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Reiss Becker | 2020 Summer Fellow

Reiss BeckerWeek 9: July 22nd, 2020–”Shoring up the Defense Industrial Base”

This week on Pandemic Prognostics I wrote a follow up to last week’s post and outlined some ways that the U.S. can address the deteriorating state of its defense industrial base. I wrote this piece in order to conclude the inquiry I started last week and provide a comprehensive overview of the subject at hand.

Since becoming a Cadet in Army ROTC, I have taken a greater interest in defense policy in order to be a more informed member of the institution I will join after graduation. Of course, as a Second Lieutenant, I will not be dealing with most, if any, of these high-level issues. Nonetheless, from my limited experience at Army installations, it has become clear that many of them seem to lack adequate funding, upkeep and care. Upon noticing that, my first thought was: “where is all the money going?” So, in some ways, these two blog posts represent my process of trying to discover where so much of the money in the Defense Department’s budget is going.

Anyways, I will see you next week!

Week 8: July 15th, 2020–”Pillars of Sand: the precarious state of the Defense Industrial Base”

This week on my blog, Pandemic Prognostics, I wrote a new post about the precarious state of the American defense industrial base. Growing up in Southern California, a hub for many of the major defense contractors, I have always been aware of the mammoth enterprises that produce some of the world’s most fearsome hardware. In recent years, this awareness has developed into an academic interest in this economic sector, an interest which I channeled into this blog post!

I have to give plenty of credit to researcher Matt Stoller for the inspiration for this post. Stoller is a writer and academic with a particular expertise in business monopolies and their impact on the American economy. He is convinced that monopolization is one of the single biggest issues facing our country today and argues passionately and convincingly that we should all be paying more attention to this issue. If you are interested in such things, I would highly suggest that you check out his newsletter called BIG which is all about monopoly and finance. The subject matter may sound somewhat erudite and dry, but Stoller does an excellent job and I promise it will be worth your while. He has written a few things, both in BIG and in a great article for the American Conservative, about how monopolization and consolidation has adversely impacted the military industrial base. I would recommend you check out any and all of the above links!

In writing this post, I also relied on a surprisingly readable 2018 White House report on the state of the military industrial base. That report argues that our military’s ability to acquire and sustain cutting edge defense technology is severely, although not irredeemably, compromised by five factors that it outlines in detail. If you are interested in taking a deep dive into this issue, I would encourage you to check that out. Thank you for your time and I will see you next week!

Week 7: July 7th, 2020–”How has coronavirus impacted ROTC?”

For my sixth blog post, I decided to highlight an issue that is affecting me personally––the impact of Coronavirus on ROTC programs. After a few weeks of writing about the recent developments in the Sino-American relationship, I thought that it was time to step back and consider a different subject. Fortunately, because I am an Army ROTC Cadet, I had the opportunity to discuss a nationally important issue, the impact of Coronavirus on Army recruitment, from a personal perspective! 

I was inspired to choose this subject simply because I am still steadily adjusting to many of the changes that COVID-19 has foisted upon on my ROTC training. In particular, I was scheduled to be returning from Army Advanced Camp this week. Although I was somewhat nervous about the rigors of Advanced Camp (you have to sleep in the woods for several weeks), I was also looking forward to the entire experience as a personal challenge, a test of my mettle and a chance to “embrace the suck.” But then, in early May, I found out that the entirety of Advanced Camp had been cancelled! While my ROTC program at Duke is going to try their best to make up for this dramatic curtailment of our training, it is ultimately impossible to entirely replace such a significant milestone. 

I also chose this subject because I wanted to better inform others of what is happening with ROTC. Like many other institutions in society, our college ROTC programs have been forced to alter their traditional plans in order to adapt to social distancing requirements. I suspect that many civilians are not following this particular development in the military, so hopefully I was able to provide some clarification. Thank you for reading this week’s post and I hope you read my post next week!

Week 6: June 29, 2020–”The Resurgence of Great Power Competition”

After a brief hiatus, my blog is back! Apologies for the posting lapse, I had an unfortunate family matter to deal with last week which occupied much of my time. 

This week, I concluded my series of posts on the Sino-American relationship by discussing a few economic policies that the United States could adopt in order to strengthen its relative position vis a vis China. During my research for these last few blog posts, I have been significantly influenced by a number of sources from the Hudson Institute. In particular, the Realignment Podcast with Saagar Enjeti and Marshall Kosloff and the work of Senior Fellow John Lee have specifically shaped my views. As an Australian researcher, John Lee offers a particularly compelling perspective because he lives in a country that has a significant stake in the future of America’s relationship with China. Across the board, the Hudson Institute has produced some excellent scholarship on this issue and I highly encourage anyone interested to listen to the Realignment Podcast and read some of Lee’s work. 

Next week, I plan to shift away from China and focus on other issues of American grand strategy that have been affected by the pandemic. In particular, I want to focus on something that I personally have been thinking a lot about––the effect of COVID-19 on military readiness. As an ROTC Cadet, COVID-19 has upended the Army’s traditional training regimen which has inspired me to consider the long term effects of that upheaval.

Week 4: June 15, 2020–”The Resurgence of Great Power Competition”

My latest post, entitled “The Resurgence of Great Power Competition,” outlines the emerging consensus that the United States is no longer alone upon the throne of the world order and that, instead, we increasingly face competition from near peer revisionist powers, the most notable of which is China. 

This week’s blog post is best seen as a continuation of last week’s, so I urge you to read them in order. Last week, I examined the previous American outlook towards China, which I dubbed a policy of “engagement,” and explained how Coronavirus has hastened the demise of our longstanding approach to China on the world stage. In today’s post, I build upon last week’s thesis and contend that, although the U.S. will no longer prioritize cooperation with China, that does not mean we are on the brink of war either. We are, however, hurtling into an extended period of strategic competition. 

  In this post, I wanted to clearly establish that I do not believe the twentieth century has many lessons for us in this new age. We should not devote ourselves to figuring out how to win World War III (I believe such an event is very unlikely) and we especially should not regard competition with China as a rehash of the original Cold War. China threatens us along far more dimensions than the Soviet Union ever did and defeating them will require a far more comprehensive plan of action. 

In researching this post, I was significantly inspired by the contents of the 2017 National Security Strategy. Therein, the Trump administration describes a general outlook that I hope will be embraced by whichever administration enters office in January of 2020. I am optimistic about that prospect because, as I describe in the post, views of China amongst American politicians and the public are increasingly unfavorable. Despite the rancor afflicting contemporary politics, hopefully policymakers can come together to address a matter of critical importance. 

Thanks for reading and next week stay tuned for a final post of this “China series” that will explore a variety of specific policy measures that will bolster the U.S.’ strategic position vis a vis China.

Week 3: June 8, 2020–”The End of Engagement”

I just published a new blog post entitled “The End of Engagement” wherein I describe how Coronavirus has clarified America’s relationship with China and revealed our precarious economic reliance on a hostile foreign power. If you ask me, the end of Sino-American rapprochement is at hand. 

I chose this topic because, over the past few years, I have become steadily more concerned about the nature of China’s ambitions and what they mean for the United States. Additionally, I also have somewhat of a history covering this issue, albeit from a more “Duke specific” angle. Earlier this year, I published two articles examining Duke’s much ballyhooed joint venture with Kunshan University––Duke Kunshan University (DKU). In my article entitled “Duke Kunshan is a trojan horse,” I argued just that. I examined some of the troubling concessions that Duke had made to the Chinese government in the process of establishing DKU and expressed concern that Duke had embroiled itself in a situation that it ultimately would not be able to fully control. Anyways, if you are interested in some original, provocative commentary on Duke’s latest boondoggle, give it a read! 

But I digress. As I wrote in this week’s post, I felt that it was important that readers understand what came before. It is now obvious, or at least it should be, that our reliance on China is a dangerous, deplorable weakness, not a laudable demonstration of our beneficence. But why did we end up in this situation? To answer that question, I devoted much of this blog to analyzing what I dubbed the “engagement” theory of Sino-American relations. After all, if we are to wrest ourselves free from this geopolitical mire we must first identify and plug the spewing spigot that produced all the muck in the first place. In an interesting twist, my research took me across the political spectrum and I found that both Republicans and Democrats alike had endorsed greater economic integration with China. Finally, I highlighted the fact that we are at the precipice of change and that more and more leading American policymakers are becoming concerned about our dependence on China.  

Next week, I look forward to taking this argument further and examining how the U.S. can win the emerging great power competition. I’ll see you then!

Week 2: June 3, 2020–”What if colleges can’t survive Corona”

This week, my latest blog post on my Pandemic Prognostics website delved into a subject that affects me, and many of my friends and associates, personally: “What if colleges can’t survive Corona?” If you would like to read my latest post, please just click on this hyperlink.

I chose higher education as the subject of this blog post primarily because of the defining role colleges play in our society. Colleges function as schools, research hubs, economic engines, cultural battlegrounds and community centers. The list could continue, but the point is that higher education does far more than just educate. I have always been fascinated by the social influence of colleges in our society and as a Duke Chronicle columnist I wrote one of my first columns on the subject of elitism in higher education, what it stems from and what we should do about it. So when I was considering the many subjects that I could investigate first, higher education immediately came to mind.

As I conducted the research for this column, I specifically made sure to investigate the problems facing higher education prior to coronavirus. As it turns out, Coronavirus is but the latest windmill in a series of blows damaging higher education. By analyzing what plagued higher education before 2020, I was able to demonstrate how the Coronavirus created existential dilemmas out of long running problems.

I also tried to be creative in imagining what might happen if hundreds of colleges did go out of business. To develop some ideas on that, I consulted a variety of sources, from the musings of college professors to the findings of a Presidential task force, in order to present some informed predictions of what difficulties, opportunities and changes the future might hold. My biggest takeaway is that the pandemic is accelerating changes that were already underway. I will investigate a different issue in next week’s post, but I suspect that conclusion holds true across multiple areas.

Week 1: May 27, 2020

Greetings dear reader!

First a little background on me–– my name is Reiss Becker and I am a rising senior majoring in Political Science with a Certificate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and a Minor in English. On campus, I am a Cadet in Army ROTC, a comedian with Duke University Improv and a Columnist for the Duke Chronicle. I am also a member of AGS’ Student Council and, of course, a 2020 AGS Summer Fellow.

This week I officially launched my blog––”Pandemic Prognostics.” My blog is devoted to analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American grand strategy. I plan to publish articles on the blog on a weekly basis with the first post coming up on Monday June 1st. Currently, there is an introductory post on the website explaining a little bit about myself, why the blog exists, what the blog will cover and what the publishing schedule will look like. If you want to read the first post, you can find it at!

Creating a blog was a novel, informative experience for me. First, I established the actual website for the blog. This involved registering a domain name, paying for the name itself and embedding the various plugins that will allow me to track user engagement with my blog. Subsequently, I labored a long time over the logo for the blog. As I learned, the design requirements for creating a Favicon (the website image you see on your browser tab) are fairly limiting and thus you have to design a logo that neatly matches the image criteria defined by WordPress. However, after spending some time creating a logo online, I eventually created an American flag image that fit WordPress’ criteria and conveyed a fitting aesthetic. As time goes on, I am going to continue designing the blog’s look, adding images for each post, extra pages, and a main menu. In addition to writing my next post, I plan on spending most of the coming week fleshing out the look and feel of the site so that the design matches the content. I am excited to work on this project this summer!