, if President Biden is no longer the president in 2024 or even in 2028, will continue this policy.   And I think all of you, as observers of American politics, know the degree to which American politics has become largely one that is dysfunctional, is almost schizophrenic in a way. And so one would imagine that if you are a leader of a country in the Asian-Pacific region, to support the Biden administration’s engagement, but also to maintain a degree of strategic autonomy, as this is often called. And so what I think we’ll continue to see and what will be interesting to watch is how middle powers, how other countries resident in the region approach the United States in terms of—(inaudible). I think India will be key to watch, for example. Its defense relationship with the United States has increased over the years, but yet it still has close interests with respect to China.  The final comment I’ll make is that on the military dimension I think this is another area of concern, where the Biden administration has said that one of its priorities is creating guardrails, constructing guardrails to manage the potential escalation in the event of an accident, or a miscommunication, miscalculation that could quickly spiral into a crisis. And we needn’t—we need not look farther than the 2001 Hainan incident to think of an example, which was a collision between a(n) EP-3 aircraft and a Chinese intelligence plane. And that led to a diplomatic standoff.  And so I think the United States government is very keen on creating dialogue between militaries, risk reduction mechanisms, crisis management mechanisms. But I think they’ve encountered resistance, again, from the People’s Republic of China, because the perspective there is that much of the U.S. behavior in the region militarily is invalid, is illegitimate. You know, the Chinese government opposes, for example, U.S. transits through the Taiwan Strait. So the idea therefore that they would engage and essentially deconflict and manage risk is sort of legitimizing American presence there militarily. And so we’ve encountered that obstacle as well.  So I think going forward on all four elements, we’re going to continue to see adjustment. And I think, as students, as researchers, I think these are four areas where there’s fertile room for discussion, for debate, for analysis, for looking at history. And I look forward to a conversation. Hopefully, many of you have ideas as well because there’s no monopoly on wisdom and there are many creative proposals to be discussed. So I look forward to questions. I’ll stop there.  FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you, Chris. That was great. Now we’re going to go to all of you.  (Gives queuing instructions.)  Our first written question comes from Grace Wheeler. I believe a graduate student at the University of West Florida. Kissinger proposed the future of China-U.S. relations be one of coevolution instead of confrontation. Is it still realistically possible for the future of China-U.S. relations to be one of cooperation instead of confrontation?  LI: So terrific question. Thank you for the question. It’s a very interesting idea. And I think Henry Kissinger, who I know has long been involved with the Council on Foreign Relations, has produced through his many decades,strategic frameworks and new ways of thinking about cardinal challenges to geopolitics. I have not yet actually understood or at least examined specifically what the concrete pillars of coevolution entail. My understanding on a general level is that it means, essentially, the United States and the People’s Republic of China adjust and sort of mutually change their policies to accommodate each other. So a sort of mutual accommodation over time to adjust interests in a way that prevent conflict.  I think on the face—of course, that sounds—that sounds very alluring. That sounds like a terrific idea. I think the problem has always been what would actually this look like in implementation? So for example, on the issue of Taiwan, this is an issue where the Chinese government has said: There is no room for compromise. You know, the refrain that they repeat is: Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory. It is part of sovereignty. And there is no room for compromise. This is a red line. So if that’s the case, there’s not really, in my view, much room for evolution on this issue, for example. And it’s an intractable problem.  And so I don’t necessarily know how to apply the Kissinger framework to specific examples. And, but, you know, I do think it’s something worth considering. And, you know, I would encourage you and others on this call to think about, for example, how that framework might actually be adapted. So I think it’s an interesting idea, but I would—I think the devil’s in the details. And essentially, to think about how this would be applied to specific issues—South China Sea, human rights, trade—would be the key to unpacking this concept.  I think the second part of your question was, is cooperation possible? And again, I think, as I stated in my remarks, the Biden administration publicly says—publicly asserts that they do seek to maintain a space for cooperation in climate, in nonproliferation, in global health security. I think, again, what we’ve encountered is that the Chinese government’s view is that unless the United States ceases behavior that it deems detrimental to its own interests, it will not pursue any discussion of cooperation.   And so I think that’s the problem we’re facing. And so I think there are going to be discussions going forward on, well, given that, how do we then balance the need for cooperation on climate, in pandemics, with, for example, also concerns about security, concerns about military activity, concerns about Taiwan, et cetera? And I think this is the daily stuff of, of course, the conversations among the Biden administration and senior leadership. So personally, my view, is I hope cooperation is possible, of course. I think there are shared issues, shared vital interests, between the two countries and, frankly, among the global community, that require the U.S. and China to be able to work out issues. But I’m personally not optimistic that under this current framework, this paradigm, there will be a significant space open for cooperation.  FASKIANOS: Thank you. Going next to Hamza Siddiqui, a raised hand.   Q: Thank you. Hi. I’m Hamza Siddiqui, a student from Minnesota State University, Mankato.   And I actually had two questions. The first was: What kind of role does the U.S. envision Southeast Asian states—especially like the Philippines and Vietnam—playing in their U.S. strategy when it comes to Asia-Pacific security issues, specifically? And the second is that for the last few years there’s been some discussion about Japan and South Korea being formally invited to join the Five Eyes alliance. And I wanted to get your take on that. What do you think are the chances that a formal invitation would be extended to them? Thank you.  LI: Great. Thank you for the question. Two terrific questions.  So, first, on the role of countries in Southeast Asia, I think that under the Biden administration they have continued to play an increasing degree of importance. So you’ve seen, for example, even in the Philippines, which you cited, I think just last month Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made a visit there. And in the aftermath of the visit, he announced a new basing agreement. I haven’t reviewed the details specifically, and I’m not a Philippines expert, but in short my understanding is that there is going to be renewed American presence—expanded American presence, actually, in the region.   And the Philippines, just based on their geostrategic location, is incredibly important in the Indo-Pacific region. So I think that the administration is very active in enhancing cooperation on the defense element, but also on the political and economic side as well. So with the Quad, for example, in India, you’ve seen cooperation on elements of economics as well, and technology. I think there’s an initiative about digital cooperation too. So I think the answer is increasingly an important role.   On Japan and Korea, there have, of course, been discussions over the years about expanding the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to other countries in Asia as well. My assessment is that that’s probably unlikely to occur in a formal way in the near term. But I could be wrong. And that assessment is primarily based on the fact that the countries that currently are part of the Five Eyes agreement share certain elements of linguistic convergence. They all speak English. There are certain longstanding historical ties that those countries have. And I think that to necessarily expand—or, to expand that existing framework would probably require a degree of bureaucratic sort of rearrangement that might be quite difficult, or quite challenging, or present obstacles.  I think what you will see, though, is enhanced security cooperation, for sure. And we’ve seen that even with Japan, for example, announcing changes to its military, its self-defense force, and increased defense spending as well in the region. So I think that is a trend that will continue.  FASKIANOS: Next question I’m taking from Sarah Godek, who is a graduate student at the University of Michigan.   What do guardrails look like, from a Chinese perspective? Thinking how China’s foreign ministry has consistently put out lists of demands for the U.S. side, I’m wondering how guardrails are formulated by Wang Yi and others.  LI: Great. Thanks for the question.  So I guess I’ll step back first and talk about what guardrails, in my view, actually entail. So I think the idea here is that in the event of a crisis—and, most of the time, crises are not planned. (Laughs.) Most of the time, crises, you know, occur as a result of an accident. For example, like the 2001 incident. But an accidental collision in the South China Sea between two vessels, the collision accidentally of two planes operating in close proximity. And as Chinese and American forces operate in closer proximity and increasing frequency, we do have that risk.   So I think, again, the idea of a guardrail that essentially, in the military domain, which is what I’m speaking about, entails a mechanism in place such that in the event of an accident or a crisis, there are ways based on that mechanism to diffuse that crisis, or at least sort of stabilize things before the political leadership can work out a solution. In essence, to prevent escalation because of a lack of dialogue. And I think for those of you who’ve studied history, you know that many wars, many conflicts have occurred not because one power, one state decides to launch a war. That has occurred. But oftentimes, because there is an accident, an accidental collision. And I think many wars have occurred this way.  So the idea of a guardrail therefore, in the military domain, is to create, for example, channels of communication that could be used in the event of a conflict. I think the easiest parallel to imagine is the U.S. and the Soviet Union, where there were hotlines, for example, between Moscow and between Washington, D.C. during that era, where the seniormost national security aides of the presidents could directly reach out to each other in the event of a crisis.   In the China context, what has been difficult is some of those channels exist. For example, the National Security Council Coordinator for Asia Kurt Campbell has said publicly: We have hotlines. The problem is that when the Americans pick up the phone and call, no one picks up on the other side. And in short, you know, having just the structure, the infrastructure, is insufficient if those infrastructure are not being used by the other side.   I think with respect to the U.S.-China context, probably, again, as I mentioned earlier, the largest obstacle is the fact that guardrails help the United States—or, in the Chinese perspective—from the Chinese perspective, any of these guardrails would essentially allow the U.S. to operate with greater confidence that, in the event of an accident, we will be able to control escalation. And from the Chinese perspective, they argue that because the United States fundamentally shouldn’t be operating in the Taiwan Strait anyway, therefore by constructing that guardrail, by, for example, having dialogue to manage that risk, it would be legitimizing an illegitimate presence in the first place.   So that’s always been perennially the problem. And I think the argument that the United States has made is that, well, sure, that may be your position. But it is in your interest as well not to have an accident spiral into a conflict. And so I think we’ve seen not a lot of progress on this front. I think, for example, in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit, there—you know, a lot of the defense cooperation ties were suspended.   But the last comment I’ll make is that that doesn’t necessarily mean that all dialogue has been stayed. There are still active channels between the United States and China. We have embassies in each other’s countries. From public remarks, it seems like during moments of enhanced tension there are still ways for both governments to communicate with each other. So I think the good news is that it’s not completely like the two countries aren’t speaking to each other, but I think that there are not as many channels for reducing risk, managing potential crises, in the military sphere that exist today, that probably should exist.  FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Michael Long. Let’s see. You need to unmute yourself.  LI: It looks like he’s dropped off.  FASKIANOS: It looks like he put down his hand. OK. So let’s go next to Conor O’Hara.  Q: Hi. My name is Conor O’Hara. And I’m a graduate student at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.  In one of my classes, titled America’s Role in the World, we often talk about how America really does not have a comprehensive understanding of China. Not only China’s military and state department, but really China as a society. How can Americans change that? And where does America need to focus its efforts in understanding China? And then also, one other thing I think of, is, you know, where does that understanding begin? You know, how early in someone’s education or really within, say, the United States State Department do we need to focus our efforts on building an understanding? Thank you.  LI: Great. Well, thanks for the question. It’s a great question. Very hard challenge as well.  I think that’s absolutely true. I think the degree of understanding of China—of actually most countries—(laughs)—around the world—among senior U.S. foreign policy practitioners, I think, is insufficient. I think particularly with respect to China, and also Asia broadly, much of the diplomatic corps, the military establishment, intelligence officers, many of those people have essentially cut their teeth over the last twenty-five years focusing on the Middle East and counterterrorism. And that makes sense because the United States was engaged in two wars in that region.  But going back farther, many of the national security professionals before that generation were focused on the Soviet Union, obviously because of the Cold War. And so really, you’re absolutely correct that the number of people in the United States government who have deep China expertise academically or even professionally on the ground, or even have the linguistic ability to, you know, speak Mandarin, or other countries—or, languages of other countries in East Asia, I think is absolutely limited. I think the State Department, of course, has—as well as the intelligence community, as well as the Department of Defense—has tried to over the last few years reorient and rebalance priorities and resources there. But I think it’s still—my understanding, today it’s still limited. And I think there’s a lot of work to be done.  I think your question on how do you understand China as a society, I think with any country, number one, of course, is history. You know, every country’s politics, its policy, its government is informed by its history of, you know, modern history but also history going back farther. And I think China is no exception. In fact, Chinese society, and even the Communist Party of China, is deeply, I think, entrenched in a historical understanding of its role in the world, of how it interacts compared with its people, its citizens, its foreign conflicts. And so I think, number one is to understand the history of modern China. And I think anyone who seeks to be involved in discussions and research and debate on China does need to understand that history.  I think the second point is linguistics is actually quite important. Being able to speak the language, read the language, understand the language is important. Because so much of what is written—so much of our knowledge as, you know, American think tank researchers, is based on publicly available information in China. And a lot of that primarily is in Mandarin. So most speeches that the senior leadership of China deliver are actually in Mandarin. And some of them are translated, but not all of them. A lot of the documents that they issue, a lot of academics who write about—academics in China who write about foreign policy and international relations, write in Mandarin.  And so I think that an ability to be able to read in the original text is quite important. And in fact, you know, a lot of the nuances, and specifically in the Communist Party’s ideology, how it sees itself, its role in the world, a lot of that really is best captured and best understood in its original language. Some of the—you know, the ideology, the campaigns of propaganda, et cetera.  And I think the last part of your question was how early. I am not an education scholar. (Laughs.) I don’t study education or developmental psychology. But, you know, I imagine, you know, as with anything, linguistics, language, is best learned—or, most easily learned early on. But I think that does not mean that, you know, someone who’s in college or graduate school can’t begin to learn in a different language. So I’d answer your question like that.  FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question from Lucksika Udomsrisumran, a graduate student at New York University.  What is the implication of the Biden administration’s three pillars of the Indo-Pacific strategy on the Mekong and the South China Sea? Which pillars do you see these two issues in, from the Biden administration’s point of view?  LI: OK. I think, if I’m understanding the question correctly about South China Sea, you know, I think in general the South China Sea probably would most easily fall into the competition category. There are obviously not only the United States and China, but other countries in the region, including the Philippines, for example, are claimants to the South China Sea. And so I think there’s always been some disagreement and some tensions in that region.  I think that that has largely been—the U.S. response or U.S. policy in South China Sea is just essentially, from the military perspective, has been to—you know, the slogan is, or the line is, to fly, sail, operate, et cetera—I’m not quoting that correctly—(laughs)—but essentially to operate wherever international law permits. And so that means Freedom of Navigation Operations, et cetera, in the South China Sea. I think that, of course, raises objections from other governments, mainly China, in the region.   So I would say that probably belongs in the competition category. And we spoke about earlier the idea of managing some of the risk that occurs or that emerges when the PLA Navy and the United States Navy operate in close proximity in that region. So from that perspective, if you’re talking about risk reduction and crisis management, that actually could fall into collaboration or cooperation. But I think primarily it’s competition.   FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Joan Kaufman. And, Joan, I know you wrote your question, but if you could ask it that would be great.  Q: Yes, will. Yes, certainly. Hi, Chris. Really great to see you here during this talk.  LI: Yeah, likewise.  Q: A proud Schwarzman Scholar.  I wanted to ask you a question about Ukraine and China’s, you know, kind of difficult position in the middle almost, you know, as sort of seemingly allied with Russia, or certainly not criticizing Russia. And then just putting forth this twelve-point peace plan last week for—and offering to broker peace negotiations and a ceasefire for Ukraine. You know, there’s no love lost in Washington for China on, you know, how it has positioned itself on this issue. And, you know, frankly, given China’s own kind of preoccupation with sovereignty over the years, how do you see the whole thing? And what comments might you make on that?  LI: Right. Well, first of all, thanks so much, Joan, for joining. And very grateful for all of—all that you’ve done for the Schwarzman Scholars Program over the past. I appreciate your time very much.  The Ukraine problem is an incredibly important one. And I think absolutely China is involved. And it’s a very complicated position that it’s trying to occupy here, with both supporting its security partner, Russia, but also not directly being involved in the conflict because of U.S. opposition and opposition from NATO. So I think it’s—obviously, China is playing a very delicate balancing role here.  I think a couple points. So the first is that I think my view is that, for the Chinese leadership, Ukraine—or, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a deeply uncomfortable geopolitical situation, where there is essentially not a—there’s no good outcome, really, because, as you mentioned, Ukraine is a country with which China has diplomatic recognition. It recognizes it. It has an embassy there. And the Chinese foreign ministry, Chinese foreign policy, has long very much supported the concept of sovereignty, and being able to determine your own future as a country. And I think, in fact, that’s been one of the pillars and one of the objections to many American actions in the past. So on one hand, it says: We support sovereignty of every country, of which Ukraine is a country that is recognized by China.  And on the other hand, though, Russia, of course, which has had long complaints and issues with NATO expansion, is a partner of China. And so it’s obviously supporting Russia. It has alignment of interests between Russia and China in many ways, in many dimensions, including objections to, for example, U.S. presence in Europe, U.S. presence in Asia. So it’s a delicate balancing act. And I think from what we’ve seen, there hasn’t been sort of a clear one-sided answer, where you’ve seen both statements, you know, proposing peace and saying that, you know, all sides should deescalate. But on the other hand, the U.S. government, the Biden administration, is now publicly stating that they are concerned about China potentially lending support to Russia.  So, you know, in short, I think it’s very difficult to really understand what exactly is going on in the minds of the Chinese leadership. But I think that we’ll continue to see sort of this awkward back and forth and trying—this purported balancing act between both sides. But I think, you know, largely—my assessment is that it’s not going to go very clearly in one direction or the other.  I think the other comment I would make is that I think, from Beijing’s perspective, the clear analogy here is one for Taiwan. Because—and this has been something that has been discussed in the think tank community very extensively. But the expectation I think among many in Washington was that Ukraine would not be able to put up much resistance. In short, this would be a very, very easy victory for Putin. And I think that was a—you know, not a universal consensus, but many people believed that, in short, Russia with all of its military might, would have no issues subjugating Ukraine very quickly.  I think people have largely found that to be, you know, a strategic failure on Russia’s part. And so today, you know, one year after the invasion, Ukraine is still sovereign, is still standing, is still strong. And so I think—from that perspective, I think this—the war in Ukraine must give many of the leaders in China pause when it comes to thinking about a Taiwan continency, especially using force against Taiwan. Because, again, I think the degree of support, both militarily, politically, economically, for the resistance that Ukraine has shown against Russia among NATO members, among other Western countries, I think has been deeply surprising to many observers how robust that support has been. And I think that if you’re sitting in Beijing and thinking about what a potential response to a Taiwan contingency might be, that would absolutely inform your calculus.  FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Lindsey McCormack, a graduate student at Baruch College.  How is the Biden administration’s compete, cooperate, limited adversarial approach playing out with climate policy? What are you seeing right now in terms of the Chinese government’s approach to energy security and climate?  LI: Yeah. It’s a great question. Thanks for the question.  You know, we mentioned earlier, you know, I think the Biden administration’s approach has been, you know, despite all of the disagreements between the United States and the Chinese government, there should be room for cooperation on climate because, as the Biden administration says, the climate is an existential risk to all of humanity. It’s an issue of shared concern. So it’s one that is not defined by any given country or constrained to one set of borders. I think it’s largely not been very successful, in short, because China has not seemed to display much interest in cooperating on climate with the United States. And, again, China has largely coupled cooperation, linked cooperation in climate—or, on climate to other issues.  And so, you know, I think it’s been reported that at several of the meetings between Secretary Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and their Chinese counterparts, the Chinese officials had essentially given the American officials a list saying: Here are the twenty-something things that we object to. Why don’t you stop all of these, correct all of your mistakes—so to speak—and then we’ll talk about what we can do next. And so I think, again, that—you know, that, to me, indicates that this framework of compartmentalizing cooperation and competition has some flaws, because the idea that you can simply compartmentalize and say: We’re going to cooperate at full capacity on climate, but we’re not going to—you know, but we’ll compete on technology, it just—it actually doesn’t work in this situation.  I think the other comment I’ll make is that what the Biden administration has done is—which I think has been effective—is reframed the notion of cooperation. Where, in the past, cooperation was sort of viewed as a favor that the Chinese government did to the Americans, to the American government. That if we—if the United States, you know, offered certain inducements or there were strong elements of the relationship, then China would cooperate and that would be a favor.   And I think the Biden administration has reframed that approach, where cooperation is now presented not as a favor that any country does to another, but rather sort of is shared here. And that this is something of concern to China, to the United States, to other countries, and so all major countries need to play their part, and step up their game, to take on. I think, unfortunately, it hasn’t been extremely successful. But I think that there—I hope that there will be future progress made in this area.  FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to Jeremiah Ostriker, who has raised—a raised hand, and also written your question. But you can ask it yourself. And you have to accept the unmute prompt. Is that happening? All right. I think I might have to read it.  Q: Am I unmuted now?  FASKIANOS: Oh, you are. Fantastic.  Q: OK. First, I’ll say who I am. I am a retired professor from Princeton University and Columbia University and was an administrative provost at Princeton.  And our China policies have puzzled me. I have visited China many times. And I have wondered—I’ll quote my questions now—I have wondered why we are as negative towards China as we have been. So specifically, does the U.S. foreign policy establishment need enemies to justify its existence? Is it looking around the world for enemies? And why should we care if other countries choose to govern themselves in ways which are antithetical to the way that we choose to govern ourselves? And, finally, why not cooperate with all countries on projects of common interest, regardless of other issues?  LI: Great. Well, first of all, thank you for the question—or, three questions, which are all extremely important. I’ll do my best to answer, but these are very difficult questions, and I think they touch on a more philosophical understanding of what is American foreign policy for, what is the purpose of America’s role in the world, et cetera. But I’ll try to do my best.  I think on the first part, does the United States need enemies, is it looking to make enemies? I think if you asked any—and these are, of course, my own assessments. I think if you asked any administration official, whether in this current administration or in previous administrations—Republican or Democrat—I don’t think anyone would answer “yes.” I think the argument that has been made across administrations in a bipartisan fashion is that foreign policy is fundamentally about defending American interests and American values. In essence, being able to support the American way of life, which obviously is not necessarily one clearly defined entity. (Laughs.)  But I think, therefore, all of our policy toward China is sort of geared at maintaining, or securing, defending U.S. interests in the region. And where the argument about your question comes into play is that I think a lot of—the Biden administration, the Trump administration, the Obama administration would argue that many of the concerns that the United States has with China are not fundamentally only about internal issues, where this is a question of how they govern themselves. But they touch upon issues of shared concern. They touch upon issues that actually affect U.S. interests.   And so, for example, the South China Sea is, again—is a space that is—contains much trade. There are many different countries in the region that access the South China Sea. So it’s not necessarily just an issue—and, again, this is Secretary Blinken’s position that he made clear—it’s not just an issue specific to China. It does touch upon global trade, global economics, global rules, and global order. And I think this is the term that has been often used, sort of this liberal international rules-based order.   And while that’s sort of an amorphous concept, in essence what I think the term implies is the idea that there are certain standards and rules by which different countries operate that allow for the orderly and for the peaceful and the secure exchange of goods, of ideas, of people, of—so that each country is secure. And I think this—again, this broader concept is why I think successive U.S. administrations have focused on China policy, because I think some of, in their view, China’s behaviors impinge on U.S. interests in the region.   I think the second question is why should we care about how other countries govern themselves? I think in a way, the answer the Biden administration—this current administration has given to that question is: The U.S. government under President Biden is not trying to fundamentally change the Chinese system of governance. And I think you’ve seen Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken say that publicly, that they are not seeking the collapse or the fundamental change in the Communist Party’s rule of China. So I think in that sense, they have made that—they have made that response. I think, again, where there are issues—there are tensions, is when actions that the Chinese government take then touch upon U.S. interests. And I think we see that in Taiwan. We see that with economics. We see that with trade, et cetera.   And then finally, why not cooperate with every country in the world? I think obviously in an ideal world, that would be the case. All countries would be able to only cooperate, and all concerns shared among different nations would be addressed. I think unfortunately one of the problems that we’re seeing now is that large major powers, like China and Russia, have very different worldviews. They see a world that is very different in its structure, and its architecture, and its organization, than the one that the U.S. sees. And I think that’s what’s led to a lot of tension.  FASKIANOS: So we have a written question from Julius Haferkorn, a student at California State University and Tübingen University, in Germany.  Ever since the escalation of the Ukraine war, there are discussions about the risk that, should Russia be successful with its invasion, China might use this as a template in regards to Taiwan. In your opinion, is this a realistic scenario?  LI: Great. Thanks for the question.  I think there are definitely analogies to be drawn between Ukraine and Taiwan, but I think there are also significant differences. The first is the relationship between Russia and Ukraine is one of two sovereign nations that the United States and international community recognizes. I think with Taiwan, what has—going back to our history question—Taiwan is a very complicated issue, even with regard to U.S. policies. The United States does not recognize Taiwan formally as an independent country. The United States actually does not take a position on the status of Taiwan. Briefly, the One China Policy, as articulated in the three communiques, the three joint communiques, essentially says that the United States government acknowledges the Chinese position that there is one China, and Taiwan is part of China, et cetera, et cetera.  And that word “acknowledge” is pretty key, because in essential its strategic ambiguity. It’s saying, we acknowledge that the PRC government says this. We don’t challenge that position. But we don’t necessarily recognize or completely accept. And, obviously, the Mandarin version of the text is slightly different. It uses a term that is closer to “recognize.” But that ambiguity, in a way, permitted normalization and led to the democratization of Taiwan, China’s economic growth and miracle, its anti-poverty campaign. So in essence, it’s worked—this model has worked for the last forty-something years.  But I think that does mean that the situation across the Taiwan Strait is very different, because here the United States does not recognize two countries on both sides of the strait. Rather, it has this ambiguity, this policy of ambiguity. And in short, the only U.S. criterion for resolution of issues across the Taiwan Strait is peace. So all of the documents that the U.S. has articulated over successive administrations essentially boil down to: As long as the resolution of issues between Taiwan and the PRC and mainland China are peaceful, then the United States is not involved. That the only thing that the United States opposes is a forceful resolution—use of military force, use of coercion. And that’s what is problematic.  I think what you’ve seen increasingly over the last few years is a sort of—it’s not a formal shift away from that policy, but definitely slowly edging away from that policy. Now, any administration official will always deny that there are any changes to our One China Policy. And I think that’s always been the refrain: Our One China Policy has not changed. But you’ve actually seen within that One China Policy framework adjustments, accommodations—or, not accommodations—but adjustments, recalibrations. And the way that the successive U.S. administrations defend that or justify it, is because it is our—it is the American One China Policy. Therefore, we can define what that One China Policy actually means.  But you have seen, in essence, greater increased relations and exchanges between officials in Taiwan, officials in the United States. I think it was publicly reported just a couple weeks ago that some of the senior national security officials in Taipei visited the United States. Secretary Pompeo at the end of his tenure as secretary of state changed some of the previous restrictions on—that were self-imposed restrictions—on interactions between the government in Taiwan and the government in the United States. So we’re seeing some changes here. And I think that has led to—or, that is one element that has led to some of the tensions across the Taiwan Strait.   Obviously, from Beijing’s perspective, it sees that as the U.S. sliding away from its commitments. Now, on the other hand, Beijing, of course, has also started to change its policy, despite claiming that its policy is exactly the same. You’ve seen greater military incursions in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, with planes, fighter jets, that are essentially flying around the island. You’ve seen greater geoeconomic coercion targeted at Taiwan in terms of sanctions. So you’ve seen essentially changes on all sides.  And so the final point I’ll leave here—I’ll leave with you is that the refrain that the United States government articulates of opposing any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, to me, is actually quite ambiguous. Because there’s never been a status quo that has truly existed. It’s always been a dynamic equilibrium between Taipei, Beijing, and Washington, D.C. Where Beijing is seeking to move Taiwan toward unification. Taiwan, at least under its current leadership, under Tsai Ing-wen, is obviously seeking, in a way, to move from at least—at least to move toward de facto or maintain de facto independence. Whether it’s moving toward de jure is a topic of debate. And then the United States, of course, is enhancing its relationship with Taiwan.  So there’s never been a static status quo between the three sides. It’s always been a dynamic, evolving and changing equilibrium. Which is why the concept of opposing unilateral changes to the status quo, in my view, is almost paradoxical, because there has never been a status quo in the first place.  FASKIANOS: There has been some talk that Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House, is planning a trip to Taiwan. Given what happened with Speaker Pelosi, is that a—what do you think of that musing, to go to Taiwan, to actually do that?  LI: Mhm, yes. I think that’s obviously been reported on. I think it’s an area of close attention from everyone watching this space. I haven’t seen any reports. All I can say is based on what I’ve seen reported in the media. And it seems like, based on—because of domestic preoccupations, that trip, whether it happens or not, is right now, at the moment, on the back burner. But I think that if he were to go, I think it would certainly precipitate a quite significant response from China. And I think whether that would be larger or smaller than what happened after Speaker Pelosi’s visit, I think is something that is uncertain now.  FASKIANOS: Thank you. We’ll go next to Autumn Hauge.  Q: Hi. I’m Autumn Hauge. I’m a student at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  So my question is, since a focus of the Biden administration’s foreign policy is the relationship between the United States and China, and another focus is to invest and grow a presence in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically looking at the relationship between the United States and the Micronesian country of the Republic of Palau, whose government has openly shared their support for Taiwan, do you think that the United States’ long history with the Republic of Palau, and their connection to their support—the Republic of Palau’s support to Taiwan, halters the ability for the U.S. to grow a positive relation with China? Thank you.  LI: Great. Thanks for the question. It’s a great question.  I am not an expert on Palau or its politics. I do know that Palau has enhanced its exchanges, it relationship with Taipei, over the last few years. I think we saw Palau’s president, I think, visit Taipei. I think the U.S. ambassador to Palau actually visited Taipei. And there have been increasing—during COVID, there was a discussion of a travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau. So there’s definitely been increasing exchange.  I think in general this has always been a key obstacle to U.S.-China relations, which is any country that still recognizes the Republic of China—that is the formal name of the government currently in Taiwan—I think presents a significant issue. Because for the PRC, recognition of the One China—what they call the One China Principle, the idea that there is one China, Taiwan is part of that China, and the legitimate government of China is the People’s Republic of China, is a precondition for any diplomatic normalization with Beijing. And so I think certainly, you know, there are a small handful of countries that still recognize the ROC, but I think that they—you know, for those countries and their relationships with the PRC, of course, that’s a significant hindrance.  In what you’ve seen in the U.S. government in the past few years is that for countries that derecognize Taipei and sort of switch recognition to Beijing, the PRC, there’s been discussion—I think, there have been several bills introduced, in essence, to punish those countries. I don’t necessarily think that those bills have ended up becoming law, but I think there is, given the current political dynamics, the sort of views on China in Washington, D.C., there is this sense that the U.S. needs to support countries that still recognize Taiwan, the ROC, and be able to provide support so that they don’t feel pressured to switch their recognition.  My personal view is that I think that that is, on the whole, relatively insignificant. I won’t say that it’s completely not significant, but I think that in general issues around the Taiwan Strait, cross-strait relations, I think military issues, I think political issues related to exchanges between Taiwan and Beijing, I think those issues are much more important and much more critical to driving changes in the relationship across the Taiwan Strait.  FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to try and sneak in one last question from Wim Wiewel, who’s a student at Portland State University.   Given your pessimism about cooperation combined with competition, what do you think is the long-term future for U.S.-China relations?  LI: OK. Well, thanks for the question. I’m not sure that I can provide a satisfying answer. And, in fact, I don’t have the answer. You know, I think if anyone had the answer, then they should immediately tell the Biden administration that they’ve solved the problem.  Even though I am pessimistic about this current framework, just because of its demonstrated effects, I still think that in general the likelihood of a real war, which I think people have floated now—you know, Professor Graham Allison, who I used to work for, wrote a book called Destined for War? I still believe that the probability of all-out great-power conflict in a kinetic way, a military way, is still relatively low. I think that there are significant differences today compared to the era during World War I and World War II era.   I think that the degree of economic interdependence between China and not only the United States but the rest of the world, I think is a significant gamechanger in how countries position themselves vis-à-vis China. I think Europe is the great example here of how there are many countries that invest, have business relationships, have trade with China. And so therefore, their policy on China has been a little bit more calibrated than what the United States has been doing.   And so on the whole, I think most people still recognize that any great-power war between the United States and China would be utterly catastrophic. And I think that despite all the tensions that exist today, I think that that recognition, that consensus is pretty universally held, that a great-power war between the U.S. and China would be extremely bad. I think that is—that is probably something that is understood by Republican administrations, Democratic administrations, folks in Beijing, folks around the world, in the region. And so I think that, hopefully, that idea, that despite disagreements, despite political tensions, the need to prevent all-out global conflict is quite important, is a vital interest, I think, hopefully, to me, provides some optimism. And hopefully we’ll be able to continue to carry our relationship with China through.  And I’m hopeful especially that all of you students, researchers, who hope to study, and write about, and even perhaps participate in American foreign policy, will continue to think. Because so much of the future of the U.S.-China relationship and U.S. foreign policy is going to be determined by your generation. So with that, I guess this would be a perfect place to stop. And I thank you for the question.   FASKIANOS: Absolutely. Well, Chris, this has been fantastic. I apologize to all of you. We had many more—many questions in the written part and raised hands. And I’m sorry that we could not get to all of them. We’ll just have to have you back and continue to cover this issue. So we really appreciate your insights, Chris Li. So thank you again.  The next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, March 22, at 1:00 p.m. (EDT). Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly will lead a conversation on U.S. relations with South America. And in the meantime, please do learn more about CFR paid internships for students and fellowships for professors at You can follow us at @CFR_academic, and visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. And I’m sure you can also go to the Belfer Center for additional analysis by Chris Li. So I encourage you to go there as well.  Thank you all, again, for being with us, and we look forward to continuing the conversation on March 22. So thank you, all. Thanks, Chris.  LI: Thank you.  (END)