International lawyer Robert Amsterdam and other members from the Amsterdam & Partners LLP team host a wide range of special expert guests to discuss leading international political and business issues.
You can't understand the Soviet system without understanding the daily lives of its people
From the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the chaotic disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, there is a dazzling and disorienting array of histories. While many books detail the lives and politics of Soviet leaders, Karl Schlögel invites us to better understand the experience of the country through the lives lived by more common Russians, from the depredations of communal apartments, repression, and violence, to the more prosaic aspects of Soviet life - the relics and rituals of museums, the grandeur and intensity of gigantic public works projects.
In his new book, "The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World," Schlögel, who is one of Germany's most authoritative historians on Russia, presents a history that is not comprehensive or categorical, but instead personal. In this conversation with Robert Amsterdam, Schlögel discusses his approach to such a vast period with selection of coloful vingettes, taking the reader inside the Soviety experience with extraordinary depth and detail.
The enduring legacy of the Great Arab Revolt
There is a strong argument to be made that the root of Palestinian identity can be traced back to the 1936-1939 Great Revolt, which united rival families and communities, melded urban with rural, and joined rich and poor together in a struggle against Zionism and the British Empire.
This is the starting point in Oren Kessler's exquisitely detailed new book, "Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict," which takes the reader inside the earliest days of Jewish migration from Europe during the interwar period, and raises numerous questions about the key events which continue to shape the modern Middle East conflict today.
In this conversation with Robert Amsterdam, Kessler approaches the protagonists in this history with great care and empathy, and sheds light on the numerous complexities behind critical "what if" moments, from the Balfour Declaration and the White Paper of 1939. In light of the horrific October 7 attacks and the continuing conflict in Gaza, an interrogation of the historical roots of statehood in the region such as Kessler's book are a revelation and education.
When China gave up on its peaceful rise
Formulated by PRC think tanks in the mid-1990s, China's official slogan of the "peaceful rise" sought to calm Western fears regarding its blossoming economic, military, and political power as the nation resumed an outsized role in global affairs. However the mood did not last long, as in the later years of President Hu Jintao's administration, policies hardened into a more aggressive, militaristic stance, and then was continued by the personalistic regime of President Xi Jinping, as China sought to project power abroad to boost popularity of the regime at home.
There are few people more qualified to examine this period than Susan Shirk, a professor at the University of California San Diego and the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs. In her latest book, "Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise," Shirk takes apart some of the most common myths and narratives held by observers of China - namely that the "peaceful rise" was a deception instead of an intention, but this was not the case.
Shirk explores the numerous and complex domestic factors guiding of Chinese foreign policy, while rejecting the premise that all decisions stem from the personal whims of Xi Jinping and his agenda for Chinese primacy. Xi does not enjoy any sort of full control over China, Shirk argues, but sits atop a complex, competing system of institutional imperatives, such as weiquan (sovereignty rights defence) and weiwen (stability maintenance). These imperatives often produce policies at odds with Xi's preferences, and leave China with a government that shouldn't be considered a rational unitary actor.
In crafting policy responses to China's growing power and influence, Shirk warns against overreacting in ways that weaken the ability of the US to compete. In other words, stay true to the principles of a free and open market democracy.
The state behaves in ways that are not directed by and are sometime at odds with the preferences of the leader, particularly in the areas of , or, broadly, international and domestic security.
She takes a contrary view to those who would locate the source of Beijing’s behaviour purely in terms of Xi Jinping’s mission to centre China on the world stage. Instead, she notes that friction over the same issues analysts now frequently associate with Xi began much earlier than his term. These tensions have worsened under Xi, but they are not merely a product of his leadership. Nor, she argues, is Xi totally in control.
The more a Canadian academic learned about China, the less the West wanted to hear
As 2023 draws to a close, it has become increasingly clear that there are profound misunderstandings and misapprehensions running amok in Western media narratives regarding the pecularities of the current state in China. That's precisely why there should be a high level of interest in a book of personal experience, nuanced narrative, and thoughtful observation from a Canadian academic who for a time played a unique role within China's state bureaucracy.
In 2017, Daniel A. Bell was appointed dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University—the first foreign dean of a political science faculty in China’s history. The story of his time in this position is enormously illuminating, highlighting both the immense challenges and also the occasional positives, and told with a certain level of humor and empathy often missing from accounts of politically sensitive jobs in the era of Xi Jinping.
His book, "The Dean of Shandong: Confessions of a Minor Bureaucrat at a Chinese University," is a riotously fun, informative, and eye-opening tour through modern Chinese academia. In his interview with Robert Amsterdam, Bell recounts how if some of his more "constructive" takes on events in China were found to be inconsistent with the predominant narrative, he encountered isolation from Westerners who preferred their current understanding.
How a decade of street protests changed the world
In June 2013, the journalist Vincent Bevins found himself covering a mass street protest in São Paulo, originally sparked by a rise in bus fares. As the tear canisters rained town and violent clashes with police began, the protesters began chanting "Love is over. Turkey is here," making a intentional connection to another uprising taking place across the world in Gezi Park in Istanbul. These parallel events, along with other major upheavals such as the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, mark the highlights of a critical decade in modern history in which more people took place in mass protest events across the world than at any other time. And what we are left with after these disruptive, destabilizing events take place, how it reshapes the state and reconfigures political representation in the aftermath, is quite far from predictable and much less clear in terms of the public understanding of their meaning.
This is the focus of Bevins' excellent new book, "If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution," which ambitiously presents a history of the 2010s, globally, through the lens of popular uprisings and their discontents. Bevins, who also joined the Departures podcast in 2020 to discuss his other book, "The Jakarta Method" (more relevant now than ever, read it!), explains how he wrote If We Burn with distinct openness and neutrality, which allows readers to approach the work from many angles, and draw their own understandings of how these popular uprisings so often failed to produce the outcomes that they aspired to, and what can be learned for the future.
The US is trying to get the Cold War band back together
Following the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas terrorists, President Joe Biden began to refer to America's support for the Israeli offensive into Gaza as one that was equally aligned with US support for the war in Ukraine. This was a narrative that proposed that in both cases evil forces had attacked the innocent, and that it was America's role to help them both defend themselves.
But the analogy is only partly legitimate, and also opens up room for quite a lot of criticism of the direction of American foreign policy generally in the post Cold War period. This brings up difficult questions about what Washington is trying to accomplish in these conflicts, and also points to the weakening level of public and moral support for those goals.
Today we are featuring a very special and distinguished guest, Samuel Moyn, who is the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and History at Yale University. Moyn is the author of the recent book, "Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War."
During this podcast interview, we discuss his most recent article for Prospect Magazine, titled, "America’s undoing."
That article can be viewed here: https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/world/united-states/64135/americas-undoing
In 2016 Robert Amsterdam appeared on a panel with David Satter at the Hudson Institute to discuss the 1999 Russian Apartment Bombings and provide analysis about Russia’s relationship with West. Great stuff and he hasn’t let up. Happy to find this podcast.
Best Podcast Out There
Bobs ability to consistently land these world class subject matter experts is hugely impressive, and his ability to engage them in esoteric, in-depth discussions makes this the best podcast around. I’m so happy this podcast was recommended to me, as it’s equal parts educational, entertaining and engrossing.
Fantastic politics/iR podcast
This is a great podcast for anyone interested in international affairs. The guest list is impressive - it seems every new IR book that comes out is covered here and the conversations with authors and other guests are always insightful.