World Class

Addressing Policy Challenges: The 2022 Report Card

Episode Summary

In this episode of World Class, we're bringing you a conversation from the 2022 Stanford Reunion. In this recording, you'll hear Michael McFaul and a panel of experts from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies discuss some of the biggest policy challenges of the moment — climate change, Russia and the war in Ukraine, China and Taiwan, and maintaining democracy at home and abroad. Each panelist will give their assessment of a challenge, then provide feedback on how policymakers are addressing it and what more can be done. Michael McFaul is the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Marshall Burke is the deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Didi Kuo is a senior research scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule Law. Oriana Skylar Mastro is a center fellow at FSI, working primarily with the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Center for International Security and Cooperation. Steven Pifer is a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and an affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Episode Transcription

McFaul:You’re listening to World Class from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. We bring you in-depth expertise on international affairs from Stanford’s campus, straight to you. I’m your host, Michael McFaul, the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute.

As we approach the end of the year, people naturally start to look back at where we've been, and think about where we're headed next. In keeping with that spirit, for this episode of World class, I'm bringing you a discussion I had with a panel of experts here at the Freeman Spogli Institute during Stanford's Reunion homecoming weekend. We talked about some of the biggest challenges currently facing the United States and what we need to do to tackle them moving forward.

In this recording, you'll hear from Marshall Burke, a climate and environmental scientist; Didi Kuo, a scholar of democracy, political parties and elections; Oriana Skylar Mastro, a specialist on the Chinese military; and Steve Pifer, an expert on European security and a former United States Ambassador to Ukraine. Here's our discussion. Enjoy! 


McFaul: Here’s what we’ve got in store for you today. We're going cover China-Taiwan, Russia-Ukraine, global democracy, and the future of the planet — climate change — all in 50 minutes. That's our goal. We’ve got four panelists, and I have lots of questions. We could spend hours amongst ourselves, but I'm just going to ask each of them one or two or three questions, and then we really want to get to your questions. So get ready. You can ask anything, and we want you to be as interactive as we can.

So, let me introduce the panelists and then we'll get started. We have Oriana Skylar Mastro, class of 2006. She is a Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. She works primarily at the Shorenstein Asian Pacific Research Center, and the Center for International Security and Cooperation. She is an international security expert with a focus on the Chinese military and security policy; Asia-Pacific security issues; war termination, and coercive diplomacy. Her research addresses critical questions at the intersection of interstate conflict, great power relations, and the challenge of rising powers. She also serves as a U.S. Air Force Reserve as a strategic planner. And by the way, Oriana and I were just in Taiwan five or six weeks ago, so hearing what she has to say about Taiwan will be extremely interesting.

We also have Marshall Burke here, class of 2002 and a Synergy alum, which I just learned. He's deputy director of the Center on Food Security at FSI. He's an associate professor in the new Doerr School of Sustainability, and I think it's fair to say you're the future Chair of the Social Sciences within the Doerr School? Can I say that, Marshall? Not yet?

Burke: Not yet.

McFaul: Not yet! But he's literally building the social sciences at the Doerr School. By the way — as somebody who was part of the design of that school, this is incredibly important. Because we are not going to make progress on climate change and sustainability if we don't think about the social science questions and the policy questions of that, and Marshall is leading that charge. And I'm going to skip everything else, because I think you're at literally every other institute at Stanford. Thanks for being here, Marshall.

Didi Kuo, as I already mentioned, is a senior research scholar and Associate Director for Research at the Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law. She's a scholar of comparative politics with a focus on democratization, corruption and clientelism, political parties and institutions, and political reform. Her recent work examines changes to party organization and the impact of these challenges on the ability of government to address challenges posed by global capitalism.

And finally, Ambassador Steven Pifer, class of 1976. He's affiliated with CISAC. He's also a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. His research focuses on nuclear arms control, Ukraine, Russia, and European security. Steve spent more than twenty-five years with the State Department. Thank you for your service, Steve. He had actually many, many jobs there, one of which was serving from 1998 to 2000 as a U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.

So, welcome panelists, and thank you all for coming!

Like I said, I have two to three questions, and they're going to be snappy. So, you better be ready with your questions. Alright, first question: what's the one thing you think people don't understand as well about democracy, about Ukraine and Taiwan, or about climate change, that you think people need to understand better?

Burke: I'm going to go with climate since that's my expertise. So, let me break it into two parts: good news and bad news. I'm going to do it backwards and say the good news first.

People might not realize how much progress we're actually making on climate. There's a lot of gloom and doom-ism out there. When we think about climate change on the news, a lot of that is pretty negative. And I'll come back to that in a second. But we are actually making progress.

This was really brought home to me when I teaching a large undergraduate freshman-sophomore class on the natural and social science of climate change. The first part of that class is about how is the climate changing and how might it change in the future, and we've actually had to update our slides every year bringing down our estimates of the likely increase in temperature over the next century.


Seriously, it's huge progress. So even five years ago, we're using numbers like 5 degrees Celsius by 2100. So that's 10 degrees Fahrenheit of average temperature increase, a huge amount, right? And now that's come down to something more like 2 -3 degrees Celsius, so maybe 5 degrees Fahrenheit. That's still a big number. But it's maybe half of the numbers we're using even five years ago. We are making progress globally. That is the good news.

What's the bad news? We are poorly adapted to our climate today. Just look at this year and the number of climate-related calamities worsened by a warming climate that we saw throughout the world. These are the Pakistan floods. We had what are maybe the most prominent, historic drought and heat waves throughout China for months and months, drying up some of the main trading routes, the rivers throughout, and shutting down semiconductor manufacturers. This is today's climate right? In California and on the western seaboard here, wildfires are the big one for us. We've seen a dramatic increase in wildfires. This last week, Seattle had the worst air quality in the world for more than a week due to wildfires. Seattle. In October. And all the evidence we have is that this is just a sign of things to come. So, we have progress on the one hand, but poor adaptation to our existing world on the other hand, meaning there's a lot of work still to do.

Kuo: On the democracy front, I think that there are two things that we sometimes don't realize. You might all feel concerned about the state of American democracy — 70% of Americans say there's a crisis of democracy today — but this crisis is global.

Since about 2005 or 2006, international watchdog organizations have measured a steady decline in the quality of global democracy. And that's because of any number of problems: a rise of authoritarian challenges, which my colleagues will discuss; problems related to economic hardship and economic inequality posed by globalization; and COVID-19 provided a pretext for many leaders to do things like suspend elections, or suspend the ability of civil society to get together and protest or associate. As a result, these are sort of long-running trends outside the United States.

But the second thing to know is that within the United States, and globally, the problem of democratic erosion is very subtle. It's not like there's a sudden authoritarian power grab and you wake up the next morning and you're living in a dictatorship. Instead, it's things like going after the norms of political competition; decrying the results of elections as fraudulent; saying that you don't believe in or trust the democratic process, or the media, or your opposition, these kinds of stakeholders in maintaining a liberal democracy. And that's why we need to be vigilant and guard against incursions of norms and be worried about declining levels of trust in our institutions. Those are the types of things we need to rebuild to combat problems of democratic backsliding.

Pifer: Okay, Russia-Ukraine. I think most Americans instinctively support Ukraine because we like the underdog. But I do worry that in some parts of Congress, there's not an understanding of the real, critical American interests at stake. So let me give you three.

One is going back to the late 1940s. The United States has a critical interest in a secure and stable Europe. And that's a political interest, a military interest, and economic interest. What happens between Russia and Ukraine is going to have a real impact on what kind of Europe we face. Now, Oriana may tell you — and she'll be right — that the major strategic challenge facing the United States over the next three decades is China. However, if Russia wins, the U.S. is going to have fewer resources, less American military power, and less time to address that challenge.

Second thing is about international rules and international norms, and the Russians are shredding those. In Europe, you have the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. You have the Charter of Paris, and the main rule is that big states don't use military force to take territory from little states. And we have an interest in the United States in preserving those international rules and norms. If they get shredded, and we're in a dog-eat-dog type of world, it's going to be a much more difficult place to advance other American interests.

And finally, the third concern is Vladimir Putin. If he wins in Ukraine, he's going to be emboldened and we need to be concerned about that. Back in June in St. Petersburg, he gave a talk where he talked about recovering historic Russian lands. In his view, what Russia is doing now is not aggression against Ukraine. He looks at Ukraine as something that was once historical Russian land. And Russia is “recovering” that. Well, if you look at historical maps from the Russian Empire, you're going to see the Baltic states were once historic Russian land, and part of Poland, and all of Finland. Now in the case of Ukraine, we have a commitment to provide military assistance and financial assistance, but not American troops. There has been a red line drawn there, which I think is the right red line. But if Putin wins in Ukraine and his ambitions go further, and it gets to a place like Estonia or Latvia, we're going to have to provide an American troops. We're better off stopping Putin now in Ukraine.

Mastro: We continue the doomsday scenarios here on China and Taiwan. I think the main thing that most Americans don't understand is how likely it is that China is going to invade Taiwan, and how difficult it is for the United States to defend Taiwan. And that’s in spite of the fact that we have a vastly superior military.

So, I teach a whole course and spend — I don't know how many hours total it is: 30-40 something hours — going through the Chinese military. And at the end of that course, my students always say that they are so surprised of how much more powerful the United States is, but also how none of that matters.

So, first on the prospects for invasion: I wrote a piece almost three years ago about how the Chinese had changed their strategy, and they are now thinking of what they call “armed reunification.” We just had a Party Congress in China and there's a lot of reporting on the assertive language coming from the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping about reunification. But none of this is new. He has been saying this for 10 years, and the military has been planning for 25 years.

So people often say, “Surely China has a more long-term view of these issues?” And they do. But that view started in 1949, with the view that by now they will be militarily ready. So from my perspective, it's not surprising that this was not a part of the debate 10 years ago, when China literally did not have the military capabilities to take Taiwan. In the late 1990s, they had zero capabilities. 4% of their equipment was modern. Their ships had no defenses on them. Their invasion plan, if it had to come to it, was to get some fishing vessels and paddle their way over and see what happened. So, we were not concerned in the U.S. military.

But in the meantime in the past 25 years, they've built a navy larger than the United States. They have air defense systems that can shoot down all of our aircraft. And the biggest problem is distances. According to the Chinese military, China can do this in 100 hours if it goes well. I can tell you, the U.S. military does not move that quickly. If we need to deploy forces mainly from California and Hawaii, it takes much longer.

I'll give one last example of the forces from simulations. The United States can shoot down 13 aircraft for every one that China can shoot down of the United States. So the lesson the Chinese learn from that is, “Don't let them get in the air.” We have one airbase in the vicinity of Taiwan, and it is extremely easy — and the Chinese plan for this — to put a couple of potholes on the runway so we can't take off. We have a lot of vulnerabilities. That's just one example.

But there's a real sense of urgency here, both on the U.S. side and what we learned when we are in Taiwan, for building up the time and their ability for self-defense in order to reestablish a deterrent so that we can push this issue down the road and convince the Chinese that now is not the time.

McFaul: Wow. I'm glad I got up early this morning, aren’t you?

Pifer: We’re the horse people of the Apocalypse. 

McFaul: Well, let's turn to what we're doing about it. And let's focus on the Biden administration for now, and then we'll widen that aperture if we have time.

It's midterm season here at Stanford, just so you all know, and the midterm elections are coming up. This is the midterm for Biden's first term. Oriana, we'll start with you go the other way. What would be your midterm grade for the Biden administration for dealing with the hotspot issue that you're talking about?

And those of you who have children here, you maybe know this already. But I've been here for a long time; I came in 1981 and I've left a zillion times. But I've been teaching here since 1995. And there has been a cultural shift. I don't have the data to support this, it’s just what I've observed as a professor. But if you give a grade below an “A,” you will have to explain to a Stanford student why you gave them an A minus. That is crazy, isn't it? That's how things have changed here. So, if you give a grade below an A, I want you to explain why you're giving the lower grade.

Mastro: Well, in line with that new student culture, I think the Biden administration as a student has changed his grading preferences to “Credit/No Credit.” I think they realize where things are, I would say yes, you get credit. One of the greatest things about FSI is that it is nonpartisan in nature. I'm a professor. I'm also in the military. I worked on Biden's team, but I also have an affiliation with a conservative think tank. There’s something about my background for everybody to hate.

But for the Biden administration, the bottom line is that I was very pleased that they kept the focus on Asia. Now before the invasion of Ukraine, I'd done a lot of advising at the Pentagon and they were all about China. There was a reason why their national security strategy and national defense strategy came out a year later than when I saw the drafts. I think they were kind of sitting and trying to decide whether they had to pivot, but the reality is that we just do not have the resources to do both Russia and China. So, they get credit for strategic discipline.

The biggest issue I see, which I pushed them a lot on and they say that I don't give them enough credit for is that they have to do more and in a more innovative way, and more quickly. So on this Taiwan issue, when I have conversations with people at the NSC, they will say, “But we got Japan to say ‘Taiwan’ in a statement. We got NATO to incorporate conceptions of China into their strategic concept.” And for someone like me, that only matters if there's actually some assets and some changes in force posture. Japan saying the word ‘Taiwan’ doesn't mean anything, if — as a recent news story this week clarified — Japan is unwilling to support any military contingencies to defend Taiwan. I'm constantly pushing, but I constantly get back that, “It's very difficult and these things take time.” When I make suggestions of like, “It would be really useful to have fuel on this island.” Everyone's like, “Oh, great, great, great. We'll get it there and 15 years.” We have to move more quickly.

McFaul: Steve.

Pifer: B plus, maybe an A minus if the student pushed really hard. What the Biden administration did extraordinarily well, beginning back in November, was diplomacy. And it wasn't just President Biden talking to his counterpart and Secretary Blinken. But every day, you had dozens of meetings, Zooms, and phone calls between the United States and Europe and others concerning what the Russians might do in Ukraine. Typically, in the United States, we do two types of consultations. One is a consultation where we say, “We know what we want, we know what we want you to support us on, and we're going to talk you into that.” But this was the other type of consultation which is, “Here’s a genuine problem. What should we do?”

And that diplomacy in November, December, January, and the first part of February paid off, because within days after the Russian military launched its new assault on Ukraine on February 24, you had NATO responding; the activation of the NATO Response Force; the bolstering of the NATO presence in the Baltic states; and the placement of new NATO battle groups in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary, basically to reassure those countries that NATO would be there.

You also saw individual NATO members moving fairly quickly to provide military assistance and weapons to Ukraine. As a result, primarily of U.S.-European Union consultations, within seven to ten days, you had some really harsh sanctions labeled on Russia, two in particular that I think caught Moscow by surprise. One was a decision to freeze about $300 billion in Russian Central Bank assets that, it turns out, Russia unwisely had invested in Western financial institutions. Hopefully, at some point, that money will actually be seized and put into a fund for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

But the other thing they didn't expect was the cut up of semiconductors in high tech. And what we've learned from downed Russian missiles in Ukraine is there's a lot of Western and American semiconductors in their high-tech and guidance systems and command-control systems. That's all been cut off. And that's going to have an impact on both Russian military production and the civilian economy. So I think those economic sanctions will take some time, but they are going to have an impact on Russia.

The one thing I hold back on and the reason I’m not giving them the desired “A” is that while they did move in to provide arms to Ukraine, I think there was an understandable slowness at first. Quite frankly, nobody expected Ukraine to last this long. I was in Kyiv that the end of January about three prior to the invasion. The Ukrainians didn't even expect the Russians to invade. So, my own expectation was that the Russians would likely win the force-on-force war, but then they would have a decade's long guerrilla campaign or insurrection that would be like Afghanistan was for the Soviets.

But the Ukrainians held out. And around April, you saw that dawning in Washington that Ukrainians can hold out, and they started moving to higher level weapons. They’ve still been a little bit slow. There are a couple of things I think they could provide.

One is a ATACMS: that's a 200-mile surface-to-surface missile, which the Ukrainians would really like to have. We've given them the shorter-range version, which the Ukrainians use great effect, that goes about 50 miles. The Ukrainians are using that to devastate Russian ammunition dumps and command posts. A 200-mile range would allow them to strike farther targets in Crimea and occupied Donbas that are pretty important to the Russian logistics effort. 

We can provide these under the same rules that we now give them with the shorter-range missiles saying, “You will not strike Russian proper.” I would put a little asterisk in there that says, “But if the Russians misbehave, maybe we'll lift that provision.” And there does seems to be a debate about that going on in Washington. And at some point, I think we should be considering things like if the Ukrainians can manage the logistics of M-1 tanks and to really look at giving them the force and capability they need to really push the Russians out of Ukraine.

So that's why they don't get the desired, “A.”

McFaul: Didi?

Kuo: Last year at this panel, I gave the Biden administration a B+ on democracy issues, and I imagine they would have been unhappy with that. This year I'm going to revise the grade to an A- because of some events that have taken place since then. First in December, President Biden convened a global summit on democracy, where he brought together many democratic countries and they tried to agree on a shared agenda moving forward of protection of democratic institutions, protection of human rights, and they agreed to again for a second summit at some time in the future.

Also in January-February, President Biden made political reform one of his top agenda items. He tried to pass the freedom to vote at after extensive negotiation with Senator Joe Manchin. It failed in Congress. But, he also tried to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would have actually precluded some of the litigation now happening that's going up to the Supreme Court that challenges the authority of the Voting Rights Act and different kinds of voter protections at the state level. That also failed in Congress, but there has at least been a real attempt to put democracy at the forefront of some kind of domestic political agenda.

Now, I will say that this midterm election season in the United States, and some of the global trends we've witnessed, may still nonetheless pose a threat to global democracy, despite the fact that we have a sort of pro-democracy administration. Take Viktor Orban, for example; you've probably heard his name. He's a president of Hungary, and he has been an incredibly innovative backslider/illiberal leader. He was democratically elected in a democratic country, and he's used his time and office to really centralize his hold on power, go after neutral state institutions, erode the rule of law, and go after the media. He's implemented what is usually referred to as an oligarchy, whereby people who are political and economic elites hold all of the political power. And some aspect of the conservative movement in the United States feels very enamored with him. They have visited Hungary many times, and CPAC was held in Budapest this year. 

We just elected — not “we” personally — but the Italians elected someone who has inherited the fascist party from the 1920s and 30s. And we also saw Marine Le Pen make it to the second round of the French election again this year. So, there is still a problem of a populist non authoritarian right. Even Sweden — sweet Sweden — has elected a far-right party to office this year. So we know that people are discontent. We know that there are economic grievances. There are grievances against higher rates of migration across the West. But all of these are being used as a pretext to also dismantle democratic institutions.

Burke: All right, so imagine my class as one of those annoying ones you had to apply to, to get into. Biden's climate application was amazing. He ran on climate and talked about the importance of climate change and doing something about climate change more than any mainstream candidate in history. So, his application was amazing, he came in and I was so excited about this student, and then he turned in his first assignment and it was a D-.

He got into office and brought us back into Paris Agreement. America was back on the climate stage, and then realized he couldn't get anything through Congress. Total failure on getting it through Congress, his main climate legislation. So first assignment, terrible, D+.

He studied hard, he came back to the midterm, took a midterm , and I'm going to give him an A+. The Inflation Reduction Act was the most ambitious piece of climate legislation ever signed in this country, and he should be rewarded for that. He finally figured out how to get the politics right; he got Joe Manchin on board, and he signed, again, a very, very ambitious piece of legislation. That's the midterm.

So he's got a D on his first assignment. He's got an A+ on the midterm. The final is not yet clear. We have a lot of the pieces in place, but we don't have some of them. Ao to make the dream of the Inflation Reduction Act come true in terms of really being able to mitigate climate change and adapt to the climate change we can't mitigate, we are going to have to build a lot of stuff.

This is we're going to have to build an amazing amount of energy infrastructure. We're going to have to build all the energy-efficient appliances and EVs that we all need, and a lot of this stuff is really hard to build and we don't know how to do it. And we have not built big things like this for 40 years in this country. There are some remaining unsolved challenges. So, I will withhold his final grade until he takes the final, but he's doing great on the midterm.

McFaul: Okay, great. We're going to do one speed round with one last question. Then I'm going to turn to you for your questions. When I worked in the government and had meetings at the White House Situation Room, I worked with a guy named Bill Burns a lot. A fantastic guy: former ambassador to Moscow, former deputy Secretary of State, currently the director of the CIA. And usually about this time during a conversation about policy, Bill would say, “Alright; we've done a great job at admiring the problem” — he loved that that phrase, “admiring the problem” — but then he’d say, “What are we going to do about it?” And when you’re in the government, that’s your job, is to do something about it.

But my question to you all is more philosophical. As people connected to this university, President Marc Tessier-Levine likes to say that we need to be “a purposeful university.” So, what's our purpose in addressing these issues? Is it just to understand and explain them? Is it to teach future leaders to tackle them? Or is it being directly involved ourselves in trying to provide prescriptions? Didi, let's start with you. Didi, Marshall, Oriana, and then Steve will get the last word.

Kuo: I would say that the easy answer is “D: All of the above.” The purpose of this kind of university is that we bring incredible intellectual resources to bear on public problems. The kind research that happens in the academy too often stay within the academy. Hence, the description of the academy as an ivory tower or siloed place. We need to make sure that we translate the useful knowledge that we gain here at Stanford to the public or for pressing policy issues.

The second thing is that we are training a generation of leaders. At the very least, we want to instill a sense of “civic-ness” in every single one of our students so that they know they are responsible for the things that happen in the world, and that they have agency and power in changing it, no matter what they go on to do.

And finally, it is important to get involved outside of the university as scholars. I think all of us here engage not just with our classes and with our institution, but also with policy groups, reform groups, advocacy groups, a lot of people with different kinds of questions — foundations, international organizations — all of whom are trying to work toward some shared goals of improving the world.

Burke: I’ll go with “All of the above” as well. We absolutely need new knowledge on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We need new batteries, for instance. So we have a big unit on campus working on new battery technology. It’s going to be fundamental to our ability to make the clean energy transition.

We need new policy ideas. What's going to work? What's both economically optimal and politically feasible? Is there anything at that intersection? How are we going to build the things we need? How do we get the political coalitions we need to expand our energy infrastructure in the way that we need to?

So, we need new technologies, new policy ideas, and new knowledge for the world. And then we need them implemented, right? We need to engage our students on this, and we as faculty need to be going out into the world and translating this knowledge to people who can use it to do something. Mike mentioned the new Doerr School, which is an amazing opportunity at Stanford to now make this a reality. It launched just a month ago, and this is a really, really exciting opportunity to build Stanford’s strength in this area and make it the world class institution leading on climate sustainability issues. So, I'm immensely excited about this opportunity.

Mastro: Same answer. This why we're so busy, I guess, as professors, because we have to do all of these things. But first, that direct engagement with government is so important, at least for my work in the military. I spend years focused on a research question. And then that's what allows me to show up and in a couple of days make a really direct impact. I spent seven years writing my first book; I did archival research in five different countries and three different languages. And that took a long time. It did what it needed to do on the academic front.

The book was about how to get your enemies to talk to you during wars. And the United States doesn't think about how to end wars, we just think about how to start them. But here’s what I’m really proud of: When I was on military duty as a planner, I got permission from the four star to make changes to our military plans to incorporate the strategies that I had in my book of how to bring wars to an end more quickly, and I won Officer of the Year for those efforts. But I wouldn't have been able to do that if didn't have this academic space of someone saying, “Yeah, it's totally okay for you to think about this one problem for seven years, and we won't we won't judge you for that.”

And then the teaching aspect is critical. I was an undergraduate here. I got into Stanford primarily for piano and drama. I was in SLEE, if anyone knows of that program —literature and philosophy. And then my senior year, I got accepted to the CISAC honors program. If you remember the acronym, that’s the Center for International Security and Cooperation. I had never met anyone in the military before, and it just opened my eyes. Stanford gave me a grant to go do my research in China. My first time doing research in China was my senior year. And for my parents, they were like, “How can you have a career and make a living out of studying the Chinese military?” This was in 2005, and I was like, “I don't know, but I really like it.” But the point is the universities. China is such a political issue now, but it's so difficult to go to China. It's so difficult to learn Chinese, but a university like Stanford has those resources to create those opportunities for our students.

McFaul: Great. Steve?

Pifer: All three. Let me start out with looking over the last 10 months. Like others at FSI —Kathryn Stone, Frank Fukuyama — I have done hundreds of talks and panels and interviews and op-eds trying to explain what's going on between Russia and Ukraine. And that's not just focused on the Stanford community, but also helping the broader American public and others understand what's going on here, what's at stake, and what the context is.

The second point: training the next generation. I had the privilege last year of co-teaching the Honors College for CISAC. We had twelve students who ended up producing master's-level honors theses after their year. Of those twelve students — and these are really bright, inspiring kids — there are now five of them who are now in Washington. Two work in the U.S. government; one went to the Department of Congress, the other went to the Pentagon. A third is at a peace and security think tank. And the fifth is about to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Marines. That's impact.

The third point on pushing the government: Mike and I have been involved in a group that I would probably call friendly towards the Biden administration. But they’re still in the B+ range, and we’re trying to push them so they can get that A-. And I think we've had a bit of success in some places, some places not. Mike set up this group last spring; it's the International Working Group on Russian Sanctions. And that group has now produced seven working papers, talking about how governments can crank up greater pressure on Russia to try to get the Kremlin to recalculate its cost-benefit analysis and end war. So, all three.

McFaul: So, I want to say two things in closing, first of all fantastic questions, Second, this is pretty sobering stuff. All these hotspots are really tough issues that threaten our security, our prosperity, not only the United States but of the world.

But I take comfort as a member of the faculty here and as the director of FSI that we've got some really smart people trying not just to look at these problems and admire them, but to try to solve them and to teach the future — maybe some of your sons and grandsons, and daughters and granddaughters — to solve them as well.

And I could not be prouder and can't think of a better place to think about these issues and try to solve them than to be at Stanford University, because of people like this. I promised you an all-star panel, and you got an all-star panel!


McFaul: You've been listening to World Class from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. If you like what you're hearing, please leave us a review and be sure to subscribe on Apple and Simplecast to stay up to date on what's happening in the world, and why.