Civic Education, 'Vaccine Nationalism,' Polar Icebreakers: RAND Weekly Recap

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December 11, 2020

We discuss how a civic education revival could help counter Truth Decay; the costs of “vaccine nationalism;” what the Biden administration should expect from South Korea; the Coast Guard's new icebreaker fleet; why the Philippines is sticking by America’s side; and planning for hurricanes during pandemics.

A second grade student votes during a mock election at his school in Gainesville Florida, Nov. 3, 2020, photo by Brad McClenny/Reuters

A 2nd-grade student votes during a mock election at his school in Gainesville, Florida, November 3, 2020

Photo by Brad McClenny/Reuters

Want to Restore Public Trust? Focus on Civic Education

The United States is living through an era of Truth Decay: More and more, Americans disagree about basic facts. This has dire consequences, such as the erosion of public trust, deepening polarization, and a lack of civil discourse. And if Americans can't agree on facts, then they will be hamstrung in efforts to address today's most complex problems, including pandemics or climate change.

Civic education may be key to reversing course. But according to a new RAND study, public school teachers need more support to foster children's civic development. “Civics is poised to address tensions within our democracy,” says RAND's Julia Kaufman, “and we need to give teachers the resources they need if we expect to see meaningful change.”

A nurse prepares to inject a potential COVID-19 vaccine into a human patient, photo by PordeeStudio/Adobe Stock.

Photo by PordeeStudio/Adobe Stock

Beware 'Vaccine Nationalism'

On Tuesday, the world's first COVID-19 vaccinations were administered in Great Britain. Wednesday, Canada approved the same vaccine. U.S. approval may be imminent. As large-scale manufacturing and distribution of vaccines begins, global coordination will be key. According to a RAND Europe study, if countries engage in “vaccine nationalism”—by prioritizing their own interests over global cooperation—it could cost the world up to $1.2 trillion per year in GDP.

South Korean President Moon Jae In attends a meeting with senior advisers at the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea on August 24, 2020, photo by Blue House/Handout/Latin America

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends a meeting with senior advisers at the presidential office in Seoul, August 24, 2020

Photo by Blue House/Handout/Latin America

What Should the Biden Administration Expect from South Korea?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in appears eager to set a new tone for U.S.–South Korea relations. That's according to RAND's Soo Kim. This shift may be favorable to addressing key foreign policy issues, such as competition with China, Korea-Japan tensions, and denuclearization talks with North Korea. However, Moon is running short on time as he enters the final year of his term; this could create its own set of challenges.

The Polar Star is one of two existing U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers capable of operating in heavy polar ice, photo by U.S. Coast Guard

The Polar Star, one of two existing U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers capable of operating in heavy polar ice

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Needs More Polar Icebreakers

To maintain and expand its important operations in the Arctic and Antarctic, the U.S. Coast Guard requires vessels that can operate in heavy polar ice. Currently, only two ships are capable of icebreaking—both with limited time left in their operational life spans. As the Coast Guard moves forward with plans to build an icebreaker fleet, RAND experts have explored key considerations, including the changing nature of polar environments themselves and the need for complementary investments, including personnel.

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. with precision-guided munitions among other defense articles during a turnover ceremony, at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, November 23, 2020, photo by Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Advisor Robert O'Brien and Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. at a ceremony in Manila, November 23, 2020

U.S. National Security Photo by Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Why the Philippines Is Sticking by America's Side

In 2016, there were concerns that newly elected Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte would undermine or undo the U.S.-Philippines alliance in favor of closer ties with China. That hasn't happened, says RAND's Derek Grossman. In fact, Manila has consistently prioritized Washington over Beijing. Why? Duterte simply cannot trust China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Grossman says.

People talk outside of Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop near a downed tree in the street after Hurricane Zeta swept through New Orleans, Louisiana, October 29, 2020, photo by Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

People talk near a downed tree in the street after Hurricane Zeta swept through New Orleans, Louisiana, October 29, 2020

Photo by Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

When Hurricanes Happen During Pandemics

During the 2020 hurricane season, COVID-19 complicated the challenge of preparing for and responding to major storms. RAND researchers created a model to better understand how to weigh the risks involved in such circumstances. Their analysis revealed several useful insights. For example, in areas that are not anticipating heavy storm damage, sheltering in place may be safer than evacuating. This is because the spread of COVID-19 in shelters would likely cause more deaths than the hurricane itself.

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