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NATO summit, the future of US-China, Elon vs. Zuck, and more: Your questions, answered

Illustration art with cutouts of Putin, Zelensky, a cat, Elon Musk & Mark Zuckerberg on with the flags of Russia, the US, China & Ukraine
Jess Frampton

It's summer in the Northern Hemisphere, which means: you get to ask me anything.

That's right — it's the time of the year when I take your best questions on anything politics, geopolitics, and personal. Want to know what I think about the 2024 US elections? The war in Ukraine? The meaning of life? Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and look out for future AMAs if you want a chance at getting your question answered.

I picked 10 questions this time. Some of them have been slightly edited for clarity.

What do you make of the NATO Summit outcomes? (Sophia Müller)

The big news was Turkey's President Recept Tayyip Erdogan finally agreeing to let Sweden into the alliance. It was going to happen eventually, but it’s a nice surprise for the US and NATO members that it happened now. Much less surprising (aka not at all) is that Ukraine’s NATO accession keeps getting pushed off into the indeterminate future. While military support for Ukraine will keep expanding week in and week out, core NATO members (especially the US and Germany) have no intention of getting automatically dragged into a direct fight with Russia. They’re perfectly happy fighting a proxy war, but they don’t want to risk a World War III that puts their own troops in harm’s way. That’s the same reason why the Americans refuse to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Not everyone agrees, of course: the Poles, the Balts, the Finns, and even the French (of late) want immediate membership. That said, the other thing the summit showed is that NATO only keeps getting stronger. Members are overall very well aligned, and the alliance has become critical to their national security — not just in the North Atlantic but everywhere (watch your step, Beijing). I guess Russia starting a land war in Europe will do that...

Was it the right call for the US to approve cluster munitions for Ukraine? (Chloe Li)

On balance, I say no. There’s a reason why these weapons are banned (though neither the US, Russia, nor Ukraine are signatories to the ban): they are brutally dangerous to civilians for many years after they’ve been used. Yes, the Russians have been using them throughout the war, but that doesn’t mean we should want more of them in the fight. Now, I understand why Biden is doing this. The US and its allies are running very low on artillery ammunition, which the Ukrainians need much more of to take back and defend their territory. But the US has plenty of cluster munitions, which would actually be pretty useful on the battleground for Ukraine. And Biden wants to do everything he can to help ensure the Ukrainian counteroffensive is successful. Be that as it may, the US dragging itself down to the level the Russians have been fighting on is ultimately detrimental to core American interests and our moral standing.

With some level of Putin opposition building in Russia, what are the chances of Putin being unseated? (Jeff Muchow)

The odds of Putin being unseated are zero … until right after it happens. In other words, if it happens, it’s likely to be sudden and with no external signaling or foreknowledge. The downside of taking Putin on for any Russian citizen and their family/loved ones remains absolute if they fail. And we haven’t seen any grassroots demonstrations or major defections. The Wagner “coup” was unprecedented, but it had no immediate impact on Russia’s status quo. Clearly, though, there’s lots more pressure now that Prigozhin openly challenged him and lived to see another day (for now). Deeper, systemic, and potentially existential fault lines in the system have been exposed – and they can’t be un-exposed. The war in Ukraine has gone terribly for Russia’s military, and a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive could make this even more evident. Elite fracture, especially within the national security complex, is much more likely in an environment where Russia’s strongman no longer looks so … strong. A successful challenge to Putin’s rule is still a tail risk, but whereas a month ago it seemed unthinkable, today it’s considerably more plausible.

Why is Gavin Newsom not running for president? (Ade of Nigeria)

Nobody serious is prepared to challenge Biden if the incumbent president decides he wants to run (as he has), even though most Democratic leaders I know privately tell me they would rather he didn’t run again. While Biden’s age is a massive liability, he is the incumbent president and has the full support of his party’s establishment, so he’d have the overwhelming advantage in a contested primary (not to mention that he has reformed the primary calendar in his favor). Most Democratic voters and elites correctly recognize that Biden, a known quantity with proven electability and a 1-0 record against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, is their best chance of keeping the White House. No one else in the field can boast about that.

Do you still believe that the US is the best country to live in the world? (Mahadi Hasan)

For me personally, absolutely. I’m never going to move. But that answer is dependent on so many factors. There are lots of countries that the US could (and should) learn from to improve our quality of life and well-being: most every advanced democracy on keeping money out of politics, Canada on reasonable gun control, the Nordics on health care and primary education, and the list goes on and on. But all these countries can also learn things from the United States — especially on how to integrate immigrants, entrepreneurship, and fostering a culture of risk-taking, invention, and innovation. There’s a reason why people from all over the world want to move to America despite its many flaws ...

Where’s the US-China relationship heading? (Brian Li)

Right now, in a negative direction. Despite ongoing (and moderately successful) efforts by both sides to improve high-level diplomacy, the relationship itself isn’t improving … and it’s unlikely to in the near future. There’s a floor under it, but it’s being tested by challenging domestic politics and an increasing misalignment between economics and national security. The strong economic interdependence between the two countries will remain for the foreseeable future, even as it’s progressively eroded by “derisking” on both sides. But in an environment of zero trust and no high-level military-to-military dialogue, the potential for “accidents” will continue to grow. And the more the two economies decouple, the higher the odds of direct conflict – most likely over Taiwan, as the hotspot where the underlying status quo is most quickly changing.

Do you still believe we’re in a G-Zero world? (@KaroshiProspect)

Yes, sadly. Global institutions are still not aligned with the underlying balance of power. But as I explained in my recent TED Talk, I also think we are quickly moving away from this leaderless G-Zero world and toward a world with three different global orders: a multipolar economic order, a unipolar security order, and a digital order whose balance of power is still to be determined.

When people talk about geopolitical risks, it's always implicitly downside risks. But what are some of your top *upside* risk scenarios over the next 1, 5, and 20 years? (Alex Holmes)

My answer’s the same for all time horizons: AI being used to massively improve education, health, climate, and, heck, every field of science. I’ve never been more excited about the upside potential of humanity than I am by the promise of AI. (Simultaneously, I’ve never been more concerned about the tail risks that we’re not going to be around for long). Yay, us!

Is your money on Elon or Zuck if they throw down in the octagon together? (Joshua Morganstern)

This fight is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve heard in a long time – and the bar is high. Having said that, if there’s anyone who should be in a cage match, it’s probably two men who think Ayn Rand is high literature ... I expect that if they go through it (big if), they’ll probably play-fight for two or three rounds before they announce a tie or some such BS.

What’s your beef with cats? (@freeulysses_tj)

It’s unclear whether they have any use for people.


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