Competition as a way of life: What today's fractured geopolitical environment may mean for markets

Thomas Mucha, Geopolitical Strategist
2022-07-13T12:00:00-04:00  | S1:E9  | 37:42

The views expressed are those of the speaker(s) and are subject to change. Other teams may hold different views and make different investment decisions. For professional/institutional investors only. Your capital may be at risk.

Episode notes

Host Thomas Mucha speaks with author and historian Hal Brands about lessons from the Cold War that can help investors understand and navigate today’s great-power struggles. 


THOMAS MUCHA: Today’s episode is about the past and what it can teach us about the present and the future. History is, after all, one of the most important tools in any geopolitical strategist’s research kit, especially when applied to the most important long-term geopolitical issue out there, and one with the biggest market impacts. And that’s the rapidly shifting US/China relationship. Historian Hal Brands is one of the voices I listen to very carefully on this subject and some others. Hal is the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Current Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies.

He’s also the former Special Assistant to the US Secretary of Defense, and was lead writer for the Commission on the National Defense Strategy for the United States – the Pentagon’s blueprint for how it looks at the world – from China, to Russia, to the Middle East, and beyond. 

Hal also wrote a new book that’s getting a lot of attention in my national security circles, and one that’s focused squarely on the US-China dynamic: It’s called The Twilight Struggle – what the Cold War Teaches us about Great-Power Rivalry Today. 

I spoke with Hal recently at a Wellington Management event, so we had this conversation in front of a live audience of a couple hundred people. Of course, as an outside guest to the podcast, Hal’s views are his own, and do not represent those of Wellington or its investors. 

And with that little business out of the way, let’s go now to my chat with historian, former Defense Department policymaker, and author, Hal Brands. I’m going to get into the book, obviously, which is the main topic of this conversation. But since we have you, and since the Russian invasion of Ukraine is so critical to the overall geopolitical environment, I do want to ask a couple of questions, and we’ll start there. So, let’s begin with, Hal, your views on, where are we with the conflict, and where do you see this headed really over the short, medium, and long terms?

HAL BRANDS:    So, I think we’re at a transition moment in the conflict. I basically mean that the Russians had been unable to achieve much on the battlefield, they were still holding more Ukrainian territory than when they started, but hadn’t been able to achieve any of their big political objectives. And, you had actually kind of a rough agreement between the Russians and the West on what both sides would allow. And so the United States and NATO would allow Russia to do more or less whatever it wanted to Ukraine, short of the use of weapons of mass destruction or short of the escalation into a NATO country. And the Russians would allow the United States and the West to load up Ukraine with weapons, to give it lots of valuable intelligence, to sustain its economy, so long as they didn’t intervene with their own forces militarily. And internally it’s becoming a little bit less stable because the Russians have managed to make some gains in the east, and because the Ukrainian government has now acknowledged they’re losing somewhere between 100 and 200 soldiers killed in action each day. And so there’s a little bit of uncertainty about, in the near-term at least, how solid Ukrainian resistance will be. But I think the equilibrium may be coming unstuck externally as well, largely as a result of geo-economic issues. And so the economic fallout from Ukraine has already been severe, in terms of inflation, in terms of energy prices. It’s only going to get worse, especially as it starts affecting global food supplies. And I think that this is actually part of Putin’s strategy. His goal is to make prolonging the war sufficiently painful, not just for Ukraine, but for its supporters, so that they may reconsider whether they want to be in this thing to win it after all. And I think that there are going to be some hard questions that confront the United States and the other democracies say four or five months from now, if the economic fallout continues. And they’re going to have to address this question, and do they want to continue along the current path? Do they want to seek a negotiated settlement? Do they want to try and open up Odessa, so they can keep exporting wheat again, if some of the overland routes don’t work? All of these things are going to be in play, and so I think we’re moving into a period where there’s going to be a little bit more movement internally and externally in the war. 

MUCHA:    What are the escalatory risks along the way, over the short term here, then?

BRANDS:   So, there are a few of them. We worried at the beginning of the conflict a lot about Russia maybe taking a poke at a NATO country in an effort to constrict some of the supplies of weapons, for instance, that were coming into Ukraine. I don’t see that as a huge risk at the moment, because I think the Russians are still fairly confident about how this is going to come out. The escalatory risks that worry me are kind of twofold. One is quasi-inadvertent. And so you’re getting Western embassies, Western personnel back into the Ukrainian capital. If you get an escalation of Ukrainian airstrikes and missile strikes, for instance, you could have a circumstance where Western personnel get killed, and that creates certain escalatory pressures. Or, some of the ordinance that the Russians are firing at Lviv, not particularly accurate, and it’s not that far from the Polish border, for instance. So you could have an escalation scenario there. But the one that I think is perhaps more imminent is this discussion of whether the United States and other NATO countries might feel that they have to escalate in order to ease the economic pressure. And so there has been some initial discussion of, we’ll call it the reflagging option. And so during the Iran/Iraq War in the 1980s, the United States reflagged Kuwaiti tankers to make clear that they were under the protection of the United States, to get oil out of the Gulf and to the industrialized world. You could conceivably see something similar, or see discussion of doing something similar, or otherwise opening a corridor, a maritime corridor to Odessa as a way of trying to help Ukraine restart its wheat exports, in particular. 

MUCHA:    What’s the time horizon here, Hal? 

BRANDS:   I think it’s probably weeks. And we’re seeing more and more indications of food shortfalls, mostly in developing countries, and there will be concerns about political instability that will accompany those things. The other thing that’s going to kick in, I would say, is concern with the escalating cost of sustaining the Ukrainian economy. You’ve seen some isolated but prominent critiques of US aid packages to Ukraine on grounds that it’s too expensive. The last one was $40 billion. This money can be better spent on other things. And, and one of the drivers of the cost of those packages is the fact that the Ukrainian economy has just cratered, in part because its wheat exports have cratered. And so, I think as you get deeper into the summer, you could easily see greater discussion of some of these options, particularly if it goes along with, say, continuing surges in energy prices, so we’re looking at seven or eight dollars a gallon for gas, continuing high inflation, and other economic distortions. 

MUCHA:    So Hal, you’re obviously a student and scholar of great-power politics. This is a geopolitical crisis of the highest order that involves great powers. I’m curious on your views about China’s response to the conflict so far. How do you think about what they’re trying to accomplish from a diplomatic perspective? 

BRANDS:   I think China has mostly tried to accomplish two things. And so one is not to get into the middle of this mess. I think it is viewed as a mess from China’s perspective. And so there’s certainly some degree of dissatisfaction there. On the other hand, the Chinese certainly are not going to alienate Russia over this. They’re not going to abandon Russia, they’re not going to put pressure on Russia to bring this conflict to a close. Russia is the one close and important strategic partner that China has, and vice versa. Where things could get really uncomfortable for China, is if it becomes clear that Putin is going to lose the conflict in Ukraine, absent meaningful Chinese support. And I’m not talking about sending in troops, I’m talking about maybe military resupply, maybe greater efforts to circumvent Western sanctions and, and things like that. In the worst-case scenario, you maybe get political instability in Moscow, and if Putin goes, who knows what comes next? And who knows what that means for the Sino-Russian relationship? And so if it reached that point where it looked like Russia was in real trouble, real danger of losing the conflict, China would face a very difficult decision. It wouldn’t want Putin to fall, but at the same time, if it were to help him more openly, it would expose itself to a lot greater opprobrium in the United States and other countries. And, and so there is a bit of a dilemma approaching, if that happens.

MUCHA:    So clearly, China has a vested interest, Russia has a vested interest, the United States has a vested interest, all the Western powers are very keen to see this through. But what do you think the lasting implications are here for countries that aren’t caught up in great-power competition directly? And, and by that I mean, the majority of the world. 

BRANDS:   It’s really interesting. So, we talk a lot about the global unity that the Ukraine war has produced, but it’s important to be very clear that what we’re really talking about is the unity of three or four dozen developed democracies. Mostly in Europe, the North Atlantic community, the Anglosphere, and East Asia. The vast majority of the world’s developing countries, and even developing democracies, have tried to stay as clear of this thing as possible. And in some, in some cases, they have very specific reasons for doing so. Brazil relies a lot on Russian fertilizer, India relies a lot on Russian military, gear, and Russian oil. In some cases, there is kind of a, a larger ambivalence about the, the conflict, either because of lingering ideological issues, or simply a view that this is basically just kind of a clash between two, two spheres of influence in a place of the world that is relatively distant. But, but nonetheless, there has been this widespread, kind of “leave us out of it” response. There’s actually a parallel here to the Cold War, where you had the free world and the Communist world, and then you had a large swathe of nonaligned nations, that mostly tried to steer clear of it, for one reason or, or another. In some ways, these countries are going to become more affected by the conflict as time goes on. And so, we talked a little bit about food insecurity that may emerge as a result of disruptions caused by the war. Those are going to be felt most severely in developing countries. And so, you may not be interested in the Ukraine war, but the Ukraine war is interested in you. And then there’s also a little bit of diplomatic fluidity here, because in some cases the war has created an opportunity for the United States and other countries to try to shift the preferences of neo-nonaligned powers. And so, the example I would give here is India. And so, India has been very reluctant to go on record condemning Russian action in Ukraine, but it’s pretty clear that India realizes that its current strategy of relying on Russian military equipment to deter and defend against China just isn’t going to work over the long term. Because Russia’s not going to have a lot of high-level military equipment and spare parts that they’re going to be willing to part with, because their defense industry is going to come under massive strain as a result of the sanctions. And as Russia and China get closer together, it would be foolish of India to count on getting resupply from Moscow in the middle of a crisis with Beijing. I think the Indian government knows this very well. And so, it’s created an opening for the UK and the US, a couple other countries, to get in there and say all right let’s have discussions about how you can become less reliant on Russian military gear, not in a six-month period, but over time. And, and so I think there’s some promise there.

MUCHA:    So clearly how the war is going to have immediate implications, long-term implications, a lot for us to be sorting through. So thank you for, for that. I do want to shift to the book, and stock market analysts, fixed income analysts, have a series of data points that they use to analyze their industries, their companies. Geopolitical strategists have history. And so, I was very grateful to see your book come out and analyze the US/China competition in the context of the Cold War. And so, that’s the thrust of the book, but I wanted to, I guess start at the very top of this, and to your mind, as you went through researching and writing this book, what are the top two or three lessons that really jump out and that can be applied to today’s global competition? 

BRANDS:   Sure. So let me just flag a couple. The first one, I think, is that we just shouldn’t underestimate what we are in for in the coming years and decades. And so, I’ll take the Ukraine crisis as an example, even after this crisis ends, it’s not going to be back to normal in US/Russia relations, right? Even if there is an easing of tensions momentarily in US/China relations, it’s not going to be back to pre-2016 status quo. And in both of these cases, we’re going to be looking at prolonged intense great-power struggles over influence, over ideas, over the very terms of world order. And one of the things that the Cold War teaches us is that these things can go on a lot longer than you expect. A second thing though, is that just because competition is underway doesn’t mean that there is no scope for cooperation or for imposing limits on that competition. And so, during the Cold War, pretty much every US president, in fact, every president between Harry Truman and George H.W. Bush, met with his Soviet counterpart at one or more summit meetings. There were typically some sorts of diplomatic processes ongoing at one time or another. There were a variety of arms control deals that were hatched. There were a bunch of things going on in the diplomatic space, even if the United States and the Soviet Union competed fiercely. And that’s because officials on both sides, including the United States, understood that negotiation could actually be an important part of competition. It could be a way of isolating an area in which the two sides had a common interest, even as they competed elsewhere. And so, in the late 1960s, for instance, the US and the Soviet Union get together to create one of the most effective international agreements of all time, this would be the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, out of recognition that neither of them had much to gain from a condition of nuclear anarchy in the world. A second realization was that negotiation could be a way of imposing pauses on the competition, of slowing the pace down when you weren’t ready to run particularly fast. One reason the Nixon/Kissinger team pursues détente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, is that the United States is exhausted from Vietnam and needs a breather before it can compete full-bore once again. And so, there were a variety of reasons why the United States and the Soviet Union often kept lines of dialogue open, even as they competed. 

MUCHA:    Now, we’re not having a lot of dialogue with China right now, how concerning is that to you, and what are the prospects for fixing that structural limitation? 

BRANDS:   It is concerning. There are a couple of things going on here. And so, there are ministerial-level contacts between the United States and China, on a fairly regular basis. There are various channels that the US government keeps open to maintain contact with Chinese counterparts. The problem, and American officials have said this publicly, is that they just can’t be sure that anything that is communicated below the leader-to-leader level, below the Biden/Xi Jinping level, actually makes it to the top, or actually has an impact. So, I think it is concerning in part because tensions are escalating in the Taiwan Strait, they’re escalating in the East China Sea, and we’ve reached a point, especially with the Ukraine war in the background, where it is not at all inconceivable, in my mind, that there could be a major military conflict in the Western Pacific within the next handful of years. I certainly hope it doesn’t happen, but we would be foolish not to consider the prospect. Now, most wars do not start by accident. They typically start as a result of cautious decisions that are made on one side or the other. But nonetheless, you would want to have lines of communication open in a crisis in order to explore any opportunity there might be for de-escalation.

MUCHA:    So, on that point of national security risks and historical parallels, how do you assess the development of the Quad, AUKUS, and these other institutionalized security arrangements that are now developing?

BRANDS:   It would be great if the United States and its key allies and partners could establish a single multilateral organization that would include formal defense commitments in key areas in the way that NATO did. Because NATO served as an incredibly powerful deterrent to aggression during the Cold War. The problem is that is just not likely. It’s not likely for historical reasons, it’s not likely because some of our key allies in Asia really don’t get along with each other, it’s not likely because the geography is so diffuse. And so, during the Cold War, France and Germany really didn’t have much of a choice but to bury the hatchet and come together, because you couldn’t get to the English Channel without going through both countries if you were the Soviets. It’s different if you’re thinking about Japan and India, or South Korea and India, for instance. And so, I don’t think we’re likely, at least in the next few years, to get anything that looks exactly like NATO. What you’re seeing instead is the creation of kind of a patchwork of bilateral and multilateral undertakings that are just meant to create greater connective tissue between the US and key countries in the region, and kind of thickening the region’s security linkages as a result of that. And so, you mentioned a couple of them. The Quad is really interesting, because it involves India, as well as two US treaty allies, Australia and Japan, and is probably the best mechanism we have for engaging India on a variety of issues, from defense to global public health, as we saw with the COVID vaccine distribution initiative about a year ago. There’s AUKUS, which ties the United States together with two longtime deep allies as close as we have, and I think has some promise in terms of giving greater access to northern Australia, for US and UK forces. I think you’re going to see more and more of this in the coming years. 

MUCHA:    So Hal, obviously this audience is interested in markets. Macro impacts of everything we’re discussing here today. And as you point out in the book, the Cold War led to all sorts of technological innovations, other developments that had second- and third-order impacts. I’m curious how you’re viewing this current competition, and what some of those second- and third-order technological or other impacts are likely to be. 

BRANDS:   Well, I think we’re likely to see a whole lot of economic disruption, as US/China relations unfortunately get worse and worse over the coming years. You’re going to see more emphasis on increasing resilience in supply chains, you’re going to see more selective decoupling in tech and finance. And of course, hanging over all of this is the prospect of a major geopolitical crisis. And so the potential for that has to be kept in mind. I do think that there are a variety of ways in which this competition, if we handle it correctly could be constructive, it could be productive in a geo-economic sense. I think you’re also going to see continuing investments in US technological innovation, and US competitiveness at home, where we’ve seen some legislation to this effect, which is very slowly making its way through Congress right now. And I think that’s probably viewed more or less as a down payment on the sort of investments that we’re going to need over a longer period. And so, if you’re thinking about kind of strategic assets, or strategic supply chains, my hunch is that you’re going to see great government intervention, more of a sort of twenty-first century industrial policy to try to make sure that we have sufficient strength and sufficient depth in those areas that we’re not strategically vulnerable. 

MUCHA:    So, disruption ahead in these strategic sectors that you point to. Semiconductors, next-gen communications, robotics, space-based technologies, biotech, the ones that are getting the policymaker focus right now. 

BRANDS:   I think that’s right, I think that the Chinese have been fairly transparent that their strategy here is to invest heavily in these areas, decrease their dependence on technological inputs from the United States and other democratic countries, and increase the leverage they possess by dominating the high ground in these areas of innovation. It’s just a question of kind of who comes out ahead in that process. 

MUCHA:    What are some of China’s inherent advantages, economic, political, social, that it’s likely to lean into over the next 10 to 15 years? 

BRANDS:   Well, there’s certainly a much closer relationship between the state and private or semiprivate industry than we have in the United States. Now, that is not always an advantage, by the way. It can have the effect of distorting the flow of capital and sort of sending it in unproductive directions rather than productive ones. And we see that in China’s case. But it does mean that the Chinese government does not have the problems that we sometimes do in accessing the fruits of innovation from the private sector. And so, that’s certainly an advantage that the Chinese have leaned into with this doctrine of civil-military fusion, for instance. The scale of China’s population provides some advantages as well. And so, if you are interested in training AI algorithms, it helps to have a really big pool of data where the government has access to all of it, and a huge population can help you attain that. China has an advantage in the sense that it is the largest trade partner for about 130 countries in the world; significantly more than the number of countries that the United States has as their largest trade partner. And that gives China the ability to push back against policies or statements that it does not like. Now, I want to be very clear, there are offsetting disadvantages on all of these things. And so just to give you one example of this. Personalistic rule can help you go fast and be bold. It also means there aren’t a lot of checks on really, really bad decisions, right? But nonetheless, there are some areas where China is going to get benefits from either the scale of its population, the nature of its political system, or other things.

MUCHA:    So Hal, given the challenges that you’ve laid out on both sides, the deepening strains, geopolitical, trade, economic, and others, what do you think the prospects are for areas of cooperation, particularly climate change, which obviously is at the top of the list for so many reasons. 

BRANDS:   Well, the need for cooperation is compelling. Certainly climate is an area where it is difficult to see how you can get a robust global response without the US and China going in together. There are others as well. And so, if you are one of the people who worry about the way that artificial intelligence and automation might interact with advanced military capabilities in dangerous ways that undermine stability, perhaps you think there should be an arms control process that would address that; a more traditional nuclear arms control, as well. 

MUCHA:    So back to your negotiation point, right? The need for negotiation.

BRANDS:   Right. Or think about pandemic prevention and response, there’s certainly a compelling need there as well. The problem is that the prospects for any of this are not great in the coming years. And so, I’ll give you three examples of this. One is that we have been trying to draw the Chinese into a trilateral arms-control framework — ­­­US Russia, China —­­ on nuclear capabilities in particular for a number of years. And they have not had any interest in doing that, because understandably, from their perspective, they are in the middle of a major nuclear buildup. It’s meant to make them a nuclear peer of the United States by 2030 or 2035, and so why would they negotiate now, when their position is relatively weak, rather than waiting until it’s much stronger? And so, we haven’t had a lot of luck there. There has been zero progress on pandemic prevention and response-related issues. Even on climate, we have not seen a great deal of cooperation. The Biden administration has made very clear it’s interested in engaging China on these issues. I think the initial instinct was that Ambassador Kerry was going to make a major push to do this in his role as climate czar. And there has not been a lot of receptivity from China. There’s two things going on here. The first is that we have said that we prefer a strategy of compartmentalization. So, we’re going to compete with you on Taiwan, but there’s this area where we have a common interest, and so we’re going to cooperate over here, and it should not be affected by this stuff in the other category. And the Chinese have said, not so fast. They said, if you want cooperation on climate, you must create the proper atmosphere by making concessions on these issues where you are treating us unfairly. And so right now, we are trying to move them off their position, they are trying to move us off our position. And so, you have a little bit of a stalemate. But the other reason is that if you think about technologies that really make a difference, in terms of combatting or slowing the pace of climate change, think about sort of energy storage, technologies, batteries, things like that, solar panels. If these are going to be really important to the future of the global economy, then the United States and China are going to compete to establish strong points in the various supply chains. And we’re, we’re seeing that right now. Now this could have a virtuous impact. If the United States and China both decide these technologies are really important, so we need to invest heavily in them, that overall could have a beneficial global impact, even if it creates greater tensions within the relationship. But because these technologies are seen as foci of competition at the moment, it’s become still harder to get the sort of diplomatic collaboration people might like to see. 

MUCHA:    So Hal, one of the more interesting things that pops out when you’re reading The Twilight Struggle has to do with the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and how that was really the backdrop to the Cold War. I’m curious if you could look at the current social, socioeconomic, sociopolitical environment in the United States, and draw any parallels to what’s happening today.

BRANDS:   Sure. Just as a little bit of background, there were major changes, political and social, economic, that occurred in the United States largely as a result of the Cold War. And so, it was the embarrassment that the United States suffered abroad as a result of segregation that finally led the federal government to get serious about breaking segregation down. It was Cold War imperatives, as much as anything else, that accounted for the creation of the interstate highway system as we know it today. The reason the United States has the world’s premier system of higher education has a lot to do with national security. World War II and the Cold War gave the American state incentive to invest in the American university in unprecedented ways. It went in the other direction as well, of course. I mean we all know about McCarthyism, red baiting, all of the uglier aspects of domestic life that were exacerbated by the Cold War. But on balance, my argument would be that the United States emerged from the Cold War as a more democratic, more inclusive, stronger society than it otherwise would have been, because the pressures of competition forced us to get serious about all these things we should have been doing in any event. So the question I think is, will that happen again today? And I think scholars are divided on this. There’s some research suggesting that external threats will not reduce political polarization. There’s other research suggesting that that may be too pessimistic. I think we’re seeing some early signs of a commitment to domestic reinvestment, as a result of competition. I mentioned some of the R&D, some of the semiconductor investments that has been included in some of the ongoing legislation at the moment. I think you’re likely to see ongoing investments in the US higher education ecosystem. I think you’re likely to see a variety of these things. What exactly it looks like, though, I think, remains to be seen. I mean remember, segregation was a global image problem for the United States from the moment the Cold War began, when you had really horrific violence, in some cases against returning Black veterans from World War II, and Soviet propaganda organs made good sport of that lamentable phenomenon. And it still took two decades until you get to the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. And so, it took a long time for this to shake out. And so, it is possible that at some point, one of the things that pushes people over the threshold towards embracing constructive ideas for political reform — you decide what those things might be — would be a sense that we just cannot afford to have the current level of disfunction if we’re going to be effective in dealing with these threats from abroad. That won’t be the only thing that gets us over the threshold, but it will play a role in it if, in fact, it happens. Again you’re seeing signs of this already, you get strange political alliances involving Republicans and Democrats on industrial policy. And things of that nature. So, I’m not ready to rule out the idea that the US/China rivalry could have a constructive domestic influence over time.

MUCHA:    I was looking for a more optimistic answer, Hal, but I guess the truth is what we’re truly looking for. So, in the two minutes or so we have left here, I want to sort of switch gears. Obviously at Wellington we’re quite interested in the research process. It's core to what we do here. So, what’s your research process, particularly when you tackle something as large and complex as great-power competition, seen through the historic lens? 

BRANDS:   For me, the key is that research and thinking have always been iterative processes. I will start by some recognition that I have an interest in some big subject.   I kind of start by reading broadly, just kind of hoovering up as much information I can about the various contours of the subject. And that doesn’t get you the whole way there, but it starts helping crystalize in your mind what some of the key contours of your argument or your interpretation might be. And so, you say, oh, okay now I think I see that this is a story with about nine different parts. I’m not sure how each of those parts go, but this kind of makes sense to me. And then I typically try to write something up on it, to try to organize my thoughts. I’ve always been a person where I find out what I think by writing something about the subject. And the act of writing forces me to organize my thoughts in a more coherent way than I otherwise would. And it sharpens the research questions further, it gives you a better sense of what sort of data you need to pursue, whether those are archival documents, or published sources, or some sort of other input into your process. It gives you a sense of where your first impressions may have been wrong, and you need to shift course. But you sort of engage in this continual process of reading, reformulating in your head, reading some more, reformulating in your head some more, until you finally feel like you really have your head around the structure of the story, the logic of the story, and you can start putting it on paper in a final way. But then the last point I would make here is that for me, revision is always 90 percent of the story. I actually think it is a mistake to try to come up with a really, really detailed outline, a paragraph-by-paragraph outline of a book chapter or an essay before you start. What I typically do is kind of vomit the ideas onto the page and then gradually start piecing them together again, figuring out how they might be assembled in a logical fashion. That’s part of my intellectual process, it’s part of my stylistic process, and I think it’s really indispensable. 

MUCHA:    Spoken like a true writer. You mentioned that you read a lot. One of the other things we do in this podcast, and we’re always looking for book recommendations. So, do you have one or two examples that have really helped you see the world more clearly? 

BRANDS:   Well, there’s a lot to choose from, but maybe just a couple of examples. I still think, there’s a book called Strategies of Containment, by a historian named John Lewis Gaddis, which is basically about American national security policy after World War II. And in terms of a book that really analyzes strategy well and gets to the core of what strategic thinking is and how policymakers relate objectives to capabilities, that book still stands out. And I think it’s useful for anyone who’s interested in strategy, whether you come at it from a foreign policy perspective, from a corporate perspective, whatever the case may be. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The other book that I was reading just recently, which I have found fascinating, is a book by a historian named Stephen Platt, it was called Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom. And it’s about the Taiping Rebellion in China in the nineteenth century. And it is just an epic story. This was one of history’s bloodiest civil wars. It had global ramifications. It drew in the British at a certain point. But it also is really important in terms of hammering home a theme that I think is crucial, which is that if you want to understand China, or Russia, or Iran, or the United Kingdom, or any country, it really helps to know the historical background. That’s the key to understanding strategic culture in these places. And so, I found that book really rewarding in that sense.

MUCHA:    It’s also the key to investment research, so thanks for pointing that out. So, Hal Brands, thank you so much for your time, your expertise, for writing the book, and for your ongoing observations about the world. I mean, we really do turn to you to, to help us see things better. So, thank you so much. 

BRANDS:   Thank you, I really appreciate you having me.


Views expressed are those of the speaker(s) and are subject to change. Other teams may hold different views and make different investment decisions. For  professional/institutional investors only. Your capital may be at risk. Podcast produced July 2022.

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