U.S. 'Entanglement,' Global Health Cooperation, Community Stress: RAND Weekly Recap

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November 26, 2021

This week, we discuss whether allies and partnerships entangle the United States in conflict; a new U.S. approach to Russia and Ukraine; how geopolitics affects global health cooperation; the threat of a Chinese attack against Taiwan; how stress becomes toxic to communities; and the effects of sanctions on Russian arms sales.

Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy at a ceremony honoring service members who supported the international response to the unrest in Libya, at Cannes City Hall, November 4, 2011, photo by MC2 Stephen Oleksiak/U.S. Navy

Photo by MC2 Stephen Oleksiak/U.S. Navy

Do Alliances and Partnerships Entangle the United States in Conflict?

Some analysts and policymakers argue that U.S. alliances and partnerships can risk dragging the United States into conflict to protect its reputation for upholding commitments. Others say that America can maintain these security relationships while keeping its own interests in mind and restraining allies and partners from engaging in risky behavior.

A new RAND report assesses the evidence for these competing claims. Findings show that “entanglement dynamics” have been factors in at least five military conflicts that involved the United States, including three wars.

However, these dynamics were not the only cause of U.S. involvement in these past conflicts. And because so many questions about entanglement remain, the authors emphasize that more research is needed to better inform this debate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an expanded meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, November 18, 2021, photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an expanded meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry Board in Moscow, November 18, 2021

Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS via Reuters

A New U.S. Approach to Russia and Ukraine

Russian troops building up along the border with Ukraine may seem like a repeat of the past. So, too, does the U.S. response, says RAND's Samuel Charap. Rather than focusing solely on coercing Russia to de-escalate, the Biden administration could also consider pushing Ukraine to take steps toward implementing its obligations under the 2015 Minsk II peace deal. Ukrainian compliance with the agreement—flawed as it is—might reinvigorate the peace process, Charap says.

Security personnel at the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by a World Health Organization team investigating the origins of COVID-19, in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021, photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters

Security personnel at the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by a World Health Organization team, February 3, 2021

Photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters

How Geopolitics Threatens Global Health Cooperation

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, changing U.S. attitudes toward China have negatively affected scientific collaboration between the two countries. That's according to RAND's Jennifer Bouey. Mounting distrust undermines disease surveillance efforts, the exchange of students and scholars, and even health collaboration programs. Global leaders may be doing their citizens a disservice, Bouey says, if they allow “toxic geopolitics” to undercut partnerships that took decades to build.

Taiwan Air Force during annual exercises designed to prove the military's capabilities to repel a Chinese attack in Chang-Hua, Taiwan, May 28, 2019, photo by Aventurier Patrick/ABACA via Reuters

Taiwan Air Force personnel during exercises designed to prove the military's capabilities to repel a Chinese attack, Chang-Hua, Taiwan, May 28, 2019

Photo by Aventurier Patrick/ABACA via Reuters

Taiwan Is Safe for Now—with One Big Caveat

Some experts believe that China could attack Taiwan in as little as six years. But there is no evidence that China is plotting a sneak attack, says RAND's Derek Grossman. In fact, despite its recent egregious behavior toward Taiwan, Beijing has actually “pulled its punches.” Grossman identifies one big caveat, though: If Taiwan's popular vice president becomes the next Taiwanese leader, then the odds of China taking military action will only grow.

A collage depicting the different voices, people, and generations that shape a community, illustration by Jonathan Key/Morcos Key

The central visual of Morcos Key's new animation is a collage of the different voices, people, and generations that shape a community

Design by Jonathan Key/Morcos Key

What Does a Portrait of Community Stress Look Like?

When communities face repeated traumas—such as poverty, racism, and natural disasters—stress builds. A recent RAND study shows how this accumulation of stress can affect a community's well-being over generations, making it harder to respond to future trauma. Inspired by this research, RAND artist-in-residence Morcos Key created an animation that shows how stress becomes toxic to a community and what can help break the cycle.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk next to a Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jet as they visit the MAKS 2019 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, August 27, 2019, photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan next to a Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jet, Zhukovsky, Russia, August 27, 2019

Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Using Diplomacy to Discourage Russian Arms Sales

Third-party sanctions have had a chilling effect on Russian arms sales, according to a new RAND report. However, countries with significant portions of their arsenal composed of Soviet Union and Russian weapons systems face challenges in moving away from Russian systems. To help these countries address their security needs, the West needs to provide credible diplomatic and military alternatives to Russian arms exports.

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