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Iran, Prison College Programs, Fentanyl: RAND Weekly Recap

May 24, 2019

This week, we discuss Iran's nonstate partners; lessons from a prison college program; testing China's military capabilities; the college completion problem; challenges in the Arctic for the Coast Guard; and what a fentanyl ban in China means for the U.S. opioid crisis.

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader holding pictures of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut, Lebanon, October 11, 2016, photo by Aziz Taher/Reuters

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader holding pictures of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut, Lebanon, October 11, 2016

Photo by Aziz Taher/Reuters

How Loyal Is Iran's Network of Fighters?

Iran's nonstate partners are emerging as central players in the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. They pursue a range of activities that destabilize the Middle East and undermine U.S. interests. But RAND experts warn against treating these groups as a monolith. They aren't all Iranian proxies. And there are subtle but important differences in their ties to the regime. Understanding these distinctions is key to tracking bad behavior back to Iran. It may also help inform U.S. responses.

A man studying in prison, photo by mediaphotos/Getty Images

Photo by mediaphotos/Getty Images

Lessons from a Prison College Program

Past RAND research shows that correctional education programs can reduce recidivism and save taxpayers money. A new RAND study analyzes one such program, which allowed inmates to take college courses and continue their education after being released. This approach can be successful, but there are obstacles. For example, it takes time to set up a prison- and community-based program that has many partners and aims to help people with diverse needs.

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy soldiers patrol in the Spratly Islands, February 9, 2016, photo by China Stringer Network/Reuters

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy soldiers patrol in the Spratly Islands, February 9, 2016

Photo by China Stringer Network/Reuters

Vietnam Could Be China's Preferred 'Warm-Up Fight'

China probably isn't looking for conflict. But what if a situation in the region warranted the use of force? If Beijing could choose such an opportunity to test its new military capabilities, it would prefer to fight Vietnam in the South China Sea, says RAND's Derek Grossman. There are at least three reasons why. First, China needs to prepare for war in the air and at sea. Second, a conflict with Vietnam would be unlikely to prompt U.S. intervention. And finally, it would be a winnable fight.

College students in silhouette tossing caps in the air, photo by Rawpixel Ltd/Getty Images

Photo by Rawpixel Ltd/Getty Images

Helping More Students Finish College

More than half of students who start college end up dropping out without completing a degree or certificate. Sometimes they leave for academic reasons. But many students drop out because of financial difficulties or other life challenges, says RAND's Lindsay Daugherty. While colleges are trying to tackle this problem, policymakers may also be able to help. One opportunity, she says, is the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The Coast Guard's Arctic Challenges

The United States can no longer treat the Arctic as if it's “falling off the top of the map.” That's according to recent congressional testimony by RAND's Abbie Tingstad, who outlined several challenges facing the Coast Guard in the region. First, communicating in the Arctic is difficult. It's also hard to pinpoint what conditions and hazards exist in the region. And finally, there are gaps in the Coast Guard's ability to respond to major incidents, such as an environmental disaster.

Bags of fentanyl at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area at the International Mail Facility at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, November 29, 2017, photo by Joshua Lott/Reuters

Bags of fentanyl obtained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, November 29, 2017

Photo by Joshua Lott/Reuters

Stopping Fentanyl in China Won't End the Opioid Crisis in America

China recently proposed a law to address the illicit production and distribution of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. RAND experts call this encouraging news. But it isn't likely to affect the number of Americans who die from opioid-related overdoses. China cannot solve America's opioid problem, they say. It's up to U.S. decisionmakers to think innovatively about reducing the harms associated with using these substances.

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