Former CIA Analyst And Ohio-native Mathew Burrows On Tariffs, Trade, And Ohio

 Mathew Burrows in a video from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Mathew Burrows in a video from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. [YouTube]
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For some in government, one of their major tasks is trying to anticipate the future and understand the present in global affairs.

Such was the case for Mathew Burrows, who is now director for the Atlantic Council's Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative.

“I grew up in Rocky River through high school, and then I went off to college,” Burrows says during a recent visit back to Cleveland for an event with the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.

He went to college at Wesleyan University, and then earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge--he thought he'd be an academic, but it was tough to break in.

So he tried another route.

"I happened to send in a CV to the CIA which was hiring at that point," Burrows says, adding that he forgot that he had applied to the Agency amid the many applications he sent out.

Months later, he found himself living again in Rocky River, and his mother called.

"There’s this brown paper envelope, it has no return address on it," he says. "Then they told me to go to this test center, and then about nine months later I got through the whole process."

Burrows began in the office of European analysis, and it was a natural fit after a number of years abroad, with time living in Paris, and the UK.

He went to the US mission to the EU in Brussels, and worked with the U.S. team at the United Nations in New York as special assistant to the U.S. UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, before landing in Washington with an ever-broadening global dossier.

Burrows was appointed counselor to the National Intelligence Council, and set up a long-range analysis unit.

That kind of big picture analysis is still part of his repertoire with the Atlantic Council, as seen in an article he wrote on his top 10 global risks of 2019, many of which touch Ohio…like tariffs:

“You’re getting a wake-up call, I mean Europeans are very upset on the steel tariffs, but even more so China, I think the potential is even greater damage to them," Burrows says. "I tend to think that there will be a deal, because it’s also hurting Ohio, but also the farmers not just in this state but also other states that are very important in the political calendar. But I do think that we’re at this turning point where China really does want to have its own Apples, and Googles, and others, and it has a huge market. It doesn’t want to have to be buying American products.”

Ohio is seeing globalization and market pressures from a number of directions: GM's decisions to end or transfer production lines from places like Lordstown; a Chinese glass manufacturer's decision to invest big in Ohio; and if the Trump administration pushes hard on Japan for a better trade deal, perhaps that could factor into Honda decisions about places like Marysville.

“What you mention about investment is serious," Burrows says. "If the Chinese get the feeling that their investments are not safe, and they have to go through these layers of bureaucratic review, and if the Japanese feel that too, that they’re going to be targeted like that and not be considered an ally, then they’re very committed to the present plants, but they may think maybe they shouldn’t be investing more in Ohio and elsewhere.”

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