Global Dispatches -- Conversations on Foreign Poli

Global Dispatches -- Conversations on Foreign Poli

United Kingdom

A podcast about foreign policy and world affairs. Every Monday we feature long form conversations with foreign policy journalists academics, luminaries and thought leaders who discuss the ideas, influences, and events that shaped their worldview from an early age. Every Thursday we post shorter interviews with journalists or think tank types about something topical and in the news.


The Battle for Mosul  

 Mosul is Iraq's second largest city, and in 2014 ISIS militants took the city as Iraqi army units fled. Now, a large scale military operation backed by the United States is underway to regain control of the city, which is situated in Northern Iraq. 

The fight to re-take Mosul may have profound domestic and regional political implications says my guest today Kirk Sowell, publisher of the Inside Iraqi Politics newsletter,  He argues in a recent piece published by the Carnegie Endowment that the operation to retake mosul is part of a broader power struggle between Turkey and Iraq. The conversation you are about to hear explains the political and diplomatic context in which this battle is taking place.    If you believe, as Clausewitz said, that "war is the continuation of politics by other means" than it behooves all of us to understanding better the kind of regional, sectarian and even parliamentary politics at play in the battle for Mosul.   
Is this the end of the International Criminal Court?  

Late in the evening on October 20th news broke that South Africa is moving to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

The ICC is the first permanent international court to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity and back in 2002 when it came to life, South Africa was a founding member.

In recent years the court has come under criticism by some African governments for holding a perceived bias against Africa, but until now no major country has withdrawn from the court after joining it. There is a fear that South Africa's withdrawal will spark an cascade of countries doing the same thing. If South Africa's withdrawal leads to a mass exodus, the ICC's jurisdiction around the world could be significantly shrunk. Maybe even fatally.   On the line with me to discuss these questions and more is David Bosco, associate professor of international studies at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is also author of the book Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics and someone I have looked to over the years to help me understand the ICC's role in international relations. 
Episode 127: Sarah Chayes  

Sarah Chayes was a reporter for NPR working in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Then, in early 2002 she decided to give up her career in journalism to help rebuild the country. She joined the NGO world, eventually founding an Afghan based NGO. And during this time, while living in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, she became an advisor to the top US generals in Afghanistan. 

These experiences in Afghanistan informed her prize winning book, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, which as the name suggests examines the corrosive effect of corruption in post conflict countries and beyond.    We kick off talking about the problem of corruption before discussing Sarah's fascinating life and career.     
Meet Antonio Guterres, the Next UN Secretary General  

Last week the UN General Assembly Officially elected Antonio Guterres as the next UN Secretary General. Guterres is a well known figure around the UN and in global politics more broadly. From 2005 to 2015 he served as the UN High Commissioner for refugees and before that he served as Prime Minister of Portugal. 

His term begins on January 1st and I thought it would be useful and interesting to learn more about Guterres from two distinct perspectives.   This episode is in two parts. First, I speak with the Portuguese political commentator Pedro adao e Silva who discusses Guterres' political career in Portugal and more broadly the political context in which Guterres emerged as a national leader and political figure. We discuss some of the key moments of his term as Prime Minister and how his background and experience in the Portuguese revolution against a authoritarian regime may shape his performance as Secretary General.   Next, I speak with Michel Gabaudan, who is the president of the advocacy organization Refugees International. Gabaudan was a senior official at the UN Refugee Agency for many years and served in top positions while Guterres was in charge of it. He offers some perspective on Guterres' leadership style of a complex UN agency and shares some insights into his skill sets and how he interacts with powerful member states like the USA.     I was so glad to get both perspectives. Guterres is someone who I've followed closely as the UN Refugee Chief. I've seen him speak on numerous occasions, and both Pedro and Michel do a good job helping me understand how someone who has been so outspoken, in the words of Michel "speaks truth to power" could still win the favor of the world's most powerful country.
Beware the Global Superbug  
At the United Nations last month there was a major meeting at the sidelines of the General Assembly about an issue called anti-microbial resistance. This meeting did not make much news outside the UN bubble, but it was arguably the single most meaningful thing to happen at the United Nations in months.    Anti-microbial resistance is one of the worst global health crises in the world that gets the least amount of attention. The short story is that the antibiotics we use to treat common infections are becoming less and less effective. There are many reasons for this, including the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and the over-prescription of these drugs for humans. The implications of ever-increasing anti-biotic resistance is exceedingly profound for both the health and wealth of our entire planet. The foundation of modern medicine is in peril.    On the line with me to discuss the problem of antibiotic resistance, its origins, and what the international community is doing to confront it is Elizabeth Tayler. She is with the World Health Organization and is one of the few people on the planet working day in and out to reverse this trend. Tayler does an excellent job of describing the root causes of anti-microbial resistance, its implications for modern medicine and what the global plan is to confront it.


Episode 126: Charles Kenney  

Charles Kenney is an optimist. He's the author of several book about global development, including Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--And How We Can Improve the World Even More, which was widely hailed across the spectrum and personally endorsed by Bill Gates. 

Charles is a fellow with Center for Global Development where his work focuses on a wide array of topics, including the intersection of gender and development and we kick off with a discussion of some new research he's worked on about strategies to reduce the prevalence of female genital mutilation--otherwise known as FGM. (If you are not aware, FGM is the deliberate cutting of female genitalia, often as part of a traditional ceremony in a girl's adolescence. And Charles has researched policies in countries that helped to sharply reduce the number of girls subjected to this practice.) 

  Charles was born in the United Kingdom to a British father and American mother. He traces the roots of his optimism to his charmed upbringing in academic communities around Oxford and Cambridge. He had a long career at the World Bank before settling into his perch at the Center for Global Development, from which he has written a couple of books--both of which we discuss.    This is a great conversation--and we do have an interesting discussion about the problem of measuring country's well being exclusively by looking at its economic growth.   


Why the Colombia Peace Deal Failed and What's Next  

The 52 year civil war in Colombia between the government and the Marxist rebel group the FARC is the longest running conflict in the Western Hemisphere. But after years of painstaking negotiations, the conflict looked as if it is finally coming to an end. There is ceasefire, and a peace deal was signed in September between FARC's leader and the president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos.    The government promised to put the peace deal to a final vote among the people of Colombia in a popular referendum, and low and behold, when the vote was taken in early October voters rejected the deal.      On the line with me to discuss the referendum results, the peace deal, and the implications of this failure to formally end this civil war is James Bargent, a freelance journalist based in Colombia. I caught up with James while he was in Medellin just days after the vote and he does an excellent job of describing the political climate that lead to this result, and games out scenarios for what happens next in this now quite tenuous peace process. A resumption of conflict is not out of the realm of possibility. 

Episode 125: Scott Shane  

 cott Shane is a veteran reporter with the New York Times.His latest book is titled Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President and the Rise of the Drone. It tells the story of Anwar al-Awlaki and President Obama's decision to kill him.

al-Awlaki was an American born man of Yemeni descent. He was a charismatic preacher who later moved to Yemen and joined an al Qaeda affiliate. In 2011 he was killed by a US drone strike, making him the fist American since the civil war to be deliberately assassinated by his own government. 

Scott Shane's book is a masterpiece that won the 2016 Lionel Gerber prize for best international affairs book. It's now out in paper back. And unlike most episodes where we spend the first 10 or fifteen minutes speaking about an author's new book before exploring their own life story, Scott and I spend the bulk of our conversation telling the remarkable and gripping story of al-Awlaki before talking about Scott's own career. 
The Heroes of Syria  

When a building is bombed, a group of volunteers known as the White Helmets rush to the scene to dig through rubble to find survivors. In a conflict known for its never-ending descent into depravity, this one group stands apart as true servants of humanity.    On the line to discuss their work is Orlando von Einsiedel, who directed the new Netflix documentary "The White Helmets." The film follows members of the Aleppo contingent of the Syrian Civil Defense Corps as they go on rescue and training missions.   The White Helmets are unarmed and apolitical. But as Russia and Syrian forces have intensified the battle for eastern Aleppo, the White Helmets have increasingly been a target themselves. In the last week alone, four of their bases in Aleppo have been targeted and they are often the victims of a bombing strategy known as "double tap" in which a second bomb is unleashed on a civilian target just as rescue workers are arriving on the scene.    In this conversation, director Orlando von Einsiedel -- whose credits include the documentaries Virunga and Skateistan -- describes the work of the White Helmets and his decision to make them the subject of his newest film.  

Episode 124: Sarah Sewall, Live!  

I was in New York for the UN General Assembly and so was Under Secretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights Sarah Sewall. We taped this episode in front of a live audience organized by New York chapter of the group Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, YPFP.

Sarah Sewall kicks off telling some behind the scenes stories from her week at the UN and describing what it's like being a top US diplomat during the busiest week on the diplomatic calendar. We then discuss some of the substantive issues she is working on relating to countering violent extreemism and terrorism through diplomacy and development. She also recounts her ground breaking career path that lead her from her home in Maine to the highest reaches of foreign policy making. And finally, we take some questions from the audience.   This was taped live at the SLC Conference Center in mid-town Manhattan.   


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UN Week Is Here! These Stories Will Drive the Global Agenda at the UN General Assembly  
The UN General Assembly kicks into high gear this week as world leaders flock to New York for the annual UN summit. There are many story lines for international affairs nerds to follow, and on the line with me to break them all down is Richard Gowen, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.    Richard and I offer a preview of the big stories, high drama, and possible moments of intrigue that are sure to be present at one of the most important weeks ever year for global affairs.    Before we kick off, I have a special announcement--actually an invitation. I will be holding a live taping of Global Dispatches with Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall and you are cordially invited to attend. She is the highest ranking State Department official dealing with human rights, terrorism, refugees, and other issues related to civilian security, rights, and democracy, and it should be a fantastic conversation that will include some audience participation.   The event is organized in conjunction with the group Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, is being held in New York on Wednesday, September 21st at 7pm at the SLC Conference center 15 W 39the st (near Bryant Park.) So, for those of you in the New York area, please come by. If you are planning to attend, you can RSVP here. 


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Here's How the International Community Is Trying to Solve the Global Refugee Crisis  


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World leaders gather at the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. There will be much political drama and diplomatic storylines that I'll discuss in a later episode. But behind all the politics and drama are issues of substance -- and arguably the most important substantive issues on the table relate to the global refugee crisis. 

There will be two high profile summits at the UN related to refugees. The first is organized by the United Nations itself, called the "Summit for Refugees and Migrants." The second is being organized by President Obama and is the "Leaders Summit on Refugees."   Taken together, these two high level meetings at the UN have the potential to provide an important inflection point in the international community's attempt to address the largest global displacement crisis since World War Two.    On the line to help me to help put these two summits in a broader context of how countries confront a growing refugee crisis and an ever increasing number of migrants around the world is Shannon Scribner, a humanitarian policy adviser for Oxfam. Shannon describes what these two distinct summits hope to accomplish, some of their benefits and weak points, and explains the exceedingly complex challenge of crafting a global strategy to confront this global problem. 
How Yemen Became Mired in a Brutal Civil War  


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The crisis in Yemen is getting worse by the day. Hospitals are being bombed, seemingly at a routine frequency; some 10,000 people have been killed; and extremist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and ISIS have gained a foothold in parts of the country.   

Yemen is the region's poorest country. And, since the Arab Spring, it's also been one of the most unstable countries in the Gulf. In March 2015, a rebel group known as the Houthis consolidated control over the capitol city Sana'a and moved against the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. That brought in Saudi Arabia, which lead a US-backed military intervention in support of the beleaguered president. Meanwhile, UN backed mediation efforts proceeded haltingly and as of now there is really no end in sight to this conflict.   On the line with me to discuss the current situation in Yemen, the roots of the conflict, and potential opportunities to advance a peace process is Adam Baron, a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. Adam goes pretty deep into the historic roots of instability in Yemen, which he traces to the early 1990s.   If you have 20 minutes and want to understand how the crisis in Yemen was able to devolve into the catastrophe it is today, have a listen.     
This is the worst crisis in the world that gets the least amount of attention  


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Over the course of the last six weeks or so, I've received a series of increasingly urgent sounding press releases from various humanitarian organizations operating in the far northeastern region of Nigeria, called Borno state.    In July, I received this from MSF saying (in all caps) "NIGERIA: CATASTROPHIC MALNUTRITION IN BORNO STATE...A major humanitarian operation is needed to save lives in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state, where more than 500,000 people are living in catastrophic conditions" 

Also in July, I received an email from UNICEF saying, "An estimated quarter of a million children in Borno state, North-East Nigeria, face severe malnourishment and risk death"

And from Mercy Corps, in August: "An estimated 7 million people are in need of lifesaving aid in the worst affected areas in the northeast; of those, an estimated 2.5 million people are malnourished and lack access to food and safe drinking water." 

This leads me to conclude that the situation in Northeaster Nigeria and the broader Lake Chad basin is arguably the worst crisis in the world that receives the least amount of attention.

This crisis has been festering for several years as the Boko Haram insurgency gripped the region. But over the past year, Boko Haram has been on the retreat and much of Borno state and the surrounding region has been liberated from Boko Haram.    So why now is this crisis seemingly coming to light.?    On the line with me with answer that very question, offer a grounds-eye perspective on this humanitarian crisis, and describe what can be done to mitigate it is Adrian Ouvry, a humanitarian advisor with Mercy Corps. He recently returned from Borno state and discusses why the levels of malnutrition currently experienced in this region may just be the tip of the iceberg. 



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Episode 123: Dr. Peter Hotez  

Dr. Peter Hotez is one of the world's leading experts on so-called Neglected Tropical Diseases. These are a set of diseases, often times parasitic, that have historically afflicted the absolute poorest people on the planet. Some of these diseases are better known, like hookworm or leprosy, and now Zika. But most are virtually unknown outside the medical community, and I suspect many doctors as well, have probably never heard of many of them.

That may soon change, thanks in part to the work of Dr. Peter Hotez. He is the founding dean of the first national school of tropical medicine in the United States, which is located at the Baylor College of medicine in Houston.     Dr. Hotez is out with a new book called Blue Marble Health that offers evidence to support a provocative thesis that most of the global burden of these neglected tropical diseases can actually be found in the world's wealthiest countries, including the United States. It is poverty among wealth that enables these diseases to fester. And we kick off discussing this theory, before learning how a mild mannered researcher from the great state of Connecticut ends up becoming obsessed with hookworms.   


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An Important Message from Mark  


I need your help. I need you to support the show. If you can afford it, then please click the link below and make a contribution. I--literally--can do this without you. Or, to put this another way, I can't keep this podcast going without diversifying my funding streams. We get some ads, but not enough to keep the lights on.  Help us keep the lights on, and the quality of content high. 





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Episode 122: Clarissa Ward  

Clarissa Ward is an award winning journalist who has covered conflict for over a decade, mostly in the Middle East. She is now with CNN and earlier this year she and a small crew snuck into rebel held territory in Syria, including the city of Aleppo from where she filed several intense and harrowing stories.  

In August, Clarissa was invited to a special meeting of the Security Council about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. We kick off discussing her Security Council briefing and latest reporting trip to Syria.    Clarissa was born and raised in London, New York and Hong Kong and is a true polyglot. She discusses how and why she was drawn to journalism and how early experiences of covering conflict in Gaza and Lebanon shaped her later reporting covering the conflict in Syria.  


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An Insane Drug War in the Philippines  

The new bombastic and brash president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte is undertaking a war on drugs like no other country on earth. In the last few months, hundreds of alleged drug offenders have been killed on the streets, many by vigilante groups empowered by the government. Meanwhile, Duterte has released a list of hundreds of public officials that he claims are involved in the drugs trade. 

It's a human rights disaster unfolding in real time and another indication that Duterte is a singularly unique--and some may say threatening -- individual in global affairs.    My guest today Dr. Tom Smith of the University of Portsmouth at the Royal Airforce College Cranwel describes how Duterte, a long serving mayor of the city of Davao unexpectedly emerged as president of the Philippines in elections this year, and how he is applying harsh anti-crime tactics honed at the municipal level on a national scale.     This is a war on drugs like no other on earth.   
Episode 121: Greg Stanton  


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Greg Stanton has spent a career researching and fighting genocide. He speaks candidly about the psychological toll of this line of work and managing the PTSD which he confronts to this day. 

Stanton is a descendent of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and as you'll learn from this conversation, the human rights gene runs strong in this family. His father was a liberal preacher and civil rights activist, and Greg tells me the most dangerous place he's ever worked, to this day, was registering black voters in Mississippi in the 1960s.    Greg is the founder of the NGO Genocide watch. His career as a genocide scholar and activist began in the 1980s as an humanitarian worker in Cambodia, and he recounts collecting evidence of war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. Greg served for many years in the State Department as well, including in Rwanda to help establish the war crimes tribunal following the 1994 genocide. We kick off discussing an ongoing genocide against the Yazidi people in Iraq and Syria.   The subject matter of this episode is pretty heavy and i just want to thank Greg for being so open and honest about the emotional challenges he's faced throughout his career.   As regular listeners know, we sometimes have some ads before the start of a show. Those ads are helpful, but they are inconsistent and I need consistency to be able to produce this show every week. To that end, I've put up a link on Global Dispatches where you can make a financial contribution to the podcast; and for anyone who makes a recurring monthly contribution to the podcast I can mail a book, at random, from my personal collection of foreign policy books. If you are listening to this on iTunes you can go to that donation page right now by clicking here. THANK YOU! 
Why the Battle for Aleppo is So Consequential  

There is a catastrophe underway in the Syrian city  of  Aleppo. The city has been at the center of fighting since the civil war broke out in 2011, but in recent weeks the battle for Aleppo has become much more intense. And caught in the middle are 2 million people. Food is scarce. Hospitals have been bombed. Humanitarian aid has not been able to reach the city. And earlier this week, the UN warned that water supply has been cut off for about a week. 

On the line with me to discuss the situation in Aleppo is Dave DesRoches, a professor at National Defense University. We discuss the strategic significance of Aleppo in the context of the civil war, that is, why fighting for control of the city of Aleppo is so consequential to the trajectory of the entire conflict; he describes the various fighting forces that are converging on Aleppo to participate in this fight, their disparate motives;  the role of the United States and Russia, and of course the dire humanitarian consequences of this particularly brutal fight. 
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