The Wilson Quarterly

Welcome to our March 2021 WQ Dispatch. We are working busily on The Wilson Quarterly’s Spring 2021 issue – “Public Health in a Time of Pandemic” – in the hopes that our April publication date will coincide with an easing of this unparalleled global crisis.

Our next issue will examine COVID-19’s impact in every corner of the world, and offer readers a window into how people on the front lines of the battle weathered the COVID winter of 2020-2021. We will also ask tough questions about what we have learned – and what improvements in public health infrastructure and policy may emerge when the pandemic is quelled.

Look for the Spring 2021 Wilson Quarterly in mid-April.

Container terminal in twilight, Shanghai, China.

Image by chuyuss via Shutterstock

One of the highlights of our Spring 2020 issue (Who Writes the Rules?) was an in-depth interview with Henry Farrell (Professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and a former Wilson Center Fellow) and Abraham L. Newman (Professor at the Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service) about their groundbreaking essay on “weaponized interdependence” – which was a starter’s pistol for a fundamental reassessment of globalization’s impact on state power, and particularly how nations use newly-developed asymmetric information and financial networks to influence and coerce other nations.

A comprehensive look at how this reappraisal is taking place can be found in The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence (Brookings) – a new book edited by Farrell and Newman and Tufts University Professor Daniel W. Drezner. In his introduction to the collection, Drezner argues that weaponized interdependence (WI) is offering scholars a seat at the policymaking table, especially where the concept “straddles the intersection of security studies and international political economy.”

The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence includes Farrell and Newman’s original essay, along with a number of pieces that examine the concept’s explanatory value in the tech, finance and energy sectors, as well as in key state-owned networks. The collection also gives the authors of this influential essay the last word, correcting what they deem to be “conceptual stretching” of WI, and laying out a research agenda for their work:

Environmental interdependence, energy interdependence, interdependence in dealing with pandemics and other health threats: all of these are important and all, in one way or another, can be weaponized. Our challenge is figuring out how best to close, mitigate, or live with vulnerabilities while continuing to cooperate in those many areas where cooperation is essential.

The Bridge of No Return at the DMZ.

UNCSB / Cho Yong-won

Jean H. Lee’s extraordinary essay on the Korean War’s transformative impact on her family in the Summer 2020 issue (“Guns and Hunger”) was one of the most viewed pieces published in the WQ over the past few years.

The global COVID-19 pandemic and a new U.S. administration have altered the dynamics on the entire Korean peninsula once again – and events in the North are now increasingly in shadow.

A recent essay by Lee, Director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center, illuminates the present moment in Kim Jong Un’s increasing isolated state as diplomats in Pyongyang head for the exits.

The piece (“Goodbye, Pyongyang”) begins with a sketch of a journey taken by a Russian diplomat in the North:

In the final stretch of the long journey from Pyongyang to Moscow, a Russian diplomat loads his family’s possessions onto a wooden cart. His children — the youngest just 3 years old — clamber on top, muffled against the winter cold. Through the biting February cold, the cart inches through the desolate North Korean countryside as the diplomat pushes from behind to help the group of eight reach the Russian border. In all, it’s a journey that takes nearly three days by train, bus and cart.

Amazingly, this is not a scene from 1821. It’s North Korea in 2021.

Lee draws deeply on her own experience as an Associated Press bureau chief to describe the life led by diplomats in North Korea’s capital in more ordinary times: difficult, yet much easier than existence for the average citizen. COVID-19 – and Kim Jong Un’s regime’s insistence that it has not penetrated the country – have led to a more extraordinary moment.

The decision to leave, however, is never made lightly. Bridges closed are not easily reopened. And, Lee adds, the impact on those who live on both sides of the border in these circumstances is immense:

How we draw North Korea out of isolation is a matter of debate among Korea watchers. But regardless, it’s safe to assume that the pandemic has taken an immeasurable toll on the everyday lives of North Koreans.

Unfortunately, we just can’t see it. And with every foreign departure, we have fewer inroads into what’s happening inside a country that is becoming ever more hidden from view.

What will the traditional liberal arts college look like after the COVID-19 pandemic? Will many prestigious names among them not weather the storm? Even in the first few months of the novel coronavirus crisis, observers were sounding a death knell.

In a succinct and sharply-argued new book, The Post-Pandemic Liberal Arts College: A Manifesto for Reinvention (Belt Publishing), Oberlin College, Professor Emeritus Steven Volk and DePauw University Professor Beth Benedix, offer a path not to renewal, but reinvention:

"We feel the urgency of this work more now than ever before," the authors write. "Everything about the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of expanding the model of liberal education, which stresses studying broadly across disciplines, as well as deeply within a few, encourages collaboration and compassion, and couple risk-taking with responsibility."

Volk and Benedix’s call for transformation at liberal arts colleges has a broad agenda that includes revamp of admissions processes, faculty career trajectory, institutional imperatives – as well as the financing of college education. In normal times, “an unsustainable path” for small liberal arts colleges that relies upon “an ever-smaller number of wealthy families” may not be possible to alter. But the authors see the pandemic as an opportunity for these institutions to “seize back” cultural power surrendered to rankings and corporate mindsets:

[O]ne thing is clear: we can’t stay where we are. This is the moment for radical change, the moment to accept the challenge to become the institutions that we should be, the moment to “disorder the disorder.”

Cover photograph: President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff at a service for COVID-19 victims at the Lincoln Memorial on January 19, 2021. (Office of the Vice President)