Big World

School of International Service

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. read less

AIDS, COVID, and the Politics of Public Health
Dec 1 2022
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
Nov 1 2022
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?
Oct 3 2022
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
Sep 1 2022
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
Aug 1 2022
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).
Can We End World Hunger?
Jun 1 2022
Can We End World Hunger?
Food insecurity is a serious problem that affects many, with people going hungry in all regions of the world. According to the US Department of Agriculture, approximately 1.2 billion people globally lack consistent access to enough calories. In this episode of Big World, SIS alumna Valerie Guarnieri, assistant executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), joins us to discuss world hunger as well as her career combating food insecurity. Guarnieri first explains how the global experiences in her childhood and adolescence influenced what she wanted to do with her career (2:03) and why she chose to come to SIS (2:52). She also describes the roles she held in the US government as well as how combating hunger became a part of her work (4:16). Guarnieri then shares the WFP initiatives of which she’s most proud (6:33). Digging into the complex causes of hunger, she explains how hunger challenges are intertwined with other global issues, such as climate change and refugee crises (9:39). Guarnieri explains how the war in Ukraine has impacted WFP’s overall strategy (13:06) and how the programme is working to counteract the impacts of the war (15:42). She also breaks down the specific challenges that WFP has faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (18:59). Lastly, Guarnieri shares her advice for SIS students who want to dedicate their careers to combating hunger (21:58) and states why she believes it’s possible to end world hunger, as well as why we haven’t yet done so (23:55). During our “Take Five” segment, Guarnieri shares five things that she would want governments to do to end world hunger (11:04).
How Do Rebel Groups Govern?
May 2 2022
How Do Rebel Groups Govern?
While the immediate image that the phrase “rebel groups” brings to mind may be men dressed in fatigues and carrying Kalashnikov rifles, the activities of rebel groups extend beyond paramilitary engagements and into the provision of public goods and social services. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Megan Stewart joins us to discuss rebel governance. Professor Stewart defines rebel governance (1:29) and breaks down the different ways that rebel groups approach governance (2:03). She shares a few projects that rebel groups have undertaken (3:42), explains whether these governance projects are mostly meant to serve PR purposes (4:41), and gives an example of when a rebel group bit off more than they could chew while attempting governance (6:47). Based on research she conducted for her book, Governing for Revolution: Social Transformation in Civil War, Professor Stewart shares what rebel groups have learned from the Chinese Communist Party (8:32) and explains the risks that rebels face when they take on expensive governance projects (14:44). She reveals the impacts of rebel governance on civilians (16:22) and how the international system relates to civil wars, as well as the conflicts in which these rebel groups are involved (17:51). Finally, Professor Stewart shares how she conducted research for her book (19:01) and some of the unexpected findings from her research (21:36). During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Stewart shares the five most unique rebel governance projects she has heard of (12:39).
Dirty Money
Apr 1 2022
Dirty Money
Last year, the release of the Pandora Papers exposed secret offshore accounts belonging to world leaders, billionaires, and celebrities, and when Russia invaded Ukraine, Western nations responded, in part, with economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs. And, of course, in the US, April is known for Tax Day, which this year falls on April 18. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Dan Schneider joins us to discuss dirty money and illicit finance in the international system. Professor Schneider first defines the terms “dirty money” and “illicit finance” (1:32). He then shares how widespread this type of corruption is (3:42) and some factors that have led to the rise of illicit finance (5:45). He also describes the current efforts to fight dirty money and illicit finance (7:03) and breaks down how economic sanctions are supposed to impact the individuals on which they’re placed (8:33). What are the dangers of kleptocracy, which is a political system organized around oligarchy, self-dealing, and illicit finance (15:50)? How can governments best tackle illicit flows of money and work to restore the rule of law (18:31)? Professor Schneider answers these questions and explains the difference between unethical and illicit finance, using tax preparation as an example (21:54) and explaining that while something may be legal, that doesn’t mean it’s also ethical. During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Schneider shares the first five things he would do to fight dirty money and corruption, both in the US and the international system (12:30).
What Do We Get Wrong About Afghanistan?
Feb 1 2022
What Do We Get Wrong About Afghanistan?
On August 30, 2021, nearly 20 years after they arrived, the last US troops left Afghanistan. Now, some six months later, the world has largely moved on from the story of Afghanistan and the people who remain there in the wake of the US withdrawal and the reinstatement of Taliban control. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Tazreena Sajjad joins us to discuss what we get wrong about Afghanistan when we only talk about the ways that other nations, including the US, intersect with it. Professor Sajjad shares how she become interested in Afghanistan, both personally and professionally (1:59), and explains the historical events that have resulted in Afghanistan’s long-standing displacement crisis (4:05). She also describes factors that have led to forcible displacement from the country during the last 20 years of ongoing occupation (5:24) and points out which countries are currently hosting refugees from Afghanistan (7:42). What is happening to the Afghans who are displaced or remain within the country’s borders, including ethnic minorities, journalists, government workers, educators, human rights activists, and women and girls (15:57)? What would Professor Sajjad like to see for the people of Afghanistan, both those who remain and those who felt they had no choice but to leave (22:31)? Professor Sajjad answers these questions and takes on the trope that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires” (23:56). During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Sajjad shares the first five things she would do to help displaced Afghans and others seeking refuge (11:52).
Capitol Insurrection, Riot, or Domestic Terrorism?
Jan 4 2022
Capitol Insurrection, Riot, or Domestic Terrorism?
On January 6, 2021, a throng of Donald Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol building. Their stated goal was to overturn the valid results of the 2020 presidential election by interrupting the US Congress's count of electoral votes that would certify the election. One year later, SIS professor Joe Young joins us on this episode of Big World to discuss the January 6 attack on the Capitol and domestic terrorism. Young explains what differentiates domestic terrorism from other acts of violence (2:08) and states how he categorizes the events of January 6 (5:10). He also shares how he classifies the ideology and actions of those who took part (6:44) as well as what movements and groups have taken part in acts of domestic terrorism in the US over the past few years (8:44). What does the radicalization of US domestic terrorists look like (13:03), and what part do misinformation and disinformation play in the radicalization pipeline (15:12)? Are there similarities between how US domestic terrorists and Islamist terrorists become radicalized and the tactics they use (17:17)? Young answers these questions and reveals whether or not there is a trend of extremist movements becoming transnational (18:44). Our episode ends with Young clarifying whether or not domestic terrorism is more prevalent now than at any other time in US history (19:51). During our “Take Five” segment, which in this episode is a “Take Three,” Young shares three policies and practices he would institute to reform people who are radicalized (10:31).
International Education Isn’t Optional Anymore
Oct 1 2021
International Education Isn’t Optional Anymore
The world’s most pressing problems—including climate change, pandemics, and cybersecurity—cross borders. And to solve these problems, our students need international experience, believes Fanta Aw, vice president for undergraduate enrollment, campus life, and inclusive excellence at American University and Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer at SIS. In this episode of Big World, Aw joins us to discuss the importance of international education. She shares how she became interested in international education (2:16), defines international education and cultural exchange and their differences (3:48), and discusses how international education and cultural exchanges impact our world (5:34). Aw also explains the role that international education plays in fulfilling the mission of American University’s Office of Campus Life: to integrate students into a diverse learning community; promote their intellectual, social, and spiritual development; and prepare them for lifelong learning and global citizenship (7:06). Why should undergraduate and graduate students consider studying internationally (9:01)? Why do international students want to study at AU (13:21)? What are the opportunities for students to engage in international education and cultural exchange while they're at AU (14:42)? Aw answers these questions and explains why she believes international education is a sufficiently durable concept and practice to bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic (18:44). During our “Take Five” segment, Aw shares five ways students can develop a sense of global citizenship (11:01).
The National Security Legacy of 9/11
Sep 1 2021
The National Security Legacy of 9/11
At 8:46 a.m. ET on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center—the first of four plane crashes that morning—and nothing was ever the same again. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and in this episode of Big World, SIS professor Josh Rovner joins us to discuss the national security legacy of 9/11. Professor Rovner shares where he was when the first plane hit the north tower (2:03), explains what then-president George W. Bush called the “War on Terror” in response to the attacks (3:00), and discusses some of the immediate impacts of 9/11 on national security (5:58). He also describes the long-term changes to national security measures after 9/11 that continue to impact Americans today (8:41) and how the legacy of 9/11 and the War on Terror impacted the overall US defense apparatus (11:10). What was achieved during the 20-year mission in Afghanistan, which was America's longest running war (17:56)? How does the US approach counterterrorism now that troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan and the Taliban is in control (21:48)? Professor Rovner answers these questions and explains how the priorities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have been affected by 9/11 (25:07); he also shares an unforeseen legacy of the attacks that might surprise people (27:57). During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Rovner details the advice he would give to the current secretary of state, secretary of defense, and director of national intelligence as the Biden administration implements its approach to counterterrorism (13:38).
Farming's Racist Roots
Jun 1 2021
Farming's Racist Roots
Agriculture in America is older than the United States itself. But agriculture policy and the politics that drive it have always been, like so much of our world's history, unequal at best. In this episode of Big World, SIS professor Garrett Graddy-Lovelace joins us to discuss agricultural policy, racial inequities, and the need for a new way of thinking about land both in the US and around the world. Graddy-Lovelace explains what political ecology and decolonial studies are (1:55) and how these two concepts play directly into her research on agricultural policy and agrarian politics (3:12). She also discusses how lending and land ownership policies have historically disenfranchised Black farmers (5:41), the long history of Black agrarian resistance and excellence (7:36), and what the latest COVID-19 relief bill accomplishes for Black farmers (10:01). What needs to be done to right the historical mistreatment of non-white farmers by the US government (11:55)? What are the global impacts of US agricultural policies that disenfranchise farmers of color (18:58)? Professor Graddy-Lovelace answers these questions and explains why discrimination in agriculture is a global phenomenon (21:59). She also examines the significance of the ongoing farmers’ protests in India (23:59). Finally, she discusses transnational agrarian justice movements (25:40) and shares how she is inspired by Black and Indigenous-led agrarian resistance movements within the US (27:57). During our “Take Five” segment, Professor Graddy-Lovelace tells us the top five barriers to achieving food justice that she would eliminate if she could (17:01).