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Against the backdrop of Ukraine's counteroffensive and the Kremlin's efforts to illegally annex additional territory, a delegation of members from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly arrived at Stanford to meet with experts and weigh considerations about the ongoing conflict. First on their circuit was a panel hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) chaired by FSI Director Michael McFaul, with Marshall Burke, Francis Fukuyama, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Scott Sagan, and Kathryn Stoner participating.

The delegates represented thirteen of NATO's thirty member nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Top of mind were questions about the possibility of nuclear escalation from the Kremlin, and appropriate repsonses from the alliance, as well as questions about the longevity of Putin's regime, the nature of international authoritarian alliances, and the future of Ukraine as a European nation.

Drawing from their expertise on state-building, democracy, security issues, nuclear enterprise, and political transitions, the FSI scholars offered a broad analysis of the many factors currently playing out on the geopolitical stage. Abbreviated versions of their responses are given below.

Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parlimentary Assembly.
Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on September 26, 2022. Melissa Morgan

The following commentary has been edited for clarity and length, and does not represent the full extent of the panel’s discussion.
 


Rethinking Assumptions about Russia and Putin

Kathryn Stoner

Right now, Putin is the most vulnerable he's ever been in 22 years in power. But I don’t believe he's under so much pressure at this point that he is about to leave office anytime soon. Autocracies do not usually die by popular mobilization, unfortunately. More often they end through an elite coup or turnover. And since the end of WWII, the research has shown that about 75% of the time autocracies are typically replaced by another autocracy, or the perpetuation of the same autocracy, just with a different leader. So, if Putin were replaced, you might get a milder form of autocracy in Russia, but I don't think you are suddenly going to create a liberal democracy.

This means that we in the West, and particularly in the U.S., need to think very hard about our strategies and how we are going to manage our relationships with Putin and his allies. This time last year, the U.S. broadcast that we basically wanted Russia to calm down so we could pivot to China. That’s an invitation to not calm down, and I think it was a mistake to transmit that as policy.

We need to pay attention to what Russia has been doing. They are the second biggest purveyor of weapons globally after the United States. They will sell to anyone. They’ve been forgiving loans throughout Sub Saharan Africa from the Soviet period and using that as a way of bargaining for access to natural resources. They’re marketing oil, selling infrastructure, and building railroads. Wherever there is a vacuum, someone will fill it, and that includes Russia every bit as much as China. We need to realize that we are in competition with both Russia and China, and develop our policies and outreach accordingly.

KStoner

Kathryn Stoner

Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
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Confronting Autocracy at Home and Abroad

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Why is Putin in Ukraine? Because the fact that there is a democratic country right next door to Russia is an affront to him. Putin doesn’t care that much about NATO. The fact that nothing happened when Sweden joined is some evidence of this. That’s something to keep in mind as people are debating NATO and Ukraine and Ukraine’s possible future as a member.

NATO membership and EU membership are both wonderful things. But more fundamental that that, this war has to be won first. That’s why I think it’s necessary in the next six months to speed up the support for Ukraine by ensuring there’s a steady stream of armaments, training personnel, and providing other military support.

There’s been incredible unity on Ukraine over the last seven months across the EU, NATO, and amongst our allies. But our recent history with President Trump reminds us how fragile these international commitments can be. In foreign policy, it used to be understood that America stands for liberal democracy. But we had a president of the United States who was more than happy to sidle up to some of the worst autocrats in the world. That’s why we can’t afford to leave rising populism around the world unaddressed and fail to engage with voters. When we do that, we allow far right parties to grab those votes and go unopposed. Whatever happens domestically impacts what happens internationally.

Anna Grzymała-Busse

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Director of The Europe Center
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The Consequences of Nuclear Sabre-Rattling

Scott Sagan

We have to very clear-eyed when we’re talking about the threat, however improbable, of the use of a nuclear weapon. When it comes to the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon, its kinetic effects depend on both the size of the weapon, the yield, and the target. Tactical weapons range in yield from very low — 5-10% of what was in the Hiroshima bomb — to as large as what was used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If that kind of weapon was used on an urban target, it would produce widescale effects. In a battlefield or rural area, it would have a relatively small impact.

But in the bigger picture, what any use of a weapon like this does is break a 70+ year tradition of non-use. Those seventy years have been dicey and fragile, but they have held so far. A tradition that is broken creates a precedent, and once there’s a precedent, it makes it much easier for someone to transgress the tradition again. So even if a decision was made to use a tactical weapon with little kinetic importance for strategic effect, I think we still need to be worried about it.

Personalistic dictators surround themselves with yes men. They make lonely decisions by themselves, often filled with vengeance and delusion because no one can tell them otherwise. They don't have the checks and balances. But I want to make one point about a potential coup or overthrow. Putin has done a lot to protect himself against that. But improbable events happen all the time, especially when leaders make really, really bad decisions. That’s not something we should be calling for as official U.S. policy, but it should be our hope.

Headshot of Scott Sagan

Scott Sagan

FSI Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
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Cycles of Conflict, Climate Change, and Food Insecurity

Marshall Burke

The estimates right now project that there are 350 million people around the world facing acute food insecurity. That means 350 million people who literally don’t have enough to eat. That’s roughly double what it was pre-COVID. The factors driving that are things like supply chain disruptions from the pandemic and climate shocks, but also because of ongoing conflict happening around the world, Ukraine included.

There was an early concern that the war in Ukraine would be a huge threat to global food security. That largely has not been the case so far, at least directly. Opening the grain corridors through the Black Sea has been crucial to this, and it’s critical that we keep those open and keep the wheat flowing out. Research shows that unrest increases when food prices spike, so it’s important for security everywhere to keep wheat prices down.

What I’m worried about now is natural gas prices. With high global natural gas prices, that means making fertilizer is also very expensive and prices have increased up to 300% relative to a few years ago. If they stay that high, this is going to be a long-term problem we will have to find a way of reckoning with on top of the other effects from climate change already impacting global crop production and the global economy.

Marshall Burke

Marshall Burke

Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Ukraine After the War

Francis Fukuyama

I've been more optimistic about the prospects for Ukraine taking back territory for more of this war, just because of the vast difference in motivation between the two sides and the supply of modern weapons that Ukraine has been getting. But I don’t know what the conditions on the ground will look like when the decision to negotiate comes. Will Russia still be sitting on occupied territory? Are they kicked out entirely? Or are the frontlines close to where they are now?

As I’ve observed, Ukraine's demands have shifted depending on how they perceive the war going on. There was a point earlier this summer where they hinted that a return to the February 23 borderlines would be acceptable. But now with their recent successes, they're saying they want everything back to the 2014 lines. What actually happens will depend on what the military situation looks like next spring, by my guess.

However the war does end, I think Ukraine actually has a big opportunity ahead of them. Putin has unwittingly become the father of a new Ukrainian nation. The stresses of the war have created a very strong sense of national identity in Ukraine that didn’t exist previously. It’s accurate that Ukraine had significant problems with corruption and defective institutions before, but I think there’s going to be a great push to rout that out. Even things like the Azov steel factory being bombed out of existence is probably a good thing in the long run, because Ukraine was far too dependent on 20th-century coal, steel, and heavy industry. Now they have an opportunity to make a break from all of that.

There are going to be challenges, obviously. We’ll have to watch very carefully what Zelenskyy chooses to do with the commanding position he has at the moment, and whether the government will be able to release power back to the people and restore its institutions. But Europe and the West and our allies are going to have a really big role in the reconstruction of Ukraine, and that should be regarded by everyone as a tremendous opportunity.

frank_fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
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Victory in Ukraine, Victory for Democracy

Michael McFaul

Nobody likes a loser, and right now, Putin is losing strategically, tactically, and morally. Now, he doesn’t really care about what Biden or NATO or the West think about him. But he does care about what the autocrats think about him, especially Xi Jinping. And with reports coming out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Xi has “concerns” about what’s happening in Ukraine, Putin is feeling that pressure. I think that's why he has decided he needs to double down, not to negotiate, but to try and “win” in some way as defined by him.

In my view, that’s what’s behind the seizure of these four regions. If he feels like he can unequivocally claim them as part of Russia, then maybe he will sue for peace. And that’s exactly what President Zelenskyy fears. Why? Because that’s exactly what happened in 2014. Putin took Crimea, then turned around to the countries of the world and said, “Aren’t we all tired of war? Can’t we just have peace? I’m ready to end the war, as long as you recognize the new borders.” And, let’s be honest, we did.

We keep hearing politicians say we should put pressure for peace negotiations. I challenge any of them to explain their strategy for getting Putin to talk about peace. There is no doubt in my mind that President Zelenskyy would sit down tomorrow to negotiate if there was a real prospect for peace negotiations. But there's also no doubt in my mind right now that Putin has zero interest in peace talks.

Like Dr. Fukuyama, I don’t know how this war will end. But there's nobody inside or outside of Russia that thinks it’s going well. I personally know a lot of people that believe in democracy in Russia. They believe in democracy just as much as you or I. I’ve no doubt of their convictions. But they’re in jail, or in exile today.

If we want to help Russia in the post-Putin world, we have to think about democracy. There’s not a lot we can do to directly help democracy in Russia right now. But we should be doing everything to help democracy in Ukraine.  It didn’t happen in 1991. It didn’t happen in 2004. It didn’t happen in 2014. They had those breakthroughs and those revolutionary moments, but we as the democratic world collectively didn’t get it right. This is our moment to get it right, both as a way of helping Ukraine secure its future, and to give inspiration to “small-d” democrats fighting for rights across the world.

Michael McFaul, FSI Director

Michael McFaul

Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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FSI Director Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Marshall Burke answered questions from the parliamentarians on the conflict and its implications for the future of Ukraine, Russia, and the global community.

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2021 was not the year many people hoped for. In addition to the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic and emerging coronavirus variants, last year ushered in a laundry list of unprecedented weather events.

Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States were scorched by a record-breaking heat wave. An extended fire season in the American West sent blankets of smoke pollution rolling across the rest of the continent. In India, China and Germany, unseasonal rain storms brought on devastating floods. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA), July 2021 was the hottest July on Earth since global record-keeping began in 1880.

Data clearly shows that these kinds of extreme weather patterns are driven by climate change. But is that fact driving policymakers to make meaningful inroads to address the climate crisis? Marshall Burke, the deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, joins Michael McFaul on World Class podcast to review the latest data on what’s happening with the climate in the field and in the halls of Congress.

Listen here and browse highlights of their conversation below.

Click the link for a transcript of “Taking the Temperature on Climate Change."

Climate Policy in the United States


Changes in climate are going to affect most, if not all, of us in the U.S. And public opinion has certainly changed on this in the last 10 years. Many more Americans are on board that the climate is changing and that we should do something about it. There's much more support for climate legislation across the board from Democrats and increasingly from Republicans.

Anyone who works on climate was really excited to see the platform Biden ran on, because it was really the first mainstream presidential campaign where climate had played a fundamental role. There's been a lot of discussion aboutthe importance of climate, the damages from climate that are already happening, and what we need to do is take aggressive action in the future to deal with the problem.

But there are specific industries who are going to be harmed by this legislation, and they are quite organized in fighting this legislation, and in funding politicians who fight it, and in funding organizations, either transparently or not, that are fighting climate legislation.

We are closer than we’ve ever been to really meaningful legislation on climate change. The optimistic view is that we’re on the right trajectory and that we’re going to get some part of this done eventually. But we’re not there yet.
 

Progress is being made. Emissions are falling. But it’s also important for us to realize what we don’t know.
Marshall Burke
Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment


COP26: Climate Change on the Global Stage


A “COP” is a “Conference of the Parties,” which is an annual meeting of the signatories of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The main focus of Glasgow was to get countries to be very transparent about how they are going to achieve the ambitions for combating climate change that they articulated at the last major COP summit in Paris.

Was it a success? A lot of countries did come to the table in Glasgow and made commitments in ways that they hadn't done before. There were also new, important agreements on certain greenhouse gasses that we've learned recently are pretty damaging, like methane.

Where we failed to make progress was on something that's called “loss and damage.” Many developing countries argue that they are suffering the damages from climate change even though it is a problem that they have not caused, and they are seeking compensation from developed countries who have been the drivers of climate change. That issue was on the table in Glasgow, but it got put off until next year in Egypt.

The Forecast for the Future


Progress is being made. Emissions are falling in the U.S. They're falling in California. They're falling in the EU. They're pretty flat around the world. And these are not just the per capita emissions, but overall emissions are now going down in many parts of the world, which is a huge success.

Where has that progress come from? In part from government policies that have been successful in mitigation. But the driving factor has really been longer decadal investments by both the public sector and the private sector in technologies that allow us to produce energy in a clean way. It’s a combination of long-term public support through taxes and subsidies for the development of these technologies alongside private sector deployment of these technologies at huge scale.
 

We are closer than we’ve ever been to really meaningful legislation on climate change. But we’re not there yet.
Marshall Burke
Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment


It’s important for people to know about these successes. But it’s also important for us to realize what we don’t know. Emissions in different parts of the world are falling, and that’s fantastic. But it’s also true that people are already getting sick, being harmed, and dying because of the changes we’re already experiencing.  We’re poorly adapted to the climate we live in now, much less the climate of a two-degree warmer or three-degree warmer future, and the science on that needs to be much more widely understood.

I think a huge role for us as academics is not only to do the research to understand those questions, but to get that information out into the world. The great thing about the Freeman Spolgi Institute and institutions like FSI is that it's part of our mandate to translate this research out into the broader world. The translation of what we already know is important, as is the imperitive to drill down on and study the things that we don't.

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David Lobell honored with 2022 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences

Lobell’s groundbreaking work has advanced the world’s understanding of the effects of climate variability and change on global crop productivity.
David Lobell honored with 2022 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences
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Climate expert Marshall Burke joins the World Class podcast to talk through what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what more needs to be done to translate data on the climate crisis into meaningful policy.

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Smoke from wildfires may have contributed to thousands of additional premature births in California between 2007 and 2012. The findings underscore the value of reducing the risk of big, extreme wildfires and suggest pregnant people should avoid very smoky air.

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Higher temperatures attributed to climate change caused payouts from the nation’s biggest farm support program to increase by $27 billion between 1991 and 2017, according to new estimates from Stanford researchers. Costs are likely to rise even further with the growing intensity and frequency of heat waves and other severe weather events.

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Crop yield maps estimated from satellite data increasingly are used to understand drivers of yield trends and variability, yet satellite-derived regional maps are rarely compared with location-specific yields due to the difficulty of acquiring sub-field ground truth data at scale. In commercial agricultural systems, combine harvesters with onboard yield monitors collect real-time yield data during harvest with high spatial resolution, generating a large ground dataset. Here, we leveraged a yield monitor dataset of over one million maize field observations across the United States Corn Belt from 2008 to 2018 to evaluate the Scalable Crop Yield Mapper (SCYM). SCYM uses region-specific crop model simulations and climate data to interpret vegetation indices from satellite observations, thus enabling efficient sub-field yield estimation across large regions and multiple years without reliance on ground data calibration. We used the ground dataset to compare alternative SCYM model implementations, define minimum required satellite observation criteria, and evaluate the sensitivity of satellite-based yield estimates to on-the-ground variation in management, soil, and annual weather. We found that smoothing annual time series data with harmonic regression increased 30 m pixel-level accuracy from r2 = 0.31 to 0.40 and reduced dependency on specific satellite observation timing, enabling robust yield estimation on 97% of annual maize area using only Landsat data. Agreement improved as the assessment was aggregated to field-level (r2 = 0.45) and county-level (r2 = 0.69) scales, demonstrating the need for fine-resolution ground truth data to better assess sub-field level accuracy in high resolution products. We found that SCYM and ground data showed a similar yield response to management and environmental variation, particularly capturing linear and nonlinear responses to sowing density, soil water holding capacity, and growing season precipitation. However, sensitivity to factors like soil quality and planting date was muted for SCYM estimates compared to ground-based yields. Random forest models were able to match SCYM performance when trained on at least 1000 ground observations, but performed poorly when tested on years and locations not represented in the training data. Our results demonstrate that satellite yield maps can provide much-needed information on multidecadal yield trends and inform yield gap analyses.
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Remote Sensing of Environment
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David Lobell
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Quantification of the sector-specific financial impacts of historical global warming represents a critical gap in climate change impacts assessment. The multiple decades of county-level data available from the U.S. crop insurance program – which collectively represent aggregate damages to the agricultural sector largely borne by U.S. taxpayers – present a unique opportunity to close this gap. Using econometric analysis in combination with observed and simulated changes in county-level temperature, we show that global warming has already contributed substantially to rising crop insurance losses in the U.S. For example, we estimate that county-level temperature trends have contributed $US2017 23.9 billion – or 17% – of the national-level crop insurance losses over the 1991-2017 period. Further, we estimate that observed warming contributed approximately one third of total losses in the most costly single year (2012). In addition, analyses of a large suite of global climate model simulations yield very high confidence that anthropogenic climate forcing has increased U.S. crop insurance losses. These sector-specific estimates provide important quantitative information about the financial costs of the global warming that has already occurred (including the costs of individual extreme events), as well as the economic value of mitigation and/or adaptation options.
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Environmental Research Letters
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Marshall Burke
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Crop productivity is potentially affected by several air pollutants, although these are usually studied in isolation. A significant challenge to understanding the effects of multiple pollutants in many regions is the dearth of air quality data near agricultural fields. Here we empirically estimate the effect of four key pollutants (ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)) on maize and soybean yields in the United States using a combination of administrative data and satellite-derived yield estimates. We identify clear negative effects of exposure to O3, PM, and SO2 in both crops, using yields measured in the vicinity of monitoring stations. We also show that while stations measuring NO2 are too sparse to reliably estimate a yield effect, the strong gradient of NO2 concentrations near power plants allows us to more precisely estimate NO2 effects using satellite measured yield gradients. The presence of some powerplants that turn on and others that shut down during the study period are particularly useful for attributing yield gradients to pollution. We estimate that total yield losses from these pollutants averaged roughly 5% for both maize and soybean over the past two decades. While all four pollutants have statistically significant effects, PM and NO2 appear more damaging to crops at current levels than O3 and SO2. Finally, we find that the significant improvement in air quality since 1999 has halved the impact of poor air quality on major crops and contributed to yield increases that represent roughly 20% of overall yield gains over that period.
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Environmental Research Letters
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David Lobell
Jennifer Burney
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Recent dramatic and deadly increases in global wildfire activity have increased attention on the causes of wildfires, their consequences, and how risk from wildfire might be mitigated. Here we bring together data on the changing risk and societal burden of wildfire in the United States. We estimate that nearly 50 million homes are currently in the wildland–urban interface in the United States, a number increasing by 1 million houses every 3 y. To illustrate how changes in wildfire activity might affect air pollution and related health outcomes, and how these linkages might guide future science and policy, we develop a statistical model that relates satellite-based fire and smoke data to information from pollution monitoring stations. Using the model, we estimate that wildfires have accounted for up to 25% of PM2.5 (particulate matter with diameter <2.5 μm) in recent years across the United States, and up to half in some Western regions, with spatial patterns in ambient smoke exposure that do not follow traditional socioeconomic pollution exposure gradients. We combine the model with stylized scenarios to show that fuel management interventions could have large health benefits and that future health impacts from climate-change–induced wildfire smoke could approach projected overall increases in temperature-related mortality from climate change—but that both estimates remain uncertain. We use model results to highlight important areas for future research and to draw lessons for policy.

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PNAS
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Marshall Burke
Sam Heft-Neal
Jiani Xue
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Precipitation extremes have increased in many regions of the United States, suggesting that climate change may be exacerbating the cost of flooding. However, the impact of historical precipitation change on the cost of US flood damages remains poorly quantified. Applying empirical analysis to historical precipitation and flood damages, we estimate that approximately one-third (36%) of the cost of flood damages over 1988 to 2017 is a result of historical precipitation changes. Climate models show that anthropogenic climate change has increased the probability of heavy precipitation associated with these costs. Our results provide information quantifying the costs of climate change, and suggest that lower levels of future warming would very likely reduce flooding losses relative to the current global warming trajectory.

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Marshall Burke
Noah Diffenbaugh
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