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Struggling With the Virus on Multiple Fronts: Unseen Impacts on the Risks of Nuclear War with North Korea

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“This virus is going to disappear.”-US President Donald J Trump, February 27th, 2020

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”-T S Eliot, The Waste Land

Currently, our greatest challenge is a worldwide struggle against virulent pathogens. At the same time, there is no corollary reason to believe that this overriding menace could remove or preclude other significant hazards, some of them potentially existential. Though such existential threat simultaneity might seem too daunting for calmly rational consideration in these difficult days – and ought therefore to be brought up only in subtle whispers or sotto voce – there can be no reasonable argument for excluding it as a prospective national security hazard.

Now is a time for complete candor. To wit, humankind is never offered any choice in prioritizing existential threats according to any one’s subjective apprehensions or preferences. Moreover, Americans will have to deal with these variously grievous perils together; that is, as they arise, intersect and advance in bewildering tandem with one another. As to identifying significant interactions between such threats systematically, some could emerge as boldly synergistic.

In these cases, the injurious whole would be more-or-less greater than the simple sum of its relevant parts.

This fearful expectation is true by definition.

More to the point, any overlap or congruence between Covid-19 pandemic effects and those of a credible nuclear conflict with North Korea would be more consequential than any simple “adding-up” of numbers or statistics.

Far more consequential.

It follows, inter alia, that nothing could possibly be gained by approaching such galvanizing subject matter without first embracing absolute candor and a science-based precision.

How then shall we best proceed?[1]

 To begin, a core obligation for the United States should avoid basing American nuclear strategy on any flagrantly erroneous assumptions. In this regard, at least one thing is already certain: Kim  Jung Un does not see the world through the same perceptual lenses as Donald Trump. Kim is notprimarily motivated by assorted promises of expanded personal wealth or national economic improvement.
What he seeks for himself, above all and continuously, is extraordinary and stable political power.

Unsurprisingly, this rather obvious objective is tied closely to North Korea’s secure and recognizable possession of nuclear weapons and related infrastructures.

Inextricably tied.

There is more. For analysts and policy planners, the vital issues here are not dense or ambiguous. For Kim Jung Un, prima facie, “denuclearization” represents an unacceptable option in any form. As a national objective, it is anathema. Period.                

Accordingly, while US President Trump now either ignores the North Korean threat altogether or continues to rely on presumed benefits of “attitude” over “preparation,” Kim Jung Un goes ahead with substantial ballistic missile development and testing programs. While Trump continues with strategically meaningless bluster and bravado, Kim readies his nation for an always-possible “final battle.” For the United States, this all-too evident asymmetry could sometime prove to be lethal or even fatal.

We did not elect an American president to serve only on behalf of his own private interests. To properly serve US national security interests rather than his own personal and vanity-centered preferences, Trump must immediately refine and reiterate his still-amorphous North Korea strategy. Among other things, this means developing an American security posture that is more expressly analytic and history-based than are Trump’s current and disjointed orientations.

Still more precisely, it signals that the American president should begin to think systematically and realistically about creating long-term nuclear deterrence relationships with North Korea. For the United States, such creation has worked before, even if in substantially different circumstances. It will now need to work again vis-à-vis North Korea.

In the best of all possible worlds, American  (possibly also North Korean) interests would be best served by Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization. But this is not the best of all possible worlds. For  now, especially, establishing stable nuclear deterrence relationships between these two adversarial states would represent a markedly worthy and gainful American achievement.

There is more. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Trump should take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Such imperative diplomatic caution would derive in good measure from the historical absence of any comparable nuclear crises. Because there has never been a nuclear war,[2] there could be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else, for that matter) to ascertain the true mathematical probability of any US-North Korea nuclear conflict.

None at all.

For Donald Trump, who is accustomed to making wholly unwarranted strategic extrapolations from commercial real estate bargaining or casino gaming examples, this observation could first seem exaggerated. Still, plainly and incontestably, it is a true observation,  and truth, in science, if not in US domestic politics, is always “exculpatory.”

Always.

In any logical assessment of conflict, meaningful probabilities must be drawn from one quantifiable calculus only.  This calculus references the determinable frequency of pertinent past events. When there are no such events, there can be no such extrapolation.

Period.

This does not mean that Trump’s senior strategists and counselors should steer away from offering clear-eyed assessments regarding prospective nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments be drawn knowingly from various constantly shifting and hard-to-decipher geopolitical trends. At this time, such trends must include complex considerations of worldwide disease pandemic. But this sort of inclusion won’t be easy.

Among other concerns, some attendant problems would emerge as more complicated and steeply problematic than others. For one, world security processes must always be approached in toto, or as a totality; that is, as a more-or-less coherent system. What is happening now, in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, could have significant “spillover effects” in the northeast Asian theatre and beyond. This is true even while Covid-19 rages in some measure across these countries.

Rather than ignore such complex and seemingly distant effects altogether – in part, because they could appear too intellectually demanding – this American president will first have to accord them a more appropriate position of policy-making priority.

Today, military threats from an already-nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and determinedly “robust.” The fact that Trump’s nuclear “button” is “bigger” than Kim’s, however, is less than determinative. In strategic deterrence relationships, a condition of relative nuclear weakness by one of the contending adversarial states need not imply any corresponding absence of power or influence.

Even the presumptively weaker party in such asymmetrical dyads could deliver “unacceptable damage” to the stronger.

 There is more. President Trump will need to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments will be impacted by “Cold War II,”[3] an oppositional stance with Russia and (somewhat comparably or derivatively) China. Similarly important will be this US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in certain consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These generally unseen limits are not based upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies of America’s generals, but only on the unassailable knowledge that no person has ever fought in a nuclear war.

Again, this all-too relevant bit of knowledge is indisputable.

By definition – and going forward with all inherently time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – American strategic calculations will be fraught with various and utterly daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Donald Trump and his designated counselors remain able to offer the best available war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or (again) even “synergistic”[4] – the plausible risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will depend upon whether such a catastrophic conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.

 In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to any hoped for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.

 In facing any future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts systematically examine and measure all foreseeableconfigurations of relevant nuclear war risk. Expressed in the game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, shifting configurations could present themselves singly or one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington), but they could also arise suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness,” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.

What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require carefully-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will not likely be a suitable task for a presidential political appointee or for the otherwise intellectually faint-hearted. It will require sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and a demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking. Such disciplined thinking goes back to the dialogues of Plato, and the ancient but timeless awareness that reliable analysis calls for continuous asking and answering of key questions.

There is more. This challenging task could require American strategic thinkers who are as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with the more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and hardware. For the moment, these are obviously not the sorts of thinkers one finds around US President Donald Trump.

There is more. It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to the residually specific risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point, each president would seem to assume the other’s complete decisional rationality. If, after all, there were no such mutual calculation, it would then make no ascertainable sense for either side to negotiate further security accommodations with the other.

None at all.

Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal with North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistically valid in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers? If President Donald Trump, despite once “falling in love” with Kim Jung-Un, should sometime begin to fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing new threats of US retaliation might then make starkly diminishing diplomatic sense.

At that literally unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some residually optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. Again, by definition, determining such complex combinations would necessarily lack any decisional input or counsel from relevant concrete and quantifiable historical data.

In an imaginably worst case scenario, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike by the United States – but at that manifestly late stage, all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There would then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a North Korean nuclear adversary could still be considered “rational.”

None of these difficult strategic decisions should be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one North Korean crisis to another could quickly become overwhelming. Though counterintuitive amid such prominently intersecting complications, the fact that one “player” (the US) was recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.

 In all foreseeable circumstances, there would obtain certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law, which remains an integral part of US law,[5] the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” But this would be the case only if the American side could also argue coherently and persuasively that the “danger posed” by North Korea was recognizably “imminent in point of time.” Such discernible “imminence” is required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”[6]

Now, in the expanding nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic. For example, in  justifying his earlier assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, Trump used the term “imminence” incorrectly (sometimes even confusing “imminence” with “eminence”) and without any convincing factual evidence.

For the moment, especially in the  midst of a worldwide  biological crisis, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. In any corresponding scenario, Kim is visibly and technically rational, and must remain subject to US nuclear deterrence.[7]But it could still become important for a negotiating American president to sometime distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and contrived or pretended irrationality.[8]

Is US President Donald Trump – a self-declared “very stable genius” – up to meeting such a challenging task?

This is no longer a silly question.

In the past, Trump has praised pretended irrationality as a potentially useful US national security strategy. Apropos of this problematic praise, his earlier “fire and fury” warnings (issued before he “fell in love” with Kim Jung Un)[9] might have reflected a prospective “rationality of pretended irrationality” posture for the United States. Ultimately, such a posture could be adopted by either one or both sides.

What happens next?

This particular prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain force-multiplying biological synergies. These would be interactive outcomes where the “whole” was effectively greater than the mere sum of its apparent “parts.”

Although neither side would likely seek a shooting war, either or both heads of state could still commit assorted errors in the course of their respective strategic calculations. Such errors could represent an unintended consequence of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.” Arguably, these errors are more apt to occur in those circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.

Even when the two leaders were reportedly once “in love.”

Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could accumulate. Again, such ill-fated accumulation could sometime be hastened by the unpredictable effects of disease pandemics.

What then?

In certain expectedly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.[10] This ought never to be overlooked, In the words of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “The worst does sometimes happen.”

 There is more. An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of various misunderstandings or miscalculations between fully rational national leaders, but also as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions or of “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could even include the clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”

In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will inevitably strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These are (1) to dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) to achieve desired “escalation dominance” without sacrificing vital national security obligations. In the final analysis, this second objective means preventing one’s own state and society from suffering catastrophic or even existential harms.

This recalls a prior point concerning obligatory assessments of relative military power. When President Trump, in an earlier verbal competition with Kim Jung Un, stated that the North Korean president may have his own nuclear “button,” but that his was “bigger,” the US leader revealed a major military misunderstanding. It is that today, in the still advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant, and could lead the presumptively stronger nuclear adversary toward certain potentially lethal expressions of overconfidence.

In such paradoxical circumstances, having had the “bigger button” would have become the dominant source not of strength, but of weakness. Here, size would actually matter, but only in a starkly unexpected or counter-intuitive way.

 As Donald Trump should better understand, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict grave harms upon the “stronger” United States and/or its close allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows that to take any discernible comfort from the observation that North Korea has been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles is to miss the main analytic point entirely. To clarify, several of North Korea’s nuclear test firings expressed a yield at least 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb. That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.

Such vital understandings about nuclear “button size” must obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms are seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary harms generated by even low-yield nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal could and should still appear unacceptably destructive in Washington, Tokyo or Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure in ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.

The bottom line of all such informed assessments concerning a possible US – North Korea nuclear war is that the underlying issues of contention and calculation are enormously complicated and well-nigh indecipherable. Faced with challenging measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily, in a fashion that is both suitably purposeful and appropriately risk-averse. Although such prudent counsel may at first seem to run counter to assorted inter-linking obligations of “escalation dominance,” any still-upcoming Trump-Kim negotiations would necessarily involve very deep and variously uncharted “waters.”

All this is especially worrisome in the midst of Corona virus pandemic.

Looking ahead, any aggressive over-confidence (or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris” in theatrical drama) by President Trump or President Kim will have to be scrupulously avoided. Although everything at some upcoming negotiation might at first appear simple and calculable, history calls to mind Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s sobering observations about “friction.” This element represents “the difference between war on paper, and war as it actually is.”

In certain plausible cases, this difference could mean total war.

To avoid any such intolerable outcome between the United States and North Korea, a prudent and informed nuclear posture must be fashioned, not with barren clichés and empty witticisms, but with refined intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians had already understood that war planning must be treated as a continuously disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” rather than just one of “mind over matter.”[11] Today, in more specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear negotiations and rivalry, a similar understanding should promptly obtain in Washington.

It would be far better for the United States to plan carefully for all strategic eventualities than to somehow stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea. The plain fact that such a “stumble” could take place without any ill will or bad intention should provide little tangible consolation for the millions of prospective victims. Assuredly, for these victims, any ounce of diplomatic prevention would have been well worth avoiding an unstoppable nightmare.

Nightmare. According to the etymologists, the root is niht mare, or niht maere, the demon of the night. Dr. Johnson’s famous Dictionary claims this corresponds to Nordic mythology, which identifies all nightmare as some unholy product of demons. This would make it a play on the Greek ephialtes or the Latin incubus. In any event, in all of these fearful interpretations of nightmare, the idea of demonic origin is absolutely integral and indispensable.

But our current worries are of a very different and more secular sort. Recalling the earlier-cited warning of 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau concerning diligent scholarship, there are certain inherent complexities in problem solving that must always be accepted, understood and overcome. At a time when our planet is imperiled by the simultaneous and potentially intersecting threats of disease pandemic and nuclear war, there can be no suitable alternative to herculean intellectual efforts.

None at all.


[1] As part of any answer to this question, it will be vital to understand that these are not easy problems to solve, and that meaningful remedies will need to be studied with extraordinary care. In this connection, I am reminded of philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau’s timeless observation in The Social Contract, a 1762 work familiar to America’s Founding Fathers: “I warn the reader that this essay requires to be read very seriously, and that I am unacquainted with any art which can make the subject clear to those who will not bestow on it their serious attention.”

[2] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, too, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[3] In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[4] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point:  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[5] See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola,  175 U.S. 677 (1900);  Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774,  781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[6] See Beth Polebau,National Self-Defense in International Law:  An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).

[7] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).

[8] Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea could take different and overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[9] Upon returning to Washington DC  after the Singapore Summit, President Trump made the following statement: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

[10] There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war.  For earlier works by this author, see, for example:  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS:  AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON:  ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[11] See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Is an Electioneering Trump Overblowing the ‘China Threat’?

M Waqas Jan

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As several analysts grapple over the futility of calling for greater international cooperation against the Coronavirus pandemic, US – China relations seem to be plumbing to ever increasing lows day by day. One has to just glance at the daily news cycle to see how both the virus and the US – China rivalry seem to be going almost hand in hand in representing perhaps the most serious threats to global peace and prosperity. Threats that are in turn more than likely to dramatically impact the world’s economic and security outlook for many years to come. 

Yet, even before the COVID-19 pandemic stormed all forms of political and international relations discourse, the primacy with which the US – China rivalry had been afforded was never in doubt of fading anytime soon anyway. Especially considering President Trump’s incessant obsession with everything China in his previous election campaign, it was already expected that his hardline stance on China would only intensify the closer it came to his re-election bid. This for instance was best encapsulated in his ‘successfully concluded trade deal’, which in supposedly ending the long and protracted US- China trade war,was to stand as one of the most significant achievements of the Trump presidency. In fact, it was to represent in essence a vindication of President Trump’s entire ethos of America First as manifest in his more assertive and obstinate approach to US diplomacy and foreign policy.

Yet based on some of President Trump’s most recent statements, even the achievements of his much-touted trade negotiations now stand jeopardized as both the White House and State Department continue to directly blame China for causing the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the way both President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have gone about in accusing China of deliberately covering up and mishandling the crises during its earliest stages has stood out particularly for its lack of evidence and sole reliance on hawkish rhetoric. What these claims have instead effectively done is to conflate the security and economic implications of the ‘Chinese threat’ on US primacy. An aspect which has in turn continued to resonate unequivocally with President Trump’s highly conservative and mostly far-right electorate.

Its thus not much of a surprise that China’s response has been to mount an even stronger diplomatic offensive. This has been evident in the collective vitriol expressed by a new breed of more assertive diplomats engaging in what has been ascribed (perhaps more disparagingly) as ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’. Yet, it is worth emphasizing that while such a response is likely to have been expected, it still represents a marked departure from the more subtle, patient and restrained manner that had up till now characterized Chinese diplomacy under the now infamous guiding principlesof Deng Xiaoping. While such assertiveness may represent a benign attempt by China at limiting the defense of its international credibility to the diplomatic front, it could also point towards the growing eminence of more hawkish voices taking hold within the Chinese politburo. Hence, ultimately signifying a more overt and perhaps more dangerous challenge to US primacy on China’s part.

Yet as this back and forth between Chinese and US officials rapidly intensifies, many have been left wondering whether the very threat of China’s rise has been deliberately overblown within US policymaking circles to begin with. This argument for instance has been raised by a number of leading analysts such as Fareed Zakaria among others. In a recent article, Zakaria very pointedly explains how designating China as a strategic competitor has allowed the Pentagon to once again justify the kind of grandiose plans and expenditures which more or less defined some of the most tense days of the US – Soviet Cold War. This kind of thinking for instance is replete in some of the latest analyses and commentary calling for a complete overhaul of the US military – industrial complex in response to the ‘Chinese threat’. Chris Brose’s recent book ‘The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare’, makes exactly this argument drawing on his years of expertise working closely with the Pentagon and the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee. As pointed out by Zakaria, this kind of discourse feeds directly into the perceived inevitability and simple predictability of a US – China conflict in what has been famously ascribed to now as the much-vaunted Thucydides Trap. A concept whose own author – Graham Allison – has warned against turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A similar skeptic can be found in Michael Beckley whose latest research also questions the severity and alarm that has been afforded to China’s rise. Especially when considering the long way China still has go to overtake the US both economically and militarily.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that on the purely political front, this debate on China’s rise while completely stripped off its historical precedents and hard economic numbers has been reduced to just diplomatic vitriol between both powers. Whereas, President Trump has simply continued what he knows best, the more assertive line taken by China now however directly feeds into US insecurities regarding the future of its power projection capabilities even more.

With the COVID-19 pandemic now representing the latest battleground for this rivalry to play out, China’s attempts at ‘Mask Diplomacy’ and pandemic aid are adding even more fuel to this fire by appearing to take on a more leading role in international leadership. All while appearing to eclipse the US’s waning influence even further as it undergoes one of the most divisive US elections to date. A development that is to only further complicate this rivalry more along the basis of simple prestige than on any serious hard power discrepancies in the years to come.

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From Plato To Donald Trump: A Once Unimaginable Declension

Prof. Louis René Beres

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An elder Plato walks alongside a younger Aristotle. "The School of Athens" is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

“….till the class of philosophers be invested with the supreme authority in a state, such state and its citizens will find no deliverance from evil….”-Plato, The Republic

“I love the poorly educated.”-Donald J. Trump, 2016

It’s hardly a secret. During the once unimaginable Trump years – an ongoing era of conspicuous presidential dereliction and determined anti-reason[1] – Americans have been enduring  a grievous national retreat. Earlier, in  principle at least, and at a moment when “principle” still held certain tangible meanings,  Plato’s Republic had provided a proper benchmark for many generations of college students. Here, acquainted with a learning-based view already well-known to Thomas Jefferson and to other founders of the American Republic (back then, our leaders actually read challenging books), such students could think interestingly and usefully about a “philosopher king.”

 The lesson was “heavy,” of course, yet unambiguous. For earnest freshmen, this inspirational figure of  commendable judgment and public righteousness was cast asthe one who could be trusted, the exemplary political  leader, the witting thinkerwho could fuse real learning (not cheap merchandising, chicanery or electoral contrivance) with law-supporting national governance.[2]

Plato’s proposed leader represented what the interested scholars would call an “ideal-type,” and was not considered as an immediately graspable or pragmatic model for national political implementation. Nonetheless, it still served to remind entire societies that justice, virtue and decency could somehow be immensely practical. This dignifying message is patently absent from literally anywhere in the Trump White House. Correspondingly, with this Platonic example, higher education was regarded as an intrinsically worthwhile American experience, not just a tactical stepping stone to better vocation or higher personal income.

Back then, inter alia, American higher education was not just about learning how to extract narrowly personal benefits without regard for fulfilling certain much wider and necessary societal obligations.[3]

Back then, in essence, dignified learning was about rejecting the primal and persistently damaging ethos of “everyone for himself.”[4] In other words, worthwhile it itself, such learning was the literal opposite of what we now suffer hourly from a tweeting but non-reading American president.

 There is more. Now, at a precarious time when extant US presidential liabilities are being amplified and multiplied by worldwide disease pandemic,[5] by a bewildering and frightful pestilential assault, it is a last good time to inquire as follows: What has happened to this once enviable and hopeful model of political leadership?

Significantly, the day-to-day betrayal of this model by an American president and his unswervingly obsequious henchmen in government and industry also represents a wholesale betrayal of America’s Founding Fathers. Though assuredly not understood by Donald Trump or any of his reflexively servile enforcers, the Founders who crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were animated by distinctly Platonic notions of wisdom and by the corollary high ideals of Natural Law.[6]  Thomas Jefferson, especially, had argued that the core viability of the precarious new American republic would depend most of all upon the meaningful education of its citizens. For Jefferson, the kind of ignorant imposture we must now tolerate in the Trump White House would have been judged irreconcilable with any genuine democracy.

Myriad promises notwithstanding,  Donald J. Trump could never plan to move us even inches toward a more properly virtuous and wise “polity.” Rather, and exactly as Plato had once feared in a generic sense, we Americans have already been deformed by a dissembling president who is unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between true knowledge and self-serving opinion. Much like the contemporary Sophists who Plato had recognized could only impair societal betterment and virtuous government, Donald J. Trump represents an utterly insidious caricature (one might even say here, a grotesque self-parody) of commendable national leadership.[7]

In this connection, the president now wittingly risks millions of American lives by personally taking over very complex medical and scientific judgments regarding Covid19.[8] When he is finally finished supplanting properly analytic assessments with his own propagandistic and conspiratorial views of the raging pestilence,[9] there will likely be more body bags piled up on our streets than were earlier evident during the Vietnam War.

That is a sobering and instructive image, one now well worth visualizing.

What about basic human compassion in the White House? As to any evidence of personal empathy or presidential concern for the millions of already suffering, ill and jobless fellow countrymen, Trump can only lament his own alleged punishments by the “fake news.” Grotesquely, even when confronted with the steadily mounting number of American fatalities to Covid19, his only thought is to urge “unfair” interlocutors to “be nice,” to be “more polite.”

There is more. Under Donald Trump’s sorely twisted presidential tutelage, we Americans can never expect any Platonic-style  “deliverance from evil.”  Rather, when we begin to consider the increasing threats of war and terrorism now tied up in various complex interactions with unpredictably virulent pathogens, such evil could prove greater than anything Plato might ever have imagined in the fourth century BCE. Looking toward these potentially existential  perils, they could eventually include enemy nuclear attack and/or biological terrorist assaults against the American homeland.[10]

If anyone in President Trump’s governing inner circle should ever come around to acknowledge such hazards, it would have to be done with a proper obeisance to Der Fuehrer; that is, obliquely, disingenuously, sotto voce.

Nothing more.

Ironically, in this pestilential age of rampant pandemic, a time of global war, terror and plague, the absence of a suitably wise American leadership could render vastly more probablethe weaponized pathogens of some present or future adversary. To wit, as Donald Trump rules openly and entirely by untruth and obfuscation –  “in his own flesh”[11] – he simultaneously undermines utterly vital US relations with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

“I love chaos,” volunteered  Donald Trump with uncharacteristic honesty on March 4, 2018. Portentously, there is ample confirming evidence of just such a dissembling love (a perverse sentiment he also applied several times to his personal relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un) in the offhanded way Trump has stubbornly mishandled American testing and tracing for the Corona virus. Moreover, in late May 2020, this president announced plans to withdraw from the long-stabilizing Open Skies Treaty with Russia, another worrisome example of favoring gratuitous international belligerence (chaos) over any correctly law-based patterns of international cooperation.[12]

Every four years, We the people – we ina nation which had once been nurtured by American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Platonic call for high thinking and by Henry David Thoreau’s complementary (and similarly Platonic) plea to “consider the way in which we spend our lives” –  push aside any still-recognizable  serious thought. Obediently, as a deformed society that loathes complexity and looks ever anxiously for simple explanations, we Americans may yet again reduce complex US policy issues  to a crass assortment of numbing clichés and empty witticisms. Whatever else one might say about the rapidly-approaching election, choosing an American president will once again be fraught with abundantly delusionary expectations, and with conspicuously uninformed or incoherent policy platforms.

 Endlessly, in our quadrennial presidential election contests, the celebrity politician draws huge audiences and generous donors in spite ofan ineffable absence of substance. Always, in our infantile and banal national politics, less intellect is more pragmatic. Now, with Donald Trump still able to be taken seriously by so  many Americans, less discernible intellectual substance still spells tangible candidate advantage. With this starkly benighted incumbent, outright buffoonery has often become indisputable electoral advantage.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

 There is more. The harshly demeaning and dangerous Trump presidency  bears witness to America’s unprecedented national decline  – a declension of both the electorate and the Republic for which it stands. Now, whenever the sitting president’s words seethe with altogether evident worthlessness, a still-adoring crowd rushes in from the wings to applaud. Mixing desperation with a curiously self-imposed absence of memory and learning, it nods approvingly, en masse, and in more-or-less compliant “social distancing,” cheerlessly celebrates what it presumptuously calls “American Exceptionalism.”  The celebrations are without authentic joy because any tangible evidence that America is “great again” would be preposterous prima facie.

If it were in any way identifiable, it would then represent a glaring contradiction in terms.              

Once, many of our national heroes, including those who could and would actually read, were created by something other than marketing and crude commerce.[13] Today, a “normally” incoherent American president has become an embarrassing pitchman, a circus-announcer fashioned by careful manipulation and persistently meticulous misrepresentations. Far more ominously, of course, America trusts this sitting president with life or death nuclear command decisions,[14] a complex set of expectations that is always subject not only to willful deviations, but also to wholly unpredictable episodes of decisional irrationality.[15]

Let us finally be candid. The American “emperor” is more than just occasionally mistaken. He is hideously and very plainly “naked.” Most worrisome, in this regard, especially for any still-remaining American national future, is an election process that will likely remain shabby and demeaning, that will gratuitously mock all elements of genuine learning, and that proves shamelessly refractory to all residual hints of American intelligence and virtue.

 In principle, somehow, this ill-fated election process can still be civilized and transformed, but only after critical personal meanings in America can finally be detached from a ubiquitously craven and vulgar commerce. The American Republic, it must then be acknowledged, represents significantly more than just another gaming or real estate deal fashioned by Babbitts and politicos who have never heard of Plato or Jefferson or Blackstone, and have no clue as to what is actually discoverable in the US Constitution. Soon, governing this democracy, it must be acknowledged, will require more than another blustering and self-promoting illiterate buffoon.

Much more.

 We must now finally be candid. Plato’s prescriptively high standard of political leadership remains unassailably out of America’s ordinary reach. Still, this guiding standard may serve to remind us just how far we have already managed to descend from the Republic’s original expectations and how far we will need to advance to fully rescue and restore the imperiled United States. No one can reasonably expect Donald Trump or even the other party’s presidential candidate to become another Thomas Jefferson, but we should still hold every presidential aspirant to some at least minimal standards of intellect, seriousness and learning.

Sustaining and expecting some rudimentary intellectual life in the United States is hardly a dispensable option. In the final analysis, a more far-reaching American respect for a genuine life of the mind is required not “merely” for national physical survival, but also for the most fragmentary implementations of virtue. In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, in his eternally elucidating Pensées, effectively summarized Plato: “All our dignity, then, consists in thought. It is upon this that we must depend, not on space and time, which we would not in any case be able to fill. Let us labour then, to think well (emphasis added): this is the foundation of morality.”[16]

There is one last and prospectively overriding point left to make. It is that the manifold derelictions of an anti-intellectual American society must inevitably “spill over” into the wider global arena, sometimes “synergistically,”[17] and thus weaken this country’s overall position in world politics. Accordingly, it was modern French thinker and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who understood the corresponding bit of  wisdom better than most: “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”[18]

Now, beleaguered by plague as well as by the more “ordinary” hazards of foreign affairs – war, terrorism and genocide – Americans could do worse than consciously resurrect certain core principles of Plato’s Republic.

Far worse.

So long as we wittingly ensconce Plato’s “supreme authority” in the hands of a manifestly unfit American president, we should rightfully expect no quarter from adversaries of  any kind or magnitude, no reassuringly Platonic “deliverance from evil.”

None at all.


[1] “There is something inside all of us,” writes twentieth century German philosopher Karl Jaspers, “that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….” See: Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time, Archon Books, 1971, p.67.

[2]Generally, the pertinent obligations of international law are also obligations of US law. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US

Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[3] See, by this author, at The Daily Princetonian : https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[4] Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the  extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.” Nonetheless, at the international level, Trump has amplified the competitive nature of America’s Covid19 policies, a brand of “vaccine nationalism” that is the reductio ad absurdum of his more generally belligerent stance in world politics.

[5] Says Albert Camus in The Plague (1947): “At the beginning of the pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric….It is only in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth, to silence.”

[6] See Edward S. Corwin, THE “HIGHER LAW” BACKGROUND OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW (1955);  Alexander P. D’Entreves, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPHY (1951). Additionally, Blackstone’s COMMENTARIES recognize that all law “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….”  See William Blackstone,  COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND,  adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr  (Boston; Beacon Press,  1962),  Book IV,  “Of Public Wrongs,”  p. 62  (Chapter V.,  “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”) Still earlier, a century before Demosthenes, Antigone’s appeal against Creon’s order to the “unwritten and steadfast customs of the Gods” had evidenced the inferiority of human rule-making to a Higher Law.  Here, in the drama by Sophocles, Creon represents the Greek tyrant who disturbs the ancient harmony of the city state.  Aristotle, in his RHETORIC, quotes from Sophocles’ ANTIGONE when he argues that “an unjust law is not a law.”  See RHETORIC 1, 15,  1375, a 27 et seq.

[7] In just one example, during his May 21, 2020 tour of a Ford plant in Michigan, Trump refused to wear a mask. Though his explanation for this legal violation was that he didn’t want to give the press “the satisfaction” of seeing him in a mask (what that should actually mean is anyone’s guess), more likely he thought that wearing a mask would project an image of weakness, and – as everyone must already know – Der Fuehrer  is not subject to the normal rules of biology and infection (just as he is allegedly immune to any normal expectations of law). In essence, Trump’s refusal implies that he stands all-powerful, conspicuously “above biology,” just as he allegedly stands uniquely and brazenly “above the law.”

[8] “I tested very positively,” Trump said confusedly on the South Lawn of the White House on May 21, 2020,. “So this morning, yeah, I tested positively toward negative, right? So no, I tested perfectly this morning. Meaning, meaning I tested negative. But that’s a way of saying it, positively toward the negative.” To be charitable about describing such telling presidential confusions, Trump has also had some “trouble” in the past offering proper terminology concerning his medical test results.

[9] https://www.yahoo.com/news/answers-va-given-hydroxychloroquine-1-220636232.html

See also: https://www.yahoo.com/news/massive-study-coronavirus-patients-shows-140100072.html

[10] Professor Beres is the author of some of the earliest books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, including Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979); Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); and Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016). His pertinent writings on this topic have been published in The New York Times; The Atlantic; Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (West Point); The War Room (Pentagon); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon) International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

[11] “The mass man has no attention to spare for reasoning,” warns 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1930), “he learns only in his own flesh.”

[12] Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty (1992/2002) mirrored the U.S. decision to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia in August 2019.

[13] Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. He most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[14] See, by Professor Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[15] Expressions of decisional irrationality in world affairs could take assorted and overlapping forms, and need not be a function of “madness.” These forms include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[16] This is taken from Chapter XXIII of Pascal’s Pensées, “Grandeur de l’Homme.”

[17] Synergistic intersections are those that are “force-multiplying;” more precisely, ones wherein the “whole” is effectively greater than the more-or-less calculable arithmetic sum of its “parts.”

[18] See Guillaume Apollinaire’s “The New Spirit and the Poets,” 1917.

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Coronavirus: The Collapse of Higher Education -Or its Revolution?

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This is the first time higher education has faced the dual-crisis of finance and health.

After World War II, the American higher education foresaw a significant expansion, which helped their economy to grow. During the Great Recession, a similar plot took place: College enrollments surged along with the tuition fees.

In an ever-expanding industry, a tremendous amount of money has been circulating since then: contributing to the economy and funding for infrastructures and research models — but in a rather unsustainable manner with unsustainable debt levels.

The global economy has faced several recessions. However, the current global economic crisis we are facing is different: it is more so focused on saving lives, and then saving the economy.

With travel bans, lockdown, and social distancing enforced to minimize the transmission of coronavirus, enrollments face new uncertainty.

This is the first time higher education has faced the dual-crisis of finance and health. Thus, it’s hard for institutions to strike a sustainable balance.

Higher education was already on the verge of collapse long before the coronavirus forced the world into lockdown.

In the past eight years, colleges and universities alike had been facing the decline in domestic enrollments, only saved by the significant increase in international enrollments. But since the commence of the US-China trade war, international enrolments had also fallen low.

To attract more students, enormous debts were used to invest in infrastructures such as student centers and research labs. Such investments require a continual cash flow. Recessions jeopardize that cash flow. The financial future of most of those institutions were already at risk. Their annual operating budget desperately depended on the students’ tuition fees, which have been increasing.

As previous recessions illustrate, higher education has always been one of the first budget lines to be cut due to declining state appropriation needed to balance budgets. Competing against expenses such as health and pension, higher education is an easy target, as it was throughout previous recessions.

To manage unsustainable debt, colleges and universities would shift the costs to the students by increasing tuition fees — quicker in public institutions than in private. Student debt would rise as the student loan limit is relaxed.

Over the years, financial aid has increased substantially — although not enough. But the institution’s debts and tuition fees will outweigh the financial aid.

For instance, in March 2020, the congress of the U.S. has approved $14 billion (economic rescue measure against the coronavirus)for the educational sector: over $6 billion in student aid; and about $7.5 billion for institutions. However, colleges and universities are already spending around $8 billion just to refund room and board charges for the current academic year, according to the American Council on Education (ACE). Only 1% of that student aid has been distributed.

During previous recessions, enrollments saw bloom. What about now?

Enrollments were highly positive during previous recessions. As earnings decrease and unemployment rises, a theory suggests that individuals will be more likely to attend college. Research from Dellas and Sakellaris (2003) shows that when the unemployment rate rises by 1 percent, college enrollment doubles.

Travel bans and lockdown enforced all around the world has helped in minimizing the transmission of the virus. But the preventive measures themselves cause further consequences. All these pandemic preventions spell trouble to bring in international students.

For (and from) such unprecedented times like this pandemic, ‘Survey’ was invented. Asking the right questions to the targeted demographic results in much-needed data to evaluate the next steps. The primary targeted demographic are students, but they are not the only one to participate in such surveys: teaching staff, board members, parents, and all higher education stakeholders need to communicate properly as well.

Few surveys have already been carried out.

830 Chinese students have been unable to return to the US to continue their studies, as per a COVID-19 survey by the Institute of International Education (IIE). About 100,000 Chinese students who were in China for their Lunar New Year holidays were unable to return to Australia due to the pandemic enforced travel bans. In the UK, about 60 percent of Chinese students who have already applied to study in the UK next year are either likely to cancel their plans or have yet to decide, as per a survey by Matt Durnin, regional Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia at the British Council.

These numbers are highly relevant to evaluate the probable future of higher education as China is the largest source of international students in the world. And international students contribute tremendously to the global economy through their enrolments as well as their accommodation costs overseas. For example, in 2018, international students contributed $39 billion to the U.S..; $37.6 billion to Australia.

India comes second to China. About 70 percent of prospective international students from India want to continue with their applications to study abroad, according to a survey by Yocket, a Mumbai-based EdTech startup.

In such a crisis, international students also suffer more.

Academically, every student suffers equally, but economically, it’s different.

This is a myth.

Every student doesn’t suffer equally academically. Some are well-equipped with technology for online learning; some may lack technology; some proper internet connection. Some may be fortunate enough to have enough savings, taking away the toll of worrying about survival.

This panic hampers mental health. Lack of mental clarity will indefinitely hurt academically.

Accommodation is always cheaper at home country when the income source is out of the question. Data shows that international students contribute more from accommodation expenses and similar living expenses than they do from their tuition fees.

Meaning that, accomodation triumphs tuition fees.A highly relevant aspect. In April, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that foreign students in financial difficulty should leave. The infamous speech garnished a lot of criticism, citing that Australia should not be ‘biting the hand that feeds it.’

Because, once the coronavirus transmission is subdued, the competition for international students will be of massive importance; one which has been in action long before the pandemic. Australia has lost points in this regard.

Meanwhile, other countries are using strategic plans such as easing immigration rules. For example, Canada has permitted international students planning to begin studies in Canada for spring 2020, to complete up to 50 percent of their courses online — a mitigating measure away from travel bans from their home countries.

More surveys will follow. For the time being, the logical answer each survey points towards is E-learning. But it has its own caveats.

Going offline: a new kind of ‘dropping out’

As the majority of the universities are shut down physically, they are opting for online learning, and students are justified in asking for a price cut on their tuition fees. The expensive fees seemed to be for the ‘college experiences’ of falling in love, partying in dorm rooms, and so forth besides the course itself.

The debate of online learning versus traditional learning carries on now more than ever before. Professors, including some outdated from modern technology, are trying their utmost to learn to operate online software. Most of the students who have access to the required technology will attend classes. However, most universities are lacking a proper system to even carry out the basics such as taking attendance.

Absency, in the pre-coronavirus era, used to occur frequently in high numbers for several causes. So did dropouts. Now, most of the world’s educational institutions are physically closed, and courses have been compelled to move online. Once, majorly used to browse social media, is now forced to share the screen time with their respective professors.

But the caveat is that more students than previously are missing class.Some don’t log in; some don’t complete assignments; and so forth.

Most of the absence come from low-income students, who lack access to home computers and stable internet connection — or lack thereof in its totality.

Generating participation is also more difficult than it is inside a normal classroom. But online, it’s even more so.

Online classrooms might do for now, but it is unlikely to ever replace traditional classrooms.

Collapse or revolution? Conclusion.

The Covid-19 pandemic will ensure many of the small institutions to collapse entirely by disrupting the cash flow. Meanwhile, the future of the bigger ones remains in doubt. Cannibalism: the financially strong one consume the weak.

The three aspects — uncertainty in enrolments, unsustainable debt levels, and growth in online courses — have a massive role to play for the future of higher education. International competition does matter as well.

At the moment, in shaping the new world order, China is regarded as one of the top countries. It has already started to reopen its economy. It has provided strict guidelines to its schools and universities on how to physically reopen in an ‘orderly manner’.

Before the pandemic, Xi Jinping dedicated measures to improve education at all levels in China and envisioned producing at least 40 world-class universities by mid-century (the figure will rise to 16 by 2030). In 2018, two universities from China (Peking University and Tsinghua University)ranked inside the World University Rankings (Times Highers, 2018) top 30; outranking several prestigious institutions in Europe and the US.

If China finds a way to retain its Chinese students against overseas countries — taking advantage of this pandemic and travel bans around the globe — higher education won’t be the only thing that gets revolutionized. The world economy will too.

As previously mentioned: In 2018, international students contributed $39b to the U.S.; Australia, $37.6b. Of those figures, Chinese students alone contribute approximately about $13b to the U.S.;$12.1b to Australia.

China has an immense opportunity here: to promote its universities against online lectures amid lockdown elsewhere. As with the US-China trade war, China has the upper hand during this lockdown. The future of Economies and Higher Education will be affected by how China grasps this opportunity.

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