Putin's State of Mind, the Digital Skills Gap, International Women's Day: RAND Weekly Recap

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March 11, 2022

This week, we discuss deterring potentially irrational opponents; why NATO may be looking better to Finland and Sweden; possible areas of agreement within America's gun policy debate; what workers need for the jobs of the future; how to build a more diverse teaching workforce; and International Women's Day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia September 29, 2021,  photo by Vladimir Smirnov/Sputnik via Reuters

Photo by Vladimir Smirnov/Sputnik via Reuters

Is Putin Irrational?

Russian President Vladimir Putin's astonishing lapse of judgment in invading Ukraine has fueled speculation about his state of mind. Is Putin just making mistakes? Or is he irrational? And what does the answer mean for nuclear deterrence?

According to RAND's Edward Geist, Putin's misguided actions and apocalyptic rhetoric are “not necessarily a symptom of a deranged mind.” But if Putin is not a sensible man, then the West's devastating economic sanctions may not change his behavior. Instead, other, more-rational Russians may need to be the targets of cost-imposing measures to influence Russia's policies in Ukraine.

As Putin grows increasingly isolated and desperate, he might try to suddenly escalate the conflict rather than back down, Geist says. That's why Western leaders should plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist, Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto and Finland's Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen pose during a photo call in Stockholm, Sweden, February 2, 2022, photo by Paul Wennerholm/ TT News Agency via Reuters

Leaders from Sweden's and Finland's Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, February 2, 2022

Photo by Paul Wennerholm/ TT News Agency via Reuters

NATO May Be Looking Better to Finland and Sweden

Traditionally, having a NATO membership option, but not exercising it, has been seen by both Finland and Sweden as a deterrent to Russia. But Putin's recent aggression and questionable rationality may change this dynamic, says RAND's Gene Germanovich. Helsinki and Stockholm must weigh the benefits of NATO membership against Putin's potential retribution. If they do decide to join, then the alliance should “be ready for anything,” from Moscow, Germanovich says.

Profiles of people on two sides of a debate, image by Kubkoo/Getty Images and Chara Williams/RAND Corporation

Image by Kubkoo/Getty Images and Chara Williams/RAND Corporation

Exploring Disagreement About Gun Policy

On an average day in the United States, more than 120 people die by gunfire. Yet there is little scientific evidence available to help understand why gun violence happens and what to do about it. RAND researchers have been working to fill this vacuum. One of their latest studies found something that may seem unthinkable amid the poisoned politics of America's gun debate: room for compromise.

Woman wearing a virtual reality headset to explore a mechanical engineering project, photo by Fat Camera/Getty Images

Photo by Fat Camera/Getty Images

Closing the Digital Skills Gap

Sometime in the next few years, the number of hours worked by the world's machines will equal the number of hours worked by humans. This points to the fact that today's workers aren't trained for tomorrow's jobs. In a recent study, researchers from RAND Europe looked at what can be done to help workers develop the digital skills they need to take on jobs that might otherwise be lost to automation.

Black elementary school teacher and her students wear protective face mask in classroom due to coronavirus pandemic, photo by drazen_zigic/AdobeStock

Photo by Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

How to Build a More Diverse Teaching Workforce

America's teaching workforce is overwhelmingly white, while its student body is increasingly diverse. This is a troubling trend; evidence suggests that students of color benefit from having teachers who look like them. RAND researchers recently identified a few keys to programs that successfully recruited teachers of color: lowering costs for teacher trainees, recruiting from the community, and helping trainees with licensing.

Multiethnic, multicultural women, illustration by melita/Adobe Stock

Illustration by melita/Adobe Stock

In Honor of International Women's Day

Tuesday was International Women's Day. It's a perfect time to highlight the many women who are at the core of RAND's success, and the ways that our researchers tackle important issues affecting women around the world. Recent RAND insights shed light on health disparities, maternal and infant mortality, gender pay gaps, and more.

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