July 26, 2018 | By Brian Hanson, Bruce Jentleson , Paul Stares

Deep Dish: Avoiding War

From the South China Sea to the DMZ, there are tensions in the world that could lead to deadly war. But two renowned political theorists believe they have the keys to conflict prevention. Paul Stares and Bruce Jentleson join this week’s Deep Dish to discuss how preventative engagement can help keep global peace.



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Brian Hanson: I'm Brian Hanson, and today we're talking about the big picture of international politics. Issues of war, peace and leadership. I'm joined to day by Bruce Jentleson, who is a leading scholar and practitioner of American foreign policy, a professor of public policy at Duke University, and also a non-resident senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Welcome Bruce, good to have you here.

Bruce Jentleson: Good to be here, thanks.

Brian Hanson: Also, to help us with this discussion is Paul Stares, who is the general John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention, and the director of the Center for Preventative Action, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Welcome Paul, it's good to have you here.

Paul Stares: Great to be here. Thank you.

Brian Hanson: Both of you just published books, Paul about six months ago for you, and Bruce, just recently. In these books, you both in different ways argue for the importance of leadership, and the decisions of leaders in shaping our world. Paul, your book is Preventative Engagement, How America Can Avoid Wars, Stay Strong and Keep the Peace. Bruce, your book is the Peacemakers, Leadership Lessons from 20th Century Statesmen.

Brian Hanson: Both of you, I think offer really valuable insights for the moment that we're in. Of course, it's a moment of great turbulence. We've got the rise of people, the rise of China, aggressive Russia, conflicts in the Middle East, democracy and freedoms seemingly under stress, and even in retreats in some part of the world, including the west. A communications' revolution.

Brian Hanson: In this context, we also have a president who has challenged the fundamental assumptions, the fundamental cookbook for creating peace and stability in the world, which used to be about close cooperative relationships with allies, free trade and open markets, support for human rights and democracy around the world.

Brian Hanson: Today, I want to get your help in understanding where we are, and what comes next. Let me start with you, Paul, how would you characterize our current moment? As I did, you can point to all kinds of things happening in the world. But has anything fundamentally changed?

Paul Stares: Well, I think is a potentially pivotal moment in the course of the 21st century world history. We've been over the last 70 years, essentially with the direction of the United States, we've built what is called this liberal international order. This rules based system dedicated to peaceful resolution of disputes, promotion of democracy, human rights. At the end of the 20th century, it seemed that this was essentially going to be the default operating system of the 21st century.

Paul Stares: But now, that's under challenge, and as you say, we have this more assertive, authoritarian countries, sort of not really believing in the system, or at least parts of the system. We have areas of the world that are quite unstable, and potentially, the source of even more conflict. We have growing threats from non-state actors. These are a lot of and very important challenges.

Paul Stares: The problem I think we're all wrestling with is the United States, which was principally the guarantor of international order is now seen as the chief disruptor of international order. President Trump just seems to be bent on sort of rewriting the rules, or challenging the basis of U.S. policy for the last 70 years. It's creating great uncertainty in the world about our intentions, whether we are going to sort of retreat from this global role that we've had.

Paul Stares: If that sort of develops momentum, then we really could be at, as I say, an inflection point, that term's overused a lot, but really we could be. If the U.S. pulls back at this moment, or sort of destroys the system that it did so much to create, then I think the rest of the century could be extremely dangerous.

Brian Hanson: Bruce, do you see this situation similarly? To what extent is our current situation a product of president Trump's policies, and to what extent are there other underlying factors?

Bruce Jentleson: Yeah, good question. I started the book well before the 2016 election. Probably, the 85 plus percent of the book would have been the same, irrespective of the outcome of the election. As my publisher said, if there's a small silver lining to the Trump presidency, it's maybe increasing the market for good statesmanship, but within the book world in generally. I think if you look at where we were in the 1990s, there was somewhat false but a sense of euphoria.

Bruce Jentleson: The cold war had ended peacefully, democracy seemed to be spreading, globalization seemed to be mostly about winners. People talked about the end of history and the like. Then if you look at where we were really in the beginning of the 21st century, U.S. race relations had grown not back to a new cold war, but tense and tenuous.

Bruce Jentleson: China's emergence had issues attached to it that were also sources of tension. Democracy was no longer spreading. The losers from globalization were making themselves felt in a lot of different places. New issues, climate change was advancing, global health pandemics and the like. It got me thinking about as you're faced with so many kinds of seemingly attractable issues, what were the breakthroughs in the 20th century?

Bruce Jentleson: Issues that now look like, well, of course, we had an opening to China. Of course, the cold war ended peacefully. But if we'd gone to Las Vegas before those events, we probably could have gotten really good odd. What could we learn from those? And how important were individual leaders in the roles that they played? Leaders of states, leaders of international institutions. Some of the profiles from the book are social movements, non-state actors and the like.

Bruce Jentleson: I really think that it had deeper causes. I see the Trump election and Brexit vote as effect, not just cause. That the issues that we face going forward, not only for the United States, but for the rest of the world, were there even before Trump. In many ways, I think that the pillars of the liberal order were starting to crumble, and then he ran a bulldozer through them. But we have to deal with both effects.

Bruce Jentleson: I think sometimes we get too much wrapped in on if it wasn't for Donal Trump, things would be great. I think we want to operate it at both levels, both the immediate challenges that he poses, and the underlying ones that would have been there, even if Brexit vote had gone the other way, even if our election had gone the other way, and things like that.

Brian Hanson: Before we start talking about the future, I want to put one more piece on the table. Paul, you make this really interesting argument about Britain and the decline of Britain in the 20th century, and make an analogy of where the U.S. is today. Really, that Britain had a hand, a significant hand in how things unfolded and its decline. What did you see happening, and what is the lesson for the U.S.?

Paul Stares: Britain began the 20th century as the strongest power in the world. Its relative standing in the world was declining as a result of the rise of United States and Germany, but it was still the most powerful country in the planet, in terms of financial resources, and its military, particularly its Royal Navy. It wasn't sort of predetermined that it was going to cease being the most important state in the world, or the power in the world.

Paul Stares: Most people saw it as preordained, as these other powers would rise. But I saw it frankly as a result of it, more or less latching from one major war to the next, and depleting its natural resources, its power base. Over time, it essentially diminished as a world power, and had to give up its empire. The First World War, Second World War, and fighting the Cold War too were just immensely costly for Britain, and for many European powers' too.

Paul Stares: My concern really, and which really drove me to write the book was how could America avoid the same fate? How could it avoid latching from costly conflict to costly conflict, and depleting its power and global standing in the process? I set out to think about what kind of strategy could the U.S. have to avoid Britain's fate, to prolong its place in the sun, if you will.

Paul Stares: Most of the usual prescriptions are either we have to increase our national power, our military strength, and that's the source of peace. While others say, no, this is the moment we pull back. This is the moment we become disengaged from dealing with the world's problem. I thought, well, neither are satisfactory prescriptions for what the U.S. faces today.

Paul Stares: I proposed what I call demand-side, is about reducing the demand for U.S. power through a deliberate effort to anticipate sources of instability that could draw the United States into costly conflict, to manage them before they become really threatening, to deal with ongoing conflicts before they escalate and draw us in. It's a deliberate effort, a comprehensive strategy to reduce the demand for U.S. power.

Paul Stares: Not to retreat from its global responsibilities and responsibilities around the world, but to be more active in trying to look ahead, and anticipate where the problems are, and manage them before they become really serious.

Bruce Jentleson: That's interesting because Paul and I worked a lot on these issues together over the years, and I agree that there's no question that U.S. policy is a huge part of the solutions, as it were. But I guess I feel that it's not going to be a U.S. centric era anymore. That the conditions that created the liberal international order following 1945, were a set of underlying historical conditions that had to do with the distribution of power, the nature of the threats.

Bruce Jentleson: If you look over time over 70 years, those things have changed dramatically. We're still the largest economy in the world, but the trend lines are decreasing. The gap between us and China, and others. If you look at many of the U.S. relations with allies, the Obama years, the Bush years, different ones. But we've had questions of how much leverage do we have over our allies, whether its Israel or Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, or Brazil or whatever.

Bruce Jentleson: I think it's a different international order that needs to emerge in which the U.S. is a major player, but it's not as much one in which the U.S. is the one that is determinative. In many respects, it's different, it's not just the new balance of multi-power systems. Like late 19th century, you just had a few chairs around the table. You called them India, China, Brazil. You've got non-state actors, you've got a range of countries with their interests.

Bruce Jentleson: A lot of countries now, they don't want to just have relations with one power or another. China is not going to be the new hegemony. If you look in the Middle East, everything else is going on. Israel is dealing very closely with Russia, 'cause they think Russia has some leverage over Iran and Syria. The Saudis are welcoming the Chinese, and even when they have a president they like more now.

Bruce Jentleson: Yeah, there's a pluralization of diplomacy going in that opens questions and some very interesting ways for all of us, both kind of intellectually and policy, and not only for Americans, but for others around the world.

Paul Stares: Bruce is right. We can't approach the world as if we are the global hegemony as we were more or less in the immediate wake of the Cold War. As I advocate very strongly in the book, this strategy of preventive engagement is not something the U.S. can do alone, nor should it do alone. There are many other stakeholders in trying to create a more peaceful, stable world out there. This is not something the U.S. should do alone.

Paul Stares: There are various important partners the U.S. can nurture. There are international institutions that we can strengthen and work through. Frankly, there are other players on the world scene, not just formal state entities, but nongovernmental organizations. We should actually try to empower and enhance their capabilities, so they do more of the job.

Paul Stares: In fact, Trump is somewhat right about this, that we have taken on too much of the burden, and others have to step up and do their bit. But they have to be shown some vision. They have to be shown a way ahead. What I most worried about in this administration, that we seem be alienating the very people that we're going to need to rely on to deal with many of these global problems.

Brian Hanson: I want to pick up on exactly that point about this vision ahead. I think Bruce, you have a line in your book about people don't follow individuals alone, I just paraphrased. But they also, it's got to be something they believe in as well. I want to pick up on this Paul, because back in the, for the last 70 years, there was a formula of kind of what the promised land looked it.

Brian Hanson: It was a liberal democracy, it was a capitalist economy, it was a set of peaceful relations among allies. We kind of knew what that was. As you think about moving forward from here, what do you think is at the core of what can bring those sets of actors that you just enumerated, to gather and rally around some sort of vision for the future?

Paul Stares: Well, that's a huge question. But I think, everybody wants peace. Everyone wants prosperity. They want some level of security, and if not certainty about the future, some sense that what they have is not going to be swept away suddenly. They want a certain level of security, national security, social security, economic security and so on. Trying to sell the notion that we can only get that through collective action, and that's a hard sale, because people then, oh, whose going to be bearing the burden of that? Do we do more, and so on.

Paul Stares: Frankly, only through I think collective action can many of these issues be tackled, and frankly, the tide will raise all boats. But we've got to have a vision of a more inclusive world, one that accepts the logic of cooperation, the interdependencies that you can't escape. We are so interconnected globally that we can't just climb into our shell, or bury our heads in the sand and think these issues are suddenly going to go away.

Paul Stares: It requires a lot more public education, frankly, leadership, Bruce is exactly right. It requires not just the United States president, but other leaders around the world to articulate that vision. But they have to deliver too. That's the hard part. Until people are convinced that their prospects will actually improve, then it's going to be a hard sale.

Bruce Jentleson: Yeah, even if we look back at the era that we tend to think was so successful, there is a differentiation, I think at least, between the success United States had, and sort of the George Kennan containing the Soviet Union, and ultimately winning the Cold War in Europe. But the reality is and what we used to call the Third World. American foreign policy was not particularly successful. Vietnam, Zaire, Central America, nor was Soviet foreign policy.

Bruce Jentleson: I think here in the 21st century, we're in some way seeing those kinds of issues, how you create stable states and the like, where do global pandemics break out, as more prominent than before. At the same time, we have this reemergence of major power competition. I don't think we need to think hard about why we got it wrong before, not just we got it right. I think in some respects, a lot of what Paul is talking about in his book too about preventing conflicts.

Bruce Jentleson: If you look at where there are shared threats, that seems to mobilize. The irony, one of the said ironies of the Trump administration is what are two of the areas in which we saw the major powers really come together, despite other conflicts? The Iran deal, at the same time Russians invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea, and war in Syria. Why? Because there was a shared sense that it was, and in the collective interest of at least the Europeans, the Chinese, Russians and us that run [inaudible 00:18:39].

Bruce Jentleson: The Paris Accord, which wasn't enough. Climate change people saying, if everybody did that, it still isn't enough to deal with it, but it was a start. It was this blend of collective agreement with some national goals. Of course, now, we've had Trump pull out of both. But you think of things like the pandemic threats, and it also makes the point of non-state actors. I have a chapter in book of what I call philanthropy statesmanship, and it focuses on the Gates Foundation goal of public health, and not totally and critically. There are critics of what they do.

Bruce Jentleson: But they have the second largest budget in the world for global public health, next to the World Health Organization. To the extent that there are these shared threats, and they play out differently in countries, that's a basis to at least kind of make some progress. I think the trick though is whatever that vision is that you were talking about Brian, it's not sort of what we believe others should be like. That's one of the lessons of the Arab spring and elsewhere.

Bruce Jentleson: Countries are going to have to figure the blend in their political systems of culture and history, and what it really takes for internal legitimacy, and starting to get a handle on their problems. We, Americans, I think, need to kind of get away the notion that it's all about our model taken overseas. Neither of us is saying that in our books, but I think that's a lot of the sense out there, still the policy world.

Brian Hanson: Yeah, can I pick up on the Bruce, 'cause one of the things that you do I believe it's 16 leaders that you profile in your book, some in single chapters, some chapters cover pairs of leaders. They're from different parts of the world.

Bruce Jentleson: Right.

Brian Hanson: As you look across these cases of people who were transformative of the political situation, wide range of different kinds of issues, about five different sets of issues. Were there commonalities that you saw that allowed these, or drove people to be successful, as we look? I guess the context is, as we look for that leadership today, are there patterns that we should be attentive to?

Bruce Jentleson: I do, and I try to draw it out in the different areas, as you said, 'cause each one has different strategies, not pointing to individuals. Because many of the people in the book would not have been identified earlier on in their careers, and then broadly. I sort of talk about the who, why, and the how. The who, I talk about what I call personal capital. A sense that the leader brings to the issue some authenticity, some courage. In some cases like in Nelson Mandela, some moral capital.

Bruce Jentleson: You can't really talk about moral capital for Henry Kissinger and John Le, but you can talk about personal capital. There were larger than the positions they held. I think that's very important, and the courage that often comes with Lech Walesa and others, that's demonstrated. There's this, it's a broad category, but the personal capital is really crucial. The why is what we were saying before, is some sense of a vision.

Bruce Jentleson: Not grandiose, but it tells people what's wrong with the present. Where they want to take people, and tries to ground it in some values and traditions that aren't totally threatening, that aren't totally throwing it off. So, for example that's where Gorbachev ultimately failed with his people. There was a sense that he hadn't really grounded that, and Rabin ultimately unfortunately led to his assassination.

Bruce Jentleson: Then the how is really the political skills, both within their countries. There's an expression from the broad leadership literature about keeping the opposition close, and controlling the temperature. CEOs think about that when they're trying to do transformations in that. That's a real political skill. As well as how to figure that internationally, whether it's building coalitions, or getting validaters. Lech Walesa, for example, did with the external attention he was able to get, was kind of his insurance policy that kept him alive.

Bruce Jentleson: There are broad categories there, but I think they're helpful to us, the political skills, kind of personal capital, and some sense of a vision that connects with people in ways that reassure them, as well as motivate them.

Brian Hanson: Paul, given the world that we've got now, and your idea of preventive engagement. What is a concrete example of how this would play itself out? The abstract idea of cooperation and working across a wide range of actors is very attractive. But what would this look like in the real world?

Paul Stares: Well, there are certain things that we can do to improve our chances of being able to anticipate emerging sources of instability of conflict. We're very short sighted. Our intelligence community is primarily focused very much on the short term, and really doesn't look over the horizon. We don't really do any planning. Frankly, I don't think our diplomats and many of the people that move into very senior government positions, are well trained to manage the world. They've had no formal education or professional training to do it.

Paul Stares: Those kinds of things. But there are many examples from the past, where this approach has worked, of sort of trying to look ahead, trying to anticipate the kinds of sorts of the problems that could come down the world and bite us. How the end of the Cold War was managed, the unification of Germany. That is a classic case of enlighten U.S. statesmanship to manage the sources of insecurity that everybody engaged felt at the time.

Paul Stares: There were cases through the '90s, where the U.S. again, I think, maybe belatedly you could say, but still ultimately acted to prevent the situation from getting worse. Whether it's in the balcony, the easty more parts of Africa. While we may be late to the game, it never less resolved the issues. I think a more recent case of forward looking as Bruce mentioned, was the Iran deal. As well as the Transpacific partnership, trade deal.

Paul Stares: People don't think about trade as being important for regional stability and peace, but they're immensely important. In fact, it was one of the guiding motivations of the whole postwar trading order. There are many examples of where this is being implemented by far sighted, enlightened, smart Americans. The idea that this is some pie in the sky concept is ridiculous. There's plenty there to work on.

Brian Hanson: For either of you, in the midst of all the challenges that we have currently, where do you see the greatest opportunities to build positive policy going forward with some of these broader, fundamental goals of establishing peace and security in the world?

Bruce Jentleson: Well, I would pick up on the trade one as one. I think that what we have seen today, the Brexit vote, and the [inaudible 00:25:57] sense, and even though a lot of people lost their jobs, the technology is still trading. The things that president Trump has been doing last month really, taking that much further. But this started change back in the early 1970s, the first trade bill in American politics that the labor unions really opposed was in 1974.

Bruce Jentleson: You track that, and you track that also with trends in the rising inequality within the United States. The two kind of go together. There are huge opportunities for thinking about how you bring prosperity to areas that are not just the coasts. There's a lot of room for creativity there. I always use the example back in North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway, which FDR built in the '30s to create jobs, and today, it's the backbone of the North Carolina and Virginia tourism industry, so it was an investment.

Bruce Jentleson: One thing I think is thinking a little bit out of the classic free trade protectionism box, but your domestic economic strategies to trade. I think the other is continuing to try to find ways to come together like the examples we've used. For the United States, it means that it's not getting countries around the table and saying, "By the way, here's the talking points, here's the deal. You get to put the commas."

Bruce Jentleson: But it's being open to the fact that others may have really good ideas. We may have a complicated relationship with China now. There are a lot of tense points, to see how China is seeing the light. But I actually think there's potential, not a G2 where we run the world. But I think for areas for the U.S. and China, as we did on the Paris Accord, to find some common ground that we share, and then work with other countries to make it in their interest.

Bruce Jentleson: I mean, those are just two examples. I guess, I've been pushing back against some of that new China hoax that I see, everything is, we got a new enemy, let's cease on in. I'm not as convinced of that, and I'm not being naïve about China. I think it's a more mixed and interesting relationship than just new Cold War with China.

Paul Stares: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Frankly, I'm not sure it's as much as opportunity as an imperative. But this notion that great power, politics and rivalry is this inevitable trend in the 21st century, I think it has to be resisted. We have to, I think, develop a better relationship with Russia and China. These are two countries that are nuclear arm powers that can destroy us as a nation state.

Paul Stares: The notion that we are now locked into this mortal competitive relationship with them has some logic. Some fact that the Russians did meddle in our election, the Chinese are being very assertive in various parts of the world. But we've somehow got to break that cycle. Because not only are we going to get into a more dangerous arms race with them, and relive some of the dangerous moments from the early Cold War.

Paul Stares: But it's going to become very difficult to resolve many of these regional conflicts. In fact, Bruce can correct me on this, but I can't think of a major regional conflict that doesn't require more than two major powers to resolve. North Korea requires China. Afghanistan probably requires China and Russia's involvement. Syria certainly requires Russia, so does Ukraine. We need their cooperation to deal with this.

Paul Stares: If Trump wants to get out of Afghanistan and Syria and so on, he needs to cooperate with these powers. He needs to reach some strategic understanding about these big issues, as well as the regional ones. Otherwise, we will be in a very expensive competitive relationship with those powers, which won't benefit anyone.

Bruce Jentleson: I think that you're polling here at the Chicago Council really shows that the American public is not really the problem. The poll that the council's done for so long on the basic question of stay active or get out, still shows over 60% support for staying active. Now, that gets interpreted in different ways. It gets interpreted in the Trump way, and in a different way. But people get it, that you can't pull the drawbridges up from the world. Disease spreads, terrorism spreads, etc.

Bruce Jentleson: There is also in your polls and others that shows the American public is not absolutely convinced that we have to run the world. Some of that is this segment that has been pushing and supporting president Trump in a very bashing way, which is kind of counterproductive, very counterproductive. I think that this notion that somehow the American public is the problem is not that true.

Bruce Jentleson: People are confused. They're frightened, there's a lot of anxiety out there. They don't quite know where the world is going. There's potential to work with for American leaders to try to articulate what this 21st century is all about, that isn't just going back to we're the greatest in the world, and we need to run everything, and everything revolves around us. That's actually a little bit of a positive sense of the political environment today.

Brian Hanson: As we close, I want to get both of your views on a question of leadership. In our current environment, what do you believe is one of the most underappreciated or misunderstood aspects of the leadership needed in today's world, in order to create that peaceful and prosperous world, that we'd all like to live in?

Paul Stares: I think it's a willingness to, a belief that compromise is not weakness. That comprise is strength. That you cannot achieve anything without compromise, and to adopt this zero sum approach, whereby giving any quarter is somehow a sign of weakness, and they will be exploited, I think is something that is very pernicious, and that's something that we really have to work at. Obama tried and he knocked his head against the wall, but at some point, we have to embrace that as the driving imperative, if we're to move forward.

Bruce Jentleson: Yeah, it's interesting. We often talk about American exceptionalism. I think we've tended to use it lately as an anesthetic to ease the pain, and there are ways probably of using it as a stimulant, and to look at what's been done. Part of it is in some respects, in the world after 1945, where Europe was destroyed by war, a good chunk of the world is behind the iron curtain, a good chunk were colonies. And our economy had been revitalized by the war effort.

Bruce Jentleson: We were like the athlete that could compete without necessarily doing really good training. We really were, and a lot of aspects of that. It doesn't put down our innovation, everything, but in today's world, it's not just China, it's not just Mexico and NAFTA. It's a very competitive environment out there, economically, technologically, a lot of ways.

Bruce Jentleson: If there is a way to talk to the American people about what it takes to be successful in today's world, that's not bashing others. If we use the athlete thing, not the kind of hard and tragic as Nancy Kerrigan at other countries. But really says if we work together and we rally, we need that to compete successfully.

Bruce Jentleson: That to me, and I'm not a political consultant, has some possibilities as a message that could be positive and realistic, and find a way to make it, to bring people together, for what it takes to be a successful country, both at home and abroad. Because we really need that. We need to be the athlete that trains well now. We can't afford what we had before 'cause the world has changed.

Brian Hanson: Well, Paul and Bruce, thanks so much for being here, and helping us think about what truly is an incredibly important moment in global history, and giving us a sense of how to think about it, and understand it more effectively. Thank you.

Bruce Jentleson: Thank you very much.

Paul Stares: Thank you, Brian.

Brian Hanson: And thank you tuning in to this episode of Deep Dish in Global Affairs. As a reminder, the opinions you heard today belong to the people that expressed them, and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. If you liked the show, please let us know by tapping the subscribe button on your podcast app. You can find us under Deep Dish in Global Affairs whenever you listen to podcast, and if you think you know someone who would enjoy this episode, please tap the share button, and send it to them as well.

Brian Hanson: If you have any questions about anything you heard today, or if you want to know about upcoming episodes in advance, and submit questions for upcoming guests, please join our Facebook group, Deep Dish on Global Affairs. This episode of Deep Dish was produced by Evan Fazio. Our audio engineer is Andy [Zaneki 00:35:16]. I'm Brian Hanson, and we'll be back soon with another slice of Deep Dish.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

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