From the last 90 minutes of Razib's interview with Samo I decided not to work that hard, just report items they talked about, sometimes interjecting my own summary or thoughts.
Much was made of actions by countries that are overdetermined, because they have more than one reason for them. These are more common in command economies like China and Russia, but not unknown in more free-market states, which also attempt to use policy to set general directions, as in increasing tariffs, directing research, and protecting industries. A lot of attention is given these days to whether China will invade Taiwan, but there are levels to this. Actually accomplishing the invasion of a well-defended island nation is equivalent to a moon landing in complexity. Developing a military port structure for that cannot be done invisibly, so what must be done is developing commercial ports that can be shared, disguised, repurposed, etc. And there is an obvious side benefit economically to controlling many great ports. Expand this out to airfields, shipbuilding and aircraft development, energy flexibility, access to key resources and a hundred other secular uses. The line from the space program to personal computers is clear in America, for example. The follow-on effects can be enormous.
Therefore, if the Chinese credibly develop this capacity - they do not have it now - it has all sorts of uses. They can use it as a threat without activating it. It could be readily expanded to the possible invasion of other nearby islands, such as the Philippines or Indonesia. Japan and Australia would be much, much harder, but would be on the same line. We fear powerful nations acting irrationally - it does happen - and initiating military actions that are unlikely to succeed but could do enormous damage. Burja looks also at military actions which are not irrational, because they have been long prepared for. Just having them in your back pocket without using them is influential. In that light, a failed invasion of Taiwan would only strengthen the alliance against China in the region: India, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam. But a successful invasion would weaken any such alliance, as nations would quietly make accommodation for events that look inevitable.
Speaking of South Korea, the observation was suggested that reunification with the North, desired by the South Korean left which is a significant minority, is not likely to take the form of millions of starving refugees pouring across the border, under gov't control or not, but more along the lines of the poor Eastern European countries in the EU moving to the richer nations for work. There are lots of Bulgarians in Germany, Romanians in Italy, Poles in Ireland. As SK has a population replacement rate of 0.9 and NK has 1.9, arrangements might be made in which many young people moved south to work cheap, and the SK gov't could arrange some sort of money transfer to the north as a sort of stabilisation fund. The NK regime has to make some concessions, but gets greater security of not having so much trade isolation. They might also demand that the US troops be sent home, and they would have a good point. SK might dislike the NK political influence on its affairs, but the enormously reduced threat of insane tyrants invading is a nice tradeoff.
With that idea of national actions having multiple reasons underlying them, let me put together the Lego pieces he thinks are important for Russia. England, Germany, and Russia, to name a few, are not particularly good candidates for a solar world. Russia does have some skill with nuclear power, and developing barges that carry nuclear power plants that can be towed to whatever city you like is something that can be made in quantity once you figure it out. Cooling and safety are easier. You can keep them, sell them, or rent them. Natural gas is not a world-wide commodity yet, though advances in liquefication might make it so. But at the moment, pipelines are the answer. Most of Russia's natural gas is in its arctic region. Therefore global warming has some advantages for Russia as it opens ports up more days of the year. They are in fact already creating pipelines between cities in the arctic. They are also developing nuclear-powered icebreakers. Taken together, more ports, more ability to move NG. Even in that region, more ports is more trade. If warming slows, they still win with icebreakers and pipelines, just not as dramatically.
Natural gas, which is an on demand source in contrast to coal which has to be run 24/7, and is at least somewhat cleaner, is the natural complement to solar power at present, even more than batteries. Russia does not love solar for itself - how could it? - but applauds German and other European reliance on it. If the US gets there first in liquefying natural gas it won't matter for long, as it will then be figured out by others soon enough.
Russia gets invaded by someone in the West about once a century. That seems like a lot to them, so they try to expand to their natural geographic boundaries in order to get "strategic depth." They have never cared in the least about the countries they run over and control in order to get this strategic depth. On the other hand, the invaders haven't cared much about Poland, Ukraine, or Czechia either. They just don't try to control them in between. To Russians, everyone not under their control is therefore out of control.
Putin is leading Russia to hedge its bets by selling high-grade weapons systems to India, even knowing that they will reverse engineer them and become competitors, as China did to Russia before. This is because while it is now being forced to be somewhat dependent on China, having a backup plan of a strong India, likely part of an anti-China alliance in the hemisphere, is in its long-term interest. They risk angering the Chinese with the move but consider it worth it.
Whether you are bearish about China because of the demographics of a rapidly-aging population should depend on whether you are bearish about the planet as a whole for this reason, as they are simply the most vulnerable out of many. Nearly everyone except sub-Saharan Africa, actually. If you think that the West will figure this out after some pain and adjust its economies with technology that overrides this chronic lack of young replacement workers, then it is likely that China will eventually get there too, just with more pain. However, if you think the graying of the planet is only partly solvable in the near term and we are all headed for a world of hurt, then it is reasonable to think that it could be catastrophic for China.
When China starts pushing for stricter international intellectual property enforcement, it will not be because we have persuaded them to behave and stop stealing stuff, but because they perceive themselves as now winning in the innovation race and have more to gain than to lose. (Libertarians will note that this is similar to what licensing and much regulation is, of people trying to pull up the ladder behind them once they have gotten ahead a little.) That day may not be far off, as many improvements by the Chinese now are not just stealing ideas and cutting costs with cheap labor, but actual steps forward. Note their improvements in battery technology, for example. It is the same as what Japan did in the postwar period, but China has 10x the number of people. Samo thinks that Chinese innovation has historically not been as good as Western, particularly North American, and their ascendance is likely going to be temporary. But that "temporary" might be 2030-2050 leading the world in innovation, a result of their full-court press to steer all their young talent into fields good for the economy or for international prestige.
Razib and Samo discussed bureaucratic decay, and Burja declared it so automatic and predictable that it is nearly measurable and should be factored into every evaluation of an institution, and industry, or even a country. For all its new-worldness, America is the oldest democracy, and many American departments, such as its military, State department, and security agencies, have not changed in structure much since WWII. A people's tendency for innovation and independence can only take you so far, and in this case those have obscured and disguised our institutions flaws. they possess a great deal of knowledge - often far more than we give them credit for - but their assumptions cause them to misdirect the application. Khan thinks that it also feeds elite corruption, and notes that American military interventions have been less and less effective, even with technical superiority, as the decades have gone on. We are no longer nimble. Burja gave the example of Russia needing naval vessels to intervene in Syria and simply buying commercial ones and repurposing them, which was extremely quick and cost-effective. That the ships were not perfect for the job was irrelevant. He noted that it would be impossible for the Pentagon to do this. It would take years, even decades to get a new type of Mediterranean transport ship up, and by then it would be obsolete. We are no longer nimble.
Because of this they agreed that American military interventions are likely to get less and less effective, regardless of whether they are a good idea or not. We have relied on technical expertise to override our failing systems, much as colleges have gotten less good at transmitting knowledge even as knowledge has increased because perverse financial incentives have siphoned off resources and energy. Those flaws have not only become institutionalised, but are now even applauded and regarded as the point of the university. He sees the military as well on the road to that already. Better technology and better training will not cover that forever.