At Reunion Homecoming, FSI Scholars Offer Five Policy Recommendations for the Biden Administration

FSI scholars offer their thoughts on what can be done to address political polarization in the United States, tensions between Taiwan and China, climate change, the war in Ukraine, and the Israel-Hamas war.
Amichai Magen, Marshall Burke, Didi Kuo, Larry Diamond, and Michael McFaul onstage for a panel discussion at Stanford's 2023 Reunion and Homecoming Amichai Magen, Marshall Burke, Didi Kuo, Larry Diamond, and Michael McFaul onstage for a panel discussion at Stanford's 2023 Reunion and Homecoming Melissa Morgan

If you had five minutes to speak with the president of the United States, what would you say? That’s the question Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, posed to FSI scholars at a Stanford 2023 Reunion Homecoming event.

The discussion, “Global Threats Today: What's At Stake and What We Can Do About It,” centered around five major challenges currently facing the world: political dissatisfaction and disillusionment at home, tensions between China and Taiwan, the consequences of climate change, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Speaking to each of these areas of concern and how they overlap, FSI scholars Didi Kuo, Larry Diamond, Marshall Burke, Michael McFaul, and Amichai Magen offered their perspectives on what can be done. You can listen to their full conversation on the World Class podcast and browse highlights from their policy ideas below.

Follow the link for a full transcript of "Global Threats: What's at Stake and What We Can Do About It."

Reform the Electoral College |  Didi Kuo

One of the major problems people feel right now in American politics is that their voices aren’t heard. We live in what my colleague Francis Fukuyama calls a "vetocracy," meaning there are a lot of veto points in our system.

In a lot of other democratic institutional configurations, you have rule by the majority. But in the United States, we have an institutional configuration that allows a very small group — for example, 15 people in the House of Representatives — to hold up government in various ways. We see this in dramatic examples on the national level, but it also trickles down to the local level where you see it in issues like permitting hold-ups.

Reforming the Electoral College would be a very direct way of changing that vetocracy. The United States is one of the only advanced democracies that has this indirect system of elections. If all the votes counted equally and all the presidential candidates had to treat all of us the same and respond to us equally in all 50 states, it would do a lot to show the power of the popular vote and realign us more closely to the principle of majoritarianism that we should seek in our institutions.

Didi Kuo

Didi Kuo

Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute
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Allow Taiwan to License Weapons Production |  Larry Diamond

My recommendation is deterrence, deterrence, deterrence. It is not inevitable that the People's Republic of China is going to launch an all-out military assault on Taiwan. But if the United States does not do more to make that a costly decision, the likelihood it will happen are exponentially higher.

Deterrence works. The United States deterred the Soviet Union from moving against West Berlin and much of Europe for decades. But it only works if you have a superior force.

To that end, the United States needs to pre-position more military force in the region. There's now a $12 billion backlog of weapons that Taiwan has ordered and paid for but hasn't received yet. That’s because the American defense production system is completely broken. This is the same reason why we can’t get weapons to Ukraine at the pace we need there.

This issue could be fixed, at least in part, if we licensed the production of some of these weapon systems directly to Taiwan. Their ability to build plants and produce these systems is much more agile than our own, and so licensing the rights to production would dramatically increase the deterrence factor against China, in addition to deepening our cooperation with allies throughout the region.

Portrait of Larry Diamond

Larry Diamond

Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI
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Pursue Climate Mitigation AND Adaptation |  Marshall Burke

There are three things we can do in response to climate change: we can mitigate, we can adapt, or we can suffer. We’re off to a good start, but we have decades of long slog ahead of us to get that right. And it's not just us; even if we do a good job, we depend on other countries to also do a good job. The Biden administration has already been engaged on some of that front, but there’s more work to do there.

And even with our best efforts, we are not going to be able to move as fast as we want or mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as we need to avoid climate change. So, we're going to have to live with some climate change, which means adaptation. And if we can't adapt, then we're going to suffer. 

The key point is that we are very poorly adapted to today's climate, much less the climate we're going to have 30 or 50 years from now. The West Coast and California are prime examples of this. There have been monumental wildfire seasons there the last few years, and there are significant negative health impacts from smoke exposure. I see it in my own home, even as someone who studies this and should know better and do more to reduce those risks.

The point is, we're really poorly adapted to the current climate, and things are going to get a lot worse. We need to focus on mitigation; it’s still really important and we need to get it done. But at the same time, we need to figure out how to adapt and live with the changing climate that we're going to experience.

Marshall Burke

Marshall Burke

Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Weapons for Ukraine, Sanctions on Russia |  Michael McFaul

When I was in Kyiv this September, I had a chance to meet with President Zelenskyy, and he pointed out an absolutely crazy reality. Companies in the United States and Europe are still making tens of thousands of dollars in profits from selling various technologies that ultimately end up in Russia. It’s getting in through places like Hong Kong and Kazakhstan and Belarus and Georgia, and it allows Russia to keep waging its horrific war.

At the same time, the United States is spending millions of dollars to arm Ukraine with systems to shoot down the Russian rockets that were built using the components they got from the West. That’s completely illogical, bad policy. I know it’s hard to control technology, but we have to find a better way than what we’re doing right now. If you're an American taxpayer, that is your money being wasted.

That means more and better weapons for Ukraine, faster. And that means more and better sanctions on Russia, faster. That is the way to speed the end of this war.

Michael McFaul

Michael McFaul

Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute
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Be Confident in America |  Amichai Magen

Just a few short years ago, we were all talking about the decline of the United States. I think that is far from inevitable. People speak about the 20th century as the “American Century.” The 21st century can also be the American Century. It's in our hands.

Be bullish on America. Be confident in America. Rediscover the spirit of America for adaptation and innovation and entrepreneurship. We need to wake up from the break we’ve taken from history in the post-Cold War era and rally once again in our spirit, our research, and our intellect.

We need to find new solution structures to the great challenges of our era: environmental challenges, AI, biotechnological challenges, nuclear challenges. And we can do it. China is on the verge of demographic decline and economic decline. Russia is a very dangerous international actor, but it is not a global superpower. We must reinvent the institutions and the alliances that we need for the 21st century in order to make sure that we continue a journey towards greater peace and prosperity for all of mankind.

Amichai Magen

Amichai Magen

Visiting Fellow in Israel Studies at the Freeman Spogli Institute
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The entire discussion, including the audience Q&A, is available to watch on FSI's YouTube channel. To stay up to date on our content, be sure to like, subscribe, and turn on notifications.

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