Big World shines a spotlight on complex ideas and issues that matter. Each episode features an expert from the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC, breaking down a big, important topic into small bite sizes.
AIDS, COVID, and the Politics of Public Health
December 1 is World AIDS Day, and January 2023 marks 20 years of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which provides for groundbreaking AIDS treatment, prevention, and research. In this episode of Big World, SIS dean Shannon Hader, an expert in infectious diseases and epidemiology and a global leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, joins us to explore how the AIDS response informed policies during the outbreak of COVID-19 and how politics impacts the public perception of public health crises.
Dean Hader discusses how PEPFAR’s monumental achievements have influenced public health policy (3:22) and how PEPFAR continues to garner bipartisan, bicameral support from Congress, even throughout a time of intense political division (5:43). She explains how blame and shame are not sustainable or effective responses to an infectious disease (11:30). She also talks about the dangers of putting the goals of disease prevention and treatment in opposition to one another (13:23).
How did the HIV community respond to the emergence of the COVID-19 virus (17:07)? While with UNAIDS, how did Hader help advise public health officials on how to protect human rights amid a crisis (18:51)? Hader answers these questions and discusses the importance of data in making sound decisions and targeting resources (21:01). The episode concludes as Hader shares how her impressive career in public health prepared her to lead a top-10 international relations school (27:17) and what she hopes to accomplish while at SIS (31:20).
During our “Take Five” segment, Hader shares the five steps she would recommend to governments around the world to create and sustain positive forward momentum on AIDS research, prevention, and treatment (22:29).
Border Battles in Eurasia
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, its republics were established as countries with internationally recognized borders. But borders are only as stable as the people within them will allow them to be. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has seemingly opened the floodgates for revisiting old conflicts and tensions, sparking border clashes among other former Soviet republics in the region known as Eurasia. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Keith Darden, an expert on Eurasian politics, joins us to explain the (literal) lay of the land, why tensions are so high, and why each of these border conflicts is unique.
Professor Darden discusses how the post-Soviet borders were settled (2:00) and explains the rationale for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea (4:14). He talks about why Russia invaded Ukraine and how the different, recently annexed regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson can be viewed as “historically Russian” (11:32).
How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impacted the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region (13:37)? Why have Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan disputed their shared, semi-undemarcated border since it was established (22:15)? Darden answers these questions and discusses the impact of demographics and geography on these current border clashes. The episode concludes as Darden shares his thoughts about Putin’s future role in the region and the future of borders and border clashes in Eurasia more broadly (28:30).
During our “Take Five” segment, Darden shares policies and procedures he would enact to create and settle international borders more effectively (17:30).
Keith Darden discusses how the post-soviet borders were settled (2:00) and explains the rationale for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea (4:14). He talks about why Russia invaded Ukraine and how different regions that have been recently annexed can be viewed as historically Russian (11:32).
How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impacted the border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (13:37)? Why have Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan disputed their shared border since it was established (22:15)? Keith answers these questions and discusses the impact of demographics and geography on these current border clashes. The episode concludes as Keith shares his thoughts on Putin’s role in the future of the region, and what the future of border clashes in Eurasia may look like (28:30).
During our “Take Five” segment, Keith shares five policies or procedures he would enact to create and settle international borders more effectively (17:30).
How are Political Prisoner Swaps Negotiated?
Taking hostages and prisoners is not a new occurrence; people have been taken hostage by those seeking to gain a political upper hand for thousands of years. What is new today is that more US hostages currently are being held by foreign governments than by terrorist or militant groups. Some of the most recent, high-profile political prisoner cases are those of WNBA star and US citizen Brittney Griner and US citizen Paul Whelan. They have both been detained in Russian prisons, and with these wrongful detention cases featured so prominently in the news, many questions have arisen about prisoner swaps and how the process works. In this episode of Big World, our guest is Professor Danielle Gilbert, a Rosenwald fellow at Dartmouth College, Bridging the Gap fellow, and hostage diplomacy expert.
Dani Gilbert discusses how the US determines wrongful detentions (2:20) and explains the difference between a hostage and a political prisoner (4:45). She talks about why Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are being held in Russia and how they may be used as leverage by Russia in a negotiation process (6:05). She also explains how the US decides whom to offer in a prisoner swap and the reasons why some political prisoners get left behind in these deals (8:09).
How have past US-Russia and US-Soviet prisoner swaps shaped relations, and do current tensions make a swap more difficult (13:30)? How does outside involvement and media coverage help or hinder prisoner swaps (22:47)? Dani answers these questions and discusses the impact of political prisoner swaps on both the families of the prisoners and the governments that are involved. The episode concludes as Dani shares her thoughts on the likelihood of an agreement between the US and Russia in which Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are released together (28:13).
During our “Take Five” segment, Dani shares the five policies she would enact to protect political prisoners around the world and help expedite the repatriation process (18:46).
Life After Roe
On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case. The ruling overturned nearly 50 years of judicial precedent set by Roe v Wade in 1973 and sent the question of abortion regulations and laws back to individual US states. The impact of this decision and the precedent it sets will have far reaching effects on the current and future state of reproductive rights and abortion policy in the United States. In this episode of Big World our guest is American University professor Tracy Weitz, a sociologist and abortion care, policy, and politics expert.
Professor Weitz discusses the trigger laws prohibiting abortion to different extents that went into effect in some states (2:43) immediately upon the Dobbs ruling. She explains how state legislatures, upcoming ballot initiatives, gubernatorial elections, and state Supreme Court challenges could play a role in determining the future of abortion access in several states (3:26). She talks about whether abortion policies might change from election cycle to election cycle in purple states (6:48) and why she believes that abortion will remain a divisive issue at a national level—even if state laws remain relatively settled (9:21).
How are the Hyde and Helms Amendments connected to reproductive rights policy, and how do they impact women both in the US and around the world (11:47)? What are some of the consequences of restrictive abortion laws, and can policies be made to safeguard women from those unintended consequences (17:27)? Professor Weitz answers these questions and discusses both the real-life impacts that abortion restrictions have on women with other medical conditions (19:20) and the threat to bodily autonomy caused by limiting reproductive rights (26:56). The episode concludes as Professor Weitz shares her observations on the likelihood of either a national right to terminate pregnancy or a national ban on abortion rights being codified by Congress or the Constitution and what challenges would have to be overcome for either of those to occur (27:09).
During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Weitz shares the five policies she would enact to protect reproductive rights in the United States (15:28).
How America’s Militias Threaten Democracy
In the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot, anti-government militias like the Oath Keepers thrust themselves to the forefront of public consciousness. The ongoing January 6th committee hearings have increased the pressure on these groups to defend their actions leading up to and during that day. But the word “militia” is a very old word that appears in the founding document of the United States. It wasn't always associated with people attacking democracy but rather safeguarding it. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Carole Gallaher joins us to discuss American militias.
Professor Gallaher explains what constitutes an American militia (1:21) and how that’s vastly different from the militias referred to in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (2:47). She breaks down the overlap among today’s American militia groups, white nationalism, and white supremacy (3:51); the relationship militias like the Oath Keepers have to far-right groups like the Proud Boys (6:51); whether or not American militia groups are always violent (9:22); and who, in the US, is most likely to join such groups (11:08).
Why are the violent and tragic events of Ruby Ridge in 1992 and the Waco siege in 1993 associated with the American militia movement of the 1990s? (16:03). Does the political party of the sitting US president have any impact on militia membership and activity (17:21)? Professor Gallaher answers these questions and discusses why the presidency of Barack Obama spurred a rise in militia movement activity (19:52). She then reveals how US public attitudes about militias have changed since the ’90s (22:306) and her experiences interviewing Kentucky militia members for her research (27:19). The episode concludes with Professor Gallaher explaining the relationship between militia groups’ support of former president Donald Trump and their own anti-government views. (28:39).
During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Gallaher suggests five things that should be done to tackle the threat that American militias pose to democracy (12:28).
Erdogan's Hold on Turkey
While the modern Turkish Republic was founded in the 1920s as a secular republic, the last two decades have seen this nation move from a democratic regime toward an authoritarian one. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Doga Eralp joins us to discuss the political career and the politics of a man who’s been Turkey’s leader for most of that time period, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Professor Eralp breaks down Erdogan’s rise to power, including how his controversial—and criminal—recitation of a poem played a role in that rise (2:48), and describes the beginnings of the leader’s dominant AK Party (5:42). He then showcases how Erdogan has steered Turkey toward religious nationalism (8:21) and what motivated him to do so (15:33).
To explain Turkey’s current stance on the war in Ukraine, Professor Eralp describes Erdogan’s unique relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin (18:27). He then describes why and how Turkey came to be the world’s largest host of refugees and the role Erdogan has played in that situation (24:33). The episode concludes with Professor Eralp weighing in on whether Erdogan’s power is waning and how much longer he may stay in power (28:19).
During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Eralp shares five policies he would enact to improve Turkey's standing in the world (12:58).
Great information, educational
I appreciate how this podcast focuses on a variety of topics from national to international leveled issues. I also enjoy the structure of the interviews and that they are not super long. It is a great, easy way to gain information and become more aware of situations. As a future SIS student, I am excited to meet these individuals in person to ask more on these issues. Great podcast.
This podcast does a great job of distilling some of the more complex issues in international affairs ((e.g. the defense budget, human migration) through one on one interviews-not an easy task! Lol forward to more episodes.
Tried it for a few months but can’t keep going
Very good topics which should intrigue foreign policy followers or expats (like me). But the guests are insanely biased and liberal. I tried to keep listening but after 4-5 episodes, sadly I am done. I guess everyone involved in this podcast is drinking from the same koolaid but without any diversity of thought, what’s the point?