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Episode Notes: Budget Proposal

Here’s a good piece at the Washington Post that helps visualize the cuts. We strongly recommend that you scroll through these to get a good understanding of how everything is affected by the budget proposal.

If you’re more of a video guy, a very similar set of graphics was produced by the vlogbrothers youtube channel, which you can watch here.

I was moved by this argument to preserve the National Endowment for the Arts.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation fail to take into account that eliminating the NEA actually causes the collapse of a vast network of regionally controlled, state-level arts agencies and local councils. In other words, they won’t simply be defunding a centralized bureaucracy that dictates elite culture from the sequestered halls of Washington, D.C. The NEA is required by law to distribute 40 percent of its budget to arts agencies in all 50 states and six U.S. jurisdictions.

Many communities – such as Princeton, New Jersey, which could lose funding to local cultural institutions like the McCarter Theatre – are anxious about how threats to the NEA will affect their community.

It’s also important to understand the impact that PBS has on education outcomes for children. Here’s a very impactful video from Mr. Rogers on the impact that PBS can have on children.

Don’t defund the Legal Services Corporation!

We’ll have a piece on the networked impact a lot of these budget cuts will have on secondary education investment and outcomes from a good friend of the show soon. For now, check out this piece on the critical role that the National Science Foundation has had in advancing our understanding of democracy. Here’s a 1996 press release on the significance that even four weeks of shutdown had on public science.

Goodbye beach testing. Oh, and any emergency services that the EPA provides to states, which are critical to state-level environmental enforcement, will be gone.

You cannot replace the social safety net with charity. Public funding actually generates more private funding for charities in the form of matching grants; even deductions for charity don’t have as big of an impact as public matching grants do. Our most recent survey of those arguments makes a strong case against “voluntaryism”.

Don’t believe that the United States could lose some of its top science and technology minds? Think again, they’ve already begun the process of finding other countries to do science in. And Canada has already fast-tracked a plan to take advantage of that reality.

None of this takes into account the possibility of brain drain that comes from the hostility to immigrants in general; the United States won’t just lose top talent to other countries, but they will lose the ability to attract top talent from other countries.

As for the military budget, the United States can project power across the globe without disproportionate investments thanks to flexible and adaptable force management strategies.

Not only that, traditional power projection strategies that require heavy investment can still be done through the concept of offshore balancing, which shifts the financial burden to regional allies while still generating American dominance. Here’s an even more in-depth exploration of the strategy. We don’t necessarily advocate all tenets of the strategy, but it does contain the bones of a strategic withdrawal of the United States from an extended deterrence strategy across the global stage.

In multipolar systems, insular great powers have a much broader range of strategic choices than less fortunately placed powers. Because their strategic interdependence with others is low, they can avoid being entrapped by alliance commitments and need worry little about being abandoned by actual or potential allies.80 Offshore great powers also have the choice of staying out of great power wars altogether or of limiting their involvement-a choice unavailable to states that live in dangerous neighborhoods in which rivals lurk nearby. As an insular great power in a multipolar world, the United States would retain a free hand strategically: although it might need to enter into temporary coalitions, the United States would disengage from permanent alliance relationships. Because of its insularity and capabilities, the United States would seldom need to engage in external balancing.

Not only that, the budget critically misunderstands the relationship between military spending and global American power. Not every problem is a nail. Military leaders agree that “soft power” is a better method of securing global American interests.

Episode Notes: North Korea

North Korea can likely hit the United States with some kind of missile, though not at the moment necessarily nuclear. A graphic from Foreign Policy magazine does a good job of explaining the different types of missiles North Korea has tested, what degrees of success they’ve had and what experts assess is the likely risk.

One of the most informative pieces of media I’ve encountered on North Korea has been this mock National Security Council meeting from the Council of Foreign Relations, which exists as a Youtube video, an audio file and a text transcript. A lot of what I learned in preparation for this episode comes from that. Here’s the relevant piece of text from Mary Beth Long, former advisor to NATO and assistant Secretary of Defense, that made me perk up (bold text mine).

We already have forces in the area, in the arena, in the region, that are at risk today or next week. What are we willing to do to protect those forces as a U.S. decision? And arguably, North Korea is within months—and at this pace even more rapidly—of being able to reach our West Coast. Are we going to wait until California gets a direct hit for us to ask the Blue House to come up with a policy that we all can live with?

It’s no joke.

I reference some congressional testimony with regards to North Korea (pdf). It’s an excellent summary of the challenges the United States faces with regards to the threat.

The United States and China have a shared interest in a non-nuclear North Korea, but the two countries prioritize that interest differently. The United States prioritizes North Korea’s denuclearization as its top priority, while China desires denuclearization, but not at risk of instability. Moreover, the two countries have differing preferred endstates for the Korean peninsula. The U.S.-ROK long-term objective is a unified democratic Korea that is a market economy and remains a U.S. ally, while China insists that a unified Korea be friendly to China and would like to see the end of the alliance. China looks at the Korean peninsula through a geopolitical lens that invariably factors in concern about a U.S. security presence located so close to China. That concern would likely be magnified if a unified Korea were to remain as a U.S. ally. Given that China now represents most of North Korea’s trade, including in food and fuel, China’s cooperation is necessary for any sanctions effort to generate pressure on North Korea. However, the gap in Chinese and American strategic interests ensures that China will always try to calibrate its economic exchange with North Korea to assure stability within North Korea rather than to force Kim Jong Un to choose between survival and nuclear weapons

Both of those pieces reference recent sanctions put on North Korea, which are summed up here and here. Scott Snyder proposes secondary sanctions, which we mention on the podcast but decide is a bit of a no-go for a few reasons.

Secondary sanctions will not work, in part because of how poisonous the new administration has made the US-Sino relationship. Ashley Townsend, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, had this to say:

But publicly deriding China for its failure to fully comply with sanctions only pushes Beijing onto the defensive. Chinese officials have already rejected Trump’s accusations and talked up their own efforts to build stability on the Korean Peninsula, and will rile at Tillerson’s latest rebuke. The net effect will be an acrimonious bilateral context in which US-China coordination on North Korea, or quiet pressure on Beijing, will be more difficult.

Experts around the world agree that public discussions of secondary sanctions are counterproductive.

Front companies are difficult to deal with. Forbes broke it down. Here’s the story on Sri Lanka.