In the well of the House chamber during his first address to Congress, President Joe Biden declared “I told [President Xi Jinping] we welcome the competition, we are not looking for conflict, but I made absolutely clear that we will defend America's interests across the board. (...) I also told the president of China we will maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific, just as we do in NATO and Europe, not to start a conflict, but to prevent one.”
Six weeks earlier, President Biden held a virtual summit with the leaders of three other democratic nations: Australia, Japan, and India. In addition to the United States, these countries are known as “The Quad,” or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The Quad is an informal alliance between these democracies in the Indo-Pacific region, formed in the wake of the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed over 200,000 people across the region. In recent years, these democracies have been engaging more frequently on issues such as trade, defense, and security cooperation. Their primary, though rarely officially acknowledged, purpose is to counter China and its increasing regional strength. Notably, the joint statement titled “The Spirit of the Quad” from the Quad leaders themselves mentions “the East and South China Seas,” “the region,” and “the Indo-Pacific” without explicitly naming China as their primary purpose for organizing.
The People’s Republic of China is not a democracy, but an authoritarian regime with little to no respect for personal freedoms or civil liberties anywhere in its system. Recent unwelcome behavior includes the genocide of Uighur Muslims and the suppression of political autonomy including protest in Hong Kong. China has demonstrated aggressive behavior at sea, such as its occupation of the South China Sea and the building of artificial islands with the intent of expanding regional military presence. As China continues this aggressive behavior and seeks to expand its regional influence, the Quad has bound more closely together, going so far as to conduct joint military exercises in the region.
Maternal mortality rates have been steadily declining worldwide since 2000. However, in 2017, the United States was one of two countries to experience a significant escalation in their maternal mortality rate. With a rate of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies, the US has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world. The United States also spends the greatest amount of its GDP on healthcare; however, 66% of maternity-related deaths were found to be preventable. So if money isn’t the problem, why are women still dying?
For one, the United States has a very low supply of maternal care, and in addition, is predominantly using the wrong type of care. The World Health Organization encourages the use of midwives throughout pregnancy due to overwhelming evidence of the benefits they provide. Midwives are trained to help women throughout pregnancy, during birth, and postpartum. However, OB-GYNs are the more commonly used option. OB-GYNs are only trained to intervene when problems occur in the pregnancy. In most developed countries, there are many times more midwives than there are OB-GYNs available to pregnant women. The United States has rates of 12 and 15 midwives and OB-GYNs, respectively, per 1,000 births. This indicates an overall shortage of care providers, as every other country has rates two to sixfold greater.
Although coverage for midwives is required under the Affordable Care Act, the supply is too sparse to make any significant change. In addition, required physician oversight and state licensure laws limit the number of available midwives even further. This indicates further that a lack of midwives and related resources is causing women to suffer from less treatment throughout their pregnancies.
On February 3, two days before the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) was set to expire, President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to a five-year extension. Although the extension was heralded by arms control and nuclear disarmament activists, it cannot, as it exists now, be extended again. Should the treaty go out of effect in 2026 without a replacement, it would be the first time since the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABMT) in 1972 that the United States and Russia have no arms control treaties between the two countries. Although the decision to extend the treaty should be applauded, it is imperative that the United States now prioritizes replacing and improving upon the treaty before its expiration.
An arms control agreement between only Russia and the United States is no longer sufficient for global security. Although the United States and Russia control roughly 90% of the world’s supply of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), China possesses the third largest stockpile. China states it has no desire to engage in a nuclear arms race with any country and it desires only the minimum number of nuclear weapons necessary for self-defense. The Chinese government clearly feels that that minimum number has not yet been met, as the Chinese nuclear arsenal continues to grow--their stockpile now includes 320 weapons, up from 260 in 2015. It would be reasonable to conclude that China is aiming for a number of deployed warheads on par with the United States and Russia (currently capped at 1,550 under the terms of New START). Fewer warheads would likely be sufficient to defend China from an external nuclear threat, but a number of warheads equal to (or greater than) that of Russia and the United States would clearly prove China is a world power here to stay.
On March 31, President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion program that aims to strengthen the United States through investments in a range of broadly defined infrastructure priorities, including physical infrastructure, manufacturing, the caregiving economy, and climate resilience. Nestled within the 25-page proposal is a deceptively short bullet point dedicating $10 billion to “put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice through a new Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), all while placing good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans.” While the Civilian Climate Corps may appear small on paper, if developed to its full potential it could be the centerpiece of an ambitious agenda to address the interlocking crises of our time: the COVID-19 pandemic, economic inequality, racial injustice, and climate change.
After months of logistical hurdles, the United States has successfully purchased enough Covid-19 vaccines for everyone to be fully inoculated. And with the current average number of shots given each day at approximately 2.75 million, a number projected to grow as suppliers ship more vaccine doses throughout the country, distribution does not present as much of a concern as originally anticipated.
The next challenge for reaching herd immunity in the United States has nothing to do with production or distribution. It’s vaccine hesitancy.