Historian Hal Brands on COVID-19's effect on world order

In this episode of “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell speaks with Hal Brands, historian and the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, about a new compilation of essays dedicated to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on international security and world order. Brands, who co-edited the volume with colleague Francis Gavin, outlines the its major themes and observations, including how the outbreak may pose opportunities as well as challenges and how it may lead to a global counterbalancing coalition against a rising China. Brands also tells Morell how U.S. leadership, both domestic and international, will be pivotal to ensuring successful near- and long-term outcomes. 


  • On COVID’s global effect: “[W]hat COVID has done is it didn’t affect a system that was perfectly healthy. It affected a system that was already beset by a variety of pre-existing conditions, so to speak. And that helps account for why the pandemic has had the effect that it had, and in many ways, it has intensified the issues that were already flipping the world when it landed. And so obviously the US-China competition has become much more intense and much more pointed just in the six months since COVID became an A-1 story every day.”
  • Exacerbating tensions with China: “China clearly aspires to become the dominant power in the Asia Pacific. There is increasing evidence that it aspires to have global parity with the United States, if not global primacy over the United States within the next 20 to 30 years. And it’s clearly trying to create an international environment in which authoritarian systems are protected, if not privileged. All of those aims run counter to America’s long-standing approach to global affairs. So I think that is what’s really impelling the conflict today.”
  • Reasons for optimism: “[T]he U.S. system has been tested before and it seems to have a built-in capability to adapt to challenges and surmount them at the very last moment. This is not the first debate over American decline that we have seen. In fact, we’ve seen these debates about once a decade since the late 1940s. And in each case, after what seems like an interminable period, the American political system has produced solutions or at least partial solutions to the problems that were challenging the United States. And I retain some hope that that will prove to be the case today as well.”

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Hal Brands



MICHAEL MORELL: Welcome to Intelligence Matters, Hal. It’s great to have you on the show.

HAL BRANDS: Thanks for having me, Michael.

MICHAEL MORELL: So how you, along with Frank Gavin, just edited a book of essays on the strategic implications of COVID. The book is titled, “COVID-19 and World Order: The Future of Conflict, Competition and Cooperation.” And thanks for joining us. And we’re going to we’re going to unpack that book a bit today. 

Hal, let me start with a couple of questions about the book in general before we dig into the substance. The first question is what led you and Frank to pursue this project? Why this book?

HAL BRANDS: Sure. So this project was really the brainchild of the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, who has made an effort across his career to try to relate academic work to real-world policy challenges.

And so when it became clear that COVID really was an event of global magnitude and global disruption early in the spring, he came to Frank and I and basically asked us to put together a conference that would lead to a book of this sort. And it made good sense to us because the part of Johns Hopkins where Frank and I worked, the Henry Kissinger Center at the School of Advanced International Studies, really does focus on world order as its primary area of inquiry. 

And so we think a lot about big global trends, how to understand changes in the international system against the backdrop of history. And so we were already thinking through this issue. I think both of us were of the opinion that even before COVID the international order that the United States and its allies had created after World War II and expanded after the Cold War was coming under greater strain, and then there was this tremendous shock in the form of COVID, which led to rapid, if perhaps temporary globalization, an unprecedented disruption of relationships and patterns of interaction across the globe. 

And so it was clear that this had the potential to be a fairly transformative episode in terms of the trajectory of global affairs in the global system. And so we were already thinking about how to attack this problem within the confines of our work. And so it was really a natural suggestion that we put together this project. And so in late June and early July, we held an international conference that brought together experts from around the country and indeed around the world to look at the issue of how COVID would affect issues ranging from global public health to national security. And then we put together this book on the basis of essays that were produced for the conference and all credit to Johns Hopkins University Press. They turned it from a manuscript into a book with covers and everything in record time, about six weeks.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Hal, is the book written with kind of a national security, foreign policy political professional in mind, or is it also accessible to the general public?

HAL BRANDS: So I say the answer to that is yes, in the sense that it’s written with both purposes in mind. And so obviously there is a wonkish aspect to a lot of the questions we cover here; questions such as, ‘How should international organizations adapt in the wake of COVID? How should the US national security community address issues of pandemic preparedness while also tending to issues like great power competition?’ 

And so we tried to bring together some of the finest minds in the academic and the policy communities, people like Kathleen Hicks, Kori Schake, Peter Feaver, Thomas Wright and others to speak to issues that policymakers are thinking about in real time. And so our hope is that this book will inform debates within the policy community, within government and among people who really focus on these things for a living. 

But the book is also written in a deliberately accessible fashion. And so a number of the contributors who came together for this project, people like the historian Niall Ferguson or Anne Applebaum, who writes for The Atlantic, these are folks who write for a broad public audience. And the book is deliberately constructed to be written in a way that is free of jargon. The essays are relatively short and accessible. There is an introduction to the book that ties all of the themes together in a way for people who may not follow all of the issues closely. 

And so we’re hoping both to reach the policy community and the academic community, but also speak to just the general reading public that may be curious about where COVID is taking the world.

MICHAEL MORELL: Great. So let’s dig into the substance, but before I do that, I just want to tell my listeners that you can find the book on Amazon. And I also want to let everyone know that a portion of the proceeds from the book is going to go to the Maryland Food Bank to support Johns Hopkins University’s food distribution efforts in Baltimore during the pandemic, so not only if you buy the book, will you learn interesting things, but you’ll also being doing some good at the same time. I just want everybody to know that. 

So the substance of the book, Hal. Two broad questions to start. Describe the structure of the book and why you chose to structure it the way you did. Did the essays drive the structure or did you have a structure in mind that drove the essays you asked for, I guess is the first question.

HAL BRANDS: Sure. So I think the book is structured around two factors. And so the first is simply the reality of the pandemic, which implicated not simply issues of global public health, or not simply issues of the international economy, but an entire range of issues running from international organizations to the way that countries organize themselves, to the choices that defense planners will have to make in the coming years. 

And so there’s necessarily a holistic approach to the book. And so we have sections of the book that address everything from issues of bioethics to issues of populism and internal governance of states to traditional national security questions and beyond. 

And then the second factor that shape the book was the orienting principle of my work and Frank’s work and of the center, the Henry Kissinger Center, which is that it’s really difficult to understand the trajectory of global affairs without an understanding of history. And so we really wanted to bring a historical perspective to the study of COVID and world order, because particularly at times where there are so many profound discontinuities at work, where there’s so much uncertainty clouding our view of the international environment, an understanding of history can help anchor you intellectually. 

And so the structure of the book really proceeds from that premise. And so the opening section of the book is essentially comprised of essays and what we call applied history. So these are historians or other folks with an historical perspective who look backward in an effort to make sense of questions like, ‘Why didn’t we do a better job of preparing for the possibility of a pandemic that everyone understood was a danger?’

Then we move on to questions of global public health, because the crisis is primarily a global public health issue at the moment. And so we have essays that deal with everything from why public health is an inherently difficult discipline in the first place, to what measures we need to take to prevent future pandemics from ravaging the world in the way that COVID  has. 

And then we move on to a variety of functional issues. So issues of climate, issues of the future of the international economy after COVID, transnational challenges such as the regulation of emerging technologies. 

And from there we go into more of the traditional hard security issues and ask, ‘How has COVID impacted great power relations? How has it impacted the US national security agenda?’ 

Which leads us to the final section of the book, which touches on a theme that’s really been at the heart of global debate on COVID since the outset, which is, ‘How is all this going to affect the relationship between the world’s two greatest powers, the United States and China?’ This is this is obviously the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. So we have a handful of essays that take different perspectives on that.

MICHAEL MORELL: One question that jumped out at me, Hal, when I read the title the first time is, why isn’t there a “The” before “World Order” in the title? Why isn’t it COVID and “The” World Order? Why do you leave out the “The?”

HAL BRANDS: Well, one reason is that “World Order” is an evolving concept. And so there is not one static “World Order” that has governed international affairs since time immemorial. It has changed over time. And so the “World Order” that we have dealt with since World War II is very much a product of the way that conflict ended and the distribution of power in the international system with the United States and its mostly democratic allies at the forefront. 

But one of the arguments we make in the book is that that order was already coming under strain in the years, or perhaps couple of decades, prior to COVID. We had seen the return of great power competition, the return of ideological competition in the form of greater strain on democracies and the resurgence of authoritarianism. We’d see in many international institutions, such as the WHO struggling to perform the functions they were meant to perform. We’d seen questions about America’s staying power. 

And so for us, the question of what a “World Order: looks like now and in the future is, is more of a question mark. We can’t say with great certainty what the contours of world order will be 20 years from now, because COVID is impacting the way that we think about that in real time. And so that’s why we had “World Order” rather than “The World Order. 

MICHAEL MORELL: Gotcha. OK, so after the reader takes in all of the twenty-three essays – and I think there were twenty-three – what are the main themes that somebody will walk away with? What are the punch lines?

HAL BRANDS: I’ll highlight a couple. The first is that COVID has been so disruptive because it landed in a world that was already increasingly disordered. And so I mentioned the variety of the strains that were already testing the international order in late 2019, for instance. And those strains played an important role in how COVID unfolded. And so had the US and China not already been headed for a fairly profound competition, you might have had better communication and greater cooperation between those two countries during the January and February time period. 

Had the WHO been functioning better, it might have more effectively sounded the alarm. Had there not already been great strains on the globalized system that emerged after the end of the Cold War, you might have had a different response, and so on and so forth. 

And so what COVID has done is it didn’t affect a system that was perfectly healthy. It affected a system that was already beset by a variety of pre-existing conditions, so to speak. And that helps account for why the pandemic has had the effect that it had, and in many ways, it has intensified the issues that were already flipping the world when it landed. And so obviously the US-China competition has become much more intense and much more pointed just in the six months since COVID became an A-1 story every day. 

We’ve seen how COVID has affected struggles over political power and authoritarian and democratic systems. And so COVID is really accelerating many of the processes that were underway. 

But the second theme, and the one that many of our contributors pointed to, is that even though COVID has had terrible effects on the world in many ways, it’s creating as many opportunities as challenges. It’s obviously a cliche to say that “You should never let a crisis go to waste,” but it may actually be true in this case. And so just from the perspective of the United States, the United States has handled this crisis abominably in many respects. We’re still struggling to get a handle on it domestically where there’s no sign of a national public health strategy. But nonetheless, when it comes to America’s position in the world, there are a variety of opportunities that the crisis reveals. 

It could lead to a stronger counterbalancing coalition against a rising China, because China’s assertiveness during the pandemic and its lack of forthcomingness at the outset of the pandemic has in many ways been more effective at rallying the world against the prospect of a rising authoritarian China than anything the United States has done over the past several years. 

It’s entirely possible that the pandemic is going to place more stress on authoritarian regimes, which tend to be brittle, rather than democratic ones. Just look at what’s happening in Belarus as we speak. This could be the first example of COVID-themed regime change, although we will see how that turns out. 

And the states that have done best in dealing with COVID are usually either democracies -Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand – or soft authoritarian states like Singapore. 

A third way in which covid could be an opportunity is that it could lead to a geopolitically savvier version of globalization. So I think what the crisis did in this respect was wake people up to the fact that the United States and other democracies have become heavily reliant on authoritarian rivals like China for critical goods like PPE and pharmaceuticals. 

Now, obviously, the answer to that can’t be autarchy, but what it could be is deeper integration within the democratic world as a way of allowing a selective decoupling from areas of vulnerability vis a vis China. 

And there are other areas as well, but I think that’s one of the emerging one of the overarching themes to emerge from the volume, which is that there is an opportunity for some pretty good stuff to come out of this crisis.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Hal, let me just just jump around a little bit here. In the very start of the introduction of the book, you write, “The coronavirus crisis was a shock, but should not have been a surprise.”

And you, of course, lay out the fact that experts for years have been warning of such a pandemic, that we went through a number of warning signs like H1N1, SARS and MERS. And yet at the end of the day, we weren’t prepared for this. 

And I’d just love to get your sense and maybe the sense of some of the people who wrote in that first section you talked about: you know, why didn’t those warnings turn into action to both mitigate the risk, right, and then to prepare for its arrival if that mitigation failed. You know, why are we so bad at going from warning to action? What’s the answer to that in your mind?

HAL BRANDS: So I think the answer has to do with two sets of factors. The first set of factors involves issues that are essentially inherent to public health and global public health challenges that are unavoidable in that area. 

And the second category of issues has to do with things that were unique to the situation that the United States in the world faced in early 2020. And so in the first category, Lainie Rutkow, who is a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins and wrote a terrific essay for the book, points out that global public health is one of those things that is invisible in good times and that people thus pay relatively little attention to outside of a crisis. 

And so you can think of public health measures as kind of like the insurance policy that you have against an invisible threat that may or may not manifest. And so prior to when a crisis emerges, it’s easy not to invest enough or to provide the urgency that’s necessary to prepare for when the crisis hits. And this was probably exacerbated by the fact that the United States had been spared the worst effects of prior pandemics, whether that was Ebola in 2014 or H1N1 before that. And so it meant that the United States in particular didn’t have the same experience with the pandemic playbook as as countries in East Asia, for instance, did. 

But there were other issues that were more unique to the particular situation in early 2020. And one of them was simply that there was a lot going on. And so if you remember back in January and February, the things that were dominating the headlines were the US-Iran confrontation, dramatized by the killing of Qasem Soleimani in January; the impeachment saga; the Democratic primaries. And so it’s remarkable, actually, how long it took for COVID to become the story in the United States and some other countries as well. 

And then I think you have to point to the fact that two different sets of early warning systems failed. One of them was the WHO’s early warning system, which for a variety of complicated reasons, really didn’t sound the alarm as loudly and as clearly as it might have in early and mid-January, when there was still time for preventive measures. 

And then finally, there was just the abysmally poor quality of leadership, both domestic and international, in the United States. And so if you compare what happened in 2020 to what happened in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, back then, the Obama administration reacted rapidly. It catalyzed collective action and it really combined a strong unilateral response with a strong multilateral response. 

What we saw this time around was very different. We saw an administration that was at pains to deny the significance of the crisis and then as the crisis became greater, often lurch to battle in unilateral ways that had the effect of discouraging, rather than encouraging, the sort of cooperation you would need to contain a pandemic that is inherently transnational.


So Hal, one of the things you talked about, right was the opportunities that might come out of this. And in fact, you write in the introduction that, historically, efforts to construct effective international arrangements often emerge after periods of war, crisis and turmoil, and this could be one of those moments, right. 

But my question is, whether this is one of those moments and what the new arrangements are seems to me to depend crucially on the role the United States plays or doesn’t play, right, going forward. 

So really, two questions for you. One is, how confident are you that the U.S. is going to play the right role in turning this into the opportunity that is possible here? And what’s the difference, at the end of the day, between us not playing and playing?

HAL BRANDS: So this will sound like a cop-out, but it’s not. The answer to the first question is, it depends. And it depends, frankly, on what type of leadership the American political system produces in the coming months and years. 

So just to be very candid – and this is simply my own personal view, I don’t speak for any of the contributors on this – I think it will be extremely difficult for the United States to make the most of the opportunities that COVID has revealed, so long as the Trump administration continues on its current path of weakening U.S. relationships with other democracies, of pursuing omnidirectional trade wars, and basically creating the impression that the United States is increasingly scattered and incompetent in its domestic and foreign policies. I think those are the opposite of the qualities that would be needed right now to bring about a stronger relationship between the world’s democracies, a globalization that is deeper along geopolitical lines rather than across them, and a revitalization of international institutions. 

And so my fear is that if we continue on our current path, there are going to be two real costs: The first is that we simply won’t be able to capitalize on some of the opportunities that are out there. And so a really interesting proposal came about from the United Kingdom a few months ago, which built on an idea that had gotten traction in certain parts of the foreign policy community in the United States before that, which is to basically turn the G-7, the Group of Seven, the group of wealthy industrial democracies, into the D-10, essentially to expand it into a larger group of democracies that would work together on preventing China from establishing technological dominance, for instance, but also on other issues that require cooperation. 

I think that is a very promising initiative. It’s hard for me to see how it eventuates so long as the United States is led by a president who seems to have so little interest in deepening ties among the world’s democracies. And so we may simply not be able to capitalize on that opportunity to the extent that we would be under more enlightened leadership. 

The second danger, or cost is that there are places where we could potentially find ourselves on the outside looking in. And the example I’ll give here is the World Health Organization. It is absolutely appropriate to be critical of the role that the WHO played. The WHO was excessively deferential to Chinese sensitivities early in the crisis. It didn’t sound the alarm loudly enough. But walking away, which is what the United States has done, is really no answer, because it deprives us of the power to help reform that organization and to make it work better. And we saw this just a few weeks ago where there actually talks on reforming the WHO underway and the United States tried to play a role in that, despite having given notice that it was leaving the WHO. 

And many of our closest European allies sort of politely asked us to go away, because how can you contribute to reforming an organization once you have said that you’re getting out of it? And so there are a variety of these examples where the United States could simply be a bystander to the changes that are happening, which won’t suit us at all.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Hal, you said earlier that China was the issue. I couldn’t agree with you more. You saved it for the last section of your book. 

What I’d love you to do is to outline what the fundamental problems are between the two countries, and what you see then as the pieces of a successful U.S. strategy for China. And I know that’s a huge question.

HAL BRANDS: I think that we are going to look back on COVID in the way that we now look back on the events of 1946, 1947 with respect to the Cold War, as the event that really crystallized an emerging competition between two great powers and made everyone realize that it was going on. And this is a point that Niall Ferguson makes and in his essay in the book very nicely. 

So what’s driving that competition? Well, I think there are a variety of specific issues. The US-China competition is, for instance, a competition over the military and geopolitical balance of power in the Western Pacific. It is a competition to see who will hold the high ground of the 21st century economy. It is a competition over whether state capitalism, authoritarian capitalism or liberal democracy will be the model that inspires the world’s emulation in this century. 

But at the heart of it lies the fact that there are simply incompatible visions of where the world is going and should be going in Washington and Beijing and so forth. For many years after the Cold War, American policymakers hoped that the Chinese would become responsible stakeholders in American-led international order. And what we’ve seen instead is that, as China’s power has grown, it is clearly aspiring to something very different. 

China clearly aspires to become the dominant power in the Asia Pacific. There is increasing evidence that it aspires to have global parity with the United States, if not global primacy over the United States within the next 20 to 30 years. And it’s clearly trying to create an international environment in which authoritarian systems are protected, if not privileged. All of those aims run counter to America’s long-standing approach to global affairs. So I think that is what’s really impelling the conflict today. 

So what, then, does a US strategy for for competition with China look like? I think it requires a variety of things. Certainly it requires efforts to shore up the military balance of power in the Western Pacific, particularly in places like the Taiwan Strait, where that balance has been shifting in very unfavorable ways over the past 10 to 20 years. 

It’s going to require diplomatic efforts to compete more effectively in key countries and in international institutions where China has made a concerted effort to build its own influence. 

It’s going to require a geoeconomic effort to build a stronger and more resilient, free world economy that can be thriving and competitive without necessarily opening itself up to undue influence or undue vulnerability due to dependence on Chinese technology or the Chinese market. 

It’s going to require a technological effort to make sure that democracies, rather than authoritarian systems lead the way in developing artificial intelligence and other technologies that will really drive the 21st century economy and military effectiveness in this century. 

It’s certainly going to require, as well, efforts to strengthen democracies and to point out the failings of authoritarian systems. This is very much an ideological competition. 

And the critical point here is that all of this has to be a collective strategy. It has to be a multilateral strategy, rather than just an American strategy. I’ll make a very obvious point here, which is that China has about 1.4 billion people. The U.S. has about a quarter of that. And so China is going to be an economic behemoth, even if on a per capita basis it’s only a third or a quarter as wealthy as the United States. And that places an incredibly high premium on the United States working together with friendly countries, democracies in particular. If the U.S. maintains and strengthens its alliances, if it cultivates a strong community of democracies, the balance of power in all of these areas will ultimately be on its side. If we don’t, we’re going to be at a major disadvantage.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Hal, the strategy that you just outlined is huge, right. And each one of those pieces that you talked about is is extraordinarily challenging to pull off, would take a tremendous amount of effort on the part of the United States, to include resources.

So at the end of the day, given the political problems and economic problems and social problems that we have here in the United States, are you optimistic, pessimistic that we’re going to be able to take on and build the kind of strategy vis a vis China that you just talked about? I got to tell you, I’m worried about that.

HAL BRANDS: I’m worried as well, although I retain some optimism in a longer-term sense.

And so if you just run through the list of things that I ticked off, particularly the last one, that this has to be a multilateral strategy, you’d have to be worried about certain aspects of America’s performance today. 

Not to dwell on the point, but we really have weakened the relationships with our allies in the Asia Pacific and in Europe that we ought to have strengthened over the past 3 to 4 years. And I worry that that trend could actually accelerate if we end up with another 4 years of President Trump. And so in the near term, there are certainly some reasons to be concerned. 

I also worry very much that the wellspring of American power, which is the functioning of our domestic system, our domestic economy, is under threat, not simply from the effects of the pandemic, but from deeper dysfunction, political and otherwise, that’s been building over a number of years. 

What gives me a sense of optimism is two things. And the first is that the U.S. system has been tested before and it seems to have a built-in capability to adapt to challenges and surmount them at the very last moment. This is not the first debate over American decline that we have seen. In fact, we’ve seen these debates about once a decade since the late 1940s. And in each case, after what seems like an interminable period, the American political system has produced solutions or at least partial solutions to the problems that were challenging the United States. And I retain some hope that that will prove to be the case today as well. 

The second thing that gives me hope is that China is in many ways its own worst enemy. What is it that has produced an outpouring of global concern and even global anger vis a vis China over the past eight months? It’s not any policy that the United States has pursued. It’s that China’s authoritarian regime is simply being itself at home and on the international stage. And what people are learning, whether it’s in Europe or in India or in Southeast Asia or in other places around the world, is that the Chinese Communist Party fundamentally has a zero-sum view of global affairs and has a penchant for behaving in very high-handed and coercive ways. 

And so no matter how bad the United States has looked over the past few years, the prospect of Chinese hegemony looks far worse to most people around the world. And so that gives me a sense of hope as well.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, very interesting, your point that we’ve faced challenges before and we have overcome them. Are there lessons learned from those challenges, from overcoming those challenges that we can apply to this one?

HAL BRANDS: Well, one is that competition actually can provide a spur to address a country’s domestic problems. So go back to the Cold War, here. The Cold War certainly had negative effects on America’s domestic politics. We all remember McCarthyism, of course, and the rise of red baiting as political bloodsport. And nobody wants to relive those things today. 

But precisely because the Cold War was a long-term competition of systems –  it was a competition between liberal democracy and Soviet communism – it put pressure on the United States to make investments and to make reforms that it otherwise might not have made. So I’ll just give a couple examples of this. 

The United States would not have made the incomplete but very important progress it made on civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s, were it not for the Cold War, because the Cold War made it impossible for the United States to talk about democracy, freedom and human dignity abroad while denying it to such a large swath of the population at home. 

Similarly, if you want to know why the United States has the world’s best system of higher education right now, it has everything to do with the Cold War. The Cold War made investing in higher education, investing in basic research, a matter of national security. And so it led to investments that were orders of magnitude higher than the country had ever made before. And so the rise of America’s great universities is very much linked to the Cold War. 

There are other examples as well. But the point I would make is that competitions provide an opportunity for countries to become better versions of themselves.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Hal, we’re running out of time here. Just a few minutes left. And I want to ask you a kind of a strange question. And I want to ask you, because there’s just so many authors of this book.

And I want you to kind of put yourself at a dinner party where you have just read this book and you’re telling the other folks at the dinner party about this great book you just read. What are some of the tidbits from some of the essays that you would want to share around the table to get people interested in reading the book? What would you tell them?

HAL BRANDS: Let me just mention two. The first is an insight that my friend and colleague Frank Gavin came up with, and he has a wonderful point in his essay in the book reminding us that the bicycle was actually invented during a pandemic among horses in the early 19th century in what is now Germany. 

And the reason I love that tidbit, I love that anecdote, is that it reminds us that tremendous crises of the sort that we face today have tended to be a spur to great creativity, as well as great trouble. And so I like that because it gives us a way of thinking about this crisis as a matter of what we can achieve as a result of adversity. 

The second one, I would point out, comes from the essay written by Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, and she has a wonderful way of illustrating why Americans’ response to COVID has been so different than the response of citizens and so many other democracies around the world. So, why are Americans naturally more resistant to wearing masks? Why do they want to reopen the economy so quickly? 

It’s not simply that they are careless when it comes to the dangers is that COVID causes. It’s that Americans have historically had a fundamentally different risk profile than citizens of European countries, for instance. And the way Kori illustrates this is she points out that Americans were the people who thought it was an idea to go live in Comanche country during the 19th century to continually push the frontier westward despite all the dangers that involved. And that’s obviously posing some challenges in terms of the way that the United States is responding to the pandemic today. But it simply reminds us that those tendencies are part of what makes the United States such a dynamic society in the first place.

MICHAEL MORELL: Hal, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. The book is, “COVID and World Order: The Future of Conflict, Competition and Cooperation.” The editors are Frank Gavin and Hal Brands. Hal, thanks so much for joining us. 

HAL BRANDS: Thanks for having me, Michael.