The PODSERVE player:
Episode #64, Biden and Xi at Bali: The Limits of Engagement. The first in-person Biden-Xi summit was reasonably successful in that each president pledged to avoid war and seek common ground on issues such as climate change. But mutual understanding of their differences on national security is still lacking, jeopardizing the goodwill that emerged from Bali. China sees the US as interfering in its internal affairs, Taiwan first and foremost, in order to weaken communist party rule, whereas the US sees China as a strategic threat, intending to undermine US global predominance.
Episode #63, Ending Military Ties with Saudi Arabia. US military ties to Saudi Arabia have compromised US policy on human rights, energy, and the war in Yemen. The Saudi leader has leveraged OPEC oil production to secure US arms and defense of the kingdom while avoiding the policy reevaluation promised by Biden. It is time to sever military ties.
Episode #62, On Dealing with Russia: Nuclear Weapons and the Off-Ramp. Two issues now dominate discussion of the Ukraine war: How to deter Russia from using a nuclear weapon, and whether there is an off-ramp for Putin that would bring the war to an end. I find that most analysts, and apparently the US government, are more hopeful than confident about how to respond to either problem. There is no lack of ideas about responding to a “limited” nuclear use by Russia, but when it comes to an off-ramp, the alternatives seem to be either victory by one side or a cease-fire and negotiations that neither Russia nor Ukraine is ready to undertake.
Episode #61, Undermining Taiwan’s Security in the Name of Enhancing It. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bipartisan bill, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, that will dramatically increase US military and political support of Taiwan. If approved by the full Senate, the TPA will actually make Taiwan less secure and further heighten US-China tensions. Beijing is likely to consider that the TPA moves US policy another step closer to supporting Taiwan’s independence, its red line.
Episode #60, Predictions of a Ukraine Victory are Premature. Ukraine’s stunningly successful counteroffensive has led to unwarranted optimism that the end of the war may be in sight. But Vladimir Putin still has options even in the face of dissent at home and abroad. This episode discusses war-ending possibilities, the most likely of which is the exhaustion of one side and an eventual leadership change in Russia that leads to withdrawal from Ukraine territory.
Episode #59, Reengaging Iran. This episode poses the question: How might Middle East affairs be different if US-Iran relations were normalized, starting with agreement to revitalize the 2015 nuclear deal? If the deal is renewed, opportunities may exist to confront difficult regional issues such as nuclear weapons acquisition, Yemen’s civil war, and Israel-Iran hostility. Some analysts believe the ayatollah needs an American enemy, but he agreed to the deal in 2015–and the new deal is just as advantageous for the US as the previous one.
Episode #58: Brazil’s Election and the Amazon’s Future. The October presidential election in Brazil may well determine the fate of the Amazon’s forests, “the lungs of the earth.” Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president who protected the Amazon, faces off against the current president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose right-wing government favors corporate interests that have dramatically increased deforestation and fires. Lula is favored to win, but should Bolsonaro win or stage a coup, the Amazon will be at a tipping point.
Episode #57: India’s Failing Democracy. India is often billed as the world’s largest democracy, but the reality is quite different. The Modi government’s Hindi nationalism is a threat to India’s 200 million Muslims and violates India’s constitution. Modi’s social and economic programs have failed farmers, women, and children. An “illiberal democracy” or “electoral autocracy” best describes the Modi regime.
Episode #56: The Great Energy Game in Europe. The European Union faces two challenges in its great game with Putin over Russia’s natural gas and oil exports: maintaining unity as it reduces dependence on Russia, and moving more swiftly to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions.
Episode #55: Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip: A Needless Provocation. I critically examine House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to visit Taiwan at the height of US-China tensions. She said she wanted to help protect Taiwan’s democracy from a Chinese threat, but her trip actually increased China’s pressure on Taiwan and undermined US-China efforts to stabilize relations.
Episode #54, Back to the Future: Biden’s Middle East Trip. President Biden’s first Middle East trip was anything but a resounding success. What he mainly accomplished was to bring traditional US policy back to where it had been before Trump, including putting strategic and economic interests ahead of human rights in relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Episode #53, Water, Water, No Longer Everywhere. Water is drying up everywhere; oceans and rivers are becoming more polluted and poisoned; watersheds are being drained; quality drinking water is getting harder to come by. This dimension of the global environmental crisis calls out for immediate remedy. In this episode, I outline the water crisis abroad and at home, and mention some local-level attempts to combat it.
Episode #52, China’s Surveillance State, and Ours. China’s surveillance state relies on a host of intrusive technologies to insure what it calls social stability. The security forces leave no one above suspicion. Similar data collection technologies are already in wide use here, and present a threat to American women in the post-Roe v. Wade era.
Episode #51, Interview with Prof. Paul Marantz, Soviet and Russian foreign policy expert at the University of British Columbia, on Putin’s views on the war in Ukraine. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/63834/51-interview-of-prof-paul-marantz-russian-foreign-policy-and-the-war-in-ukraine.m4a
Episode #50, Europe’s Uneasy Unity in the Ukraine War. European unity is being tested in the Ukraine war on three issues: energy, food, and a way forward to ending the war. Russia’s cuts in energy exports to Europe, its blockade of Ukraine grain shipments, and its evident playing for time to achieve its expansive security ambitions all tend to exacerbate tensions within the alliance. I examine Europe’s responses to these issues in this episode.
Episode #49, Co-opted: The UN’s Failed Mission in Xinjiang. China’s mass internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province amounts to a crime on par with genocide. The UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, recently traveled to China to take stock. But the trip was a disaster for the UN and a propaganda coup for Beijing. It was a trip that should never have been made, and it cost Bachelet her job.
Episode #48, An Arsenal, But Not of Democracy. President Biden has referred to the US as an “arsenal of democracy,” symbolized by military aid to Ukraine. The US indeed is far and away the world leader in military spending and arms exports. It also leads, not coincidentally, in domestic arms sales and gun violence. Thus, the US is an arsenal, but not of democracy. This episode cites figures from the global arms business and its politics in the US to suggest just how out of control both are. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/61577/48-an-arsenal-but-not-of-democracy.mp3
Episode #47, Biden, Taiwan, and Strategic Ambiguity. This episode examines President Biden’s controversial comment that the US will “defend Taiwan.” Though Biden has departed from the traditional “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, he is not out of step with longstanding US military support of Taiwan. More disturbing is the intensifying US-China competition all over Asia, which holds the danger of a violent confrontation.
Episode #46, North Korea: Missiles Over Human Security. The Omicron variant has caught up to North Korea, causing a potential human catastrophe in a country that not only lacks the resources to fight the pandemic, but is also making the wrong investments for security—in missiles and nuclear weapons. In this episode I suggest that the US and South Korea should persist in their offers of vaccine help to the North for both humanitarian and political reasons.
Episode #45, It’s Now or Never on Climate Change. In this episode I point to the kinds of achievable steps countries could take to avoid global calamity. Pressure tactics on governments and fossil fuel companies seem to have limited effectiveness. One of the more hopeful signs is the rapid shift to solar and wind power, with resulting lower costs. But clearly, it’s now or never if the goal is keeping global warming at 1.5℃ to 2.0.
Episode #44, China’s COVID Disaster. China’s initial success at dealing with the COVID pandemic has been replaced by a failing response to the Omicron variant. In this episode, I examine the failure and its social and political consequences. Popular anger at the new round of lockdowns comes at a bad time for Xi Jinping. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/58437/44-chinas-covid-disaster.mp3
Episode #43, The Coming of the Old New Order. This episode of “The Global Citizen” considers how different outcomes in Ukraine will affect Europe’s security order. Three conclusions seem clear: Regardless of the ending, the security situation will be dangerous, costly, and divided much as Europe was during the Cold War. Central and East Asia are likely to face similarly difficult times. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/58102/43-the-coming-of-the-old-new-order.mp3
Episode #42, Crimes of War. War crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide are all too common in our time. Russia’s forces in Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin personally, are being accused of all these crimes of war. Many obstacles stand in the way of prosecution and punishment, but international law does have value beyond naming and shaming.
Episode #41, The War: A Bonanza for Big Oil. I examine the push by the major oil companies for increased domestic production and a halt to Biden’s clean energy plans. Big Oil is taking full advantage of the Ukraine war in profits and drilling. Biden is putting gas-war politics ahead of climate change security. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/55789/41-the-war-a-bonanza-for-big-oil.mp3
Episode #40, When Will It End, and How? How will the war in Ukraine end? In this episode, I explore what a Ukraine-Russia agreement might entail and the obstacles that stand in the way. But there is no certainty that the war will end in an agreement, since neither country may be willing to make the necessary concessions.
Episode #39, An Engagement Moment with China On Ukraine. Facing a catastrophic war in Ukraine and Russian pressure to provide military and economic aid, China continues to sit on the fence, at least publicly. Doing so has a cost: the undermining of China’s claim to be a “responsible great power.” I explore China’s leadership failure in this episode.
Episode #38, Thinking the Unthinkable in the Ukraine Crisis. I list seven possible disaster scenarios in Ukraine that will face the US and NATO with exceptionally difficult decisions about how, or whether, to respond. Russia’s use of a weapon of mass destruction, obliteration of Kyiv, and show trials for Ukraine’s leaders are among the possibilities. For the West, there are no easy answers. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/54040/38-thinking-about-the-unthinkable-in-the-ukraine-crisis.mp3
Episode #37, Putin’s Nightmare. In the midst of Russian aggression there are three silver linings: Ukraine’s courageous resistance, NATO’s unity, and awareness of Putin’s true face. But let’s not back him into a corner.
Episode #36, Putin’s War. Vladimir Putin has put Russia at war with Europe, the United States, and the rest of the democratic world. His reckless adventurism seems designed to reimpose a Soviet-era sphere of influence. As Dr. Mel Gurtov argues in this 36th Podserve episode, resisting Russia must be bold but undertaken with great care because of the danger inherent in a confrontation with a nuclear-weapon state.
Episode #35, Employing Confidence Building Measures in the Ukraine Crisis. The Ukraine crisis is at a critical juncture, with very little movement toward a diplomatic resolution. In this episode, I propose a shift from seeking a major NATO-Russia agreement on European security to using CBMs—confidence building measures—meaning small steps to ease tensions and prevent miscalculations. CBMs seem far more likely than a grand bargain to gain agreement from all sides. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/52277/35-confidence-building-measures-in-the-ukraine-crisis.mp3
Episode #34, China-Russia Relations and the Crisis in Ukraine. With Vladimir Putin in Beijing right now, the Biden administration reportedly is worried that China’s close ties with Russia will further impede prospects for a negotiated resolution of the crisis. But China’s interests and Russia’s don’t always intersect. Theirs is a marriage of convenience, not an alliance.
Episode #33, Downhill from the Summit for Democracy. When Joe Biden first announced a Summit for Democracy shortly after taking office,it was a bad idea. Now that the Senate has rejected the Democrats’ voting rights bill, we can see that the Summit was an even worse idea. The Summit attracted quite a few undemocratic countries, but the US, ranked 83 by Freedom House, hardly qualifies as an exemplar of democracy. Trumpism’s continuing influence must be Biden’s target; when, or if, he hits it, a summit may be worth having. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/49924/33-downhill-from-the-summit-for-democracy.mp3
Episode #32, Destroying Democracy in Hong Kong. China has systematically crushed popular protests in Hong Kong along with civil society, free elections, and the independent media. Beijing’s promise of 50 years of autonomy for Hong Kong is gone, and in its place are China loyalists and governing bodies that lack legitimacy. Sanctions and shaming are about all the US and other concerned governments have to influence China’s policies.
Episode #31, The Pandemic and US-China Cooperation. Prof. Dali Yang at the University of Chicago is a leading analyst of Chinese politics. He has written extensively on the handling of the COVID pandemic in China and the US. In this interview he comments on past US-China public health cooperation, the impact of the trade war and COVID on relations, and prospects for a resumption of collaboration.
Episode #30, The Battle Over Cobalt. Cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the object of intense US-China competition, with the global electric car market the prize for the winning countries. China is far ahead of the US, but its companies face problems that cooperation with the US might alleviate. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/46515/30-the-battle-over-cobalt.mp3
Episode #29, War or Diplomacy Over Ukraine? The current crisis over Ukraine reflects Vladimir Putin’s fear of democracy as much as fear of NATO enlargement. Whether or not Russia’s military buildup is the prelude to an attack on Ukraine, a new diplomatic initiative is essential. It will have to take not only Russia’s but also Ukraine’s security concerns into account.
Episode #28, Interview with Prof. Aurel Braun on Russia and Ukraine. In this interview on December 6, 2021, Prof. Braun at the University of Toronto assesses the state of Russia’s society and economy, Putin’s world view, and Russian interests in Ukraine. He distinguishes the Kremlin’s apparent successes at presenting strength abroad from its actual weaknesses at home. Putin’s large-scale deployments to Ukraine may be an effort to divert attention from those weaknesses. But however much Putin fears Ukraine as a potential democracy, he is not reckless, and an actual invasion of Ukraine seems unlikely at the moment. A diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis, however, seems equally unlikely. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/45270/28-interview-of-prof-aurel-braun-on-russian-foreign-policy.m4a
Episode #27, The US and Yemen: Putting a Disreputable Policy Right. Yemen’s civil war has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, mainly caused by Saudi Arabia’s intervention. US military support of the Saudis continues despite promises by President Biden to end it. In this episode I examine the human impact of Saudi Arabia’s bombing and blockade in Yemen and argue that US military aid to Saudi Arabia should immediately end.
Episode #26, Finding Common Ground with China. In the midst of all the wrangling between the US and China about human rights, trade, Taiwan, and a host of other issues, a central concern both countries share is how to manage the relationship. What is the most effective structure for ensuring that conflict over issues doesn’t spill over into actual conflict? The Biden-Xi virtual summit did not provide an answer, but did help reduce tensions. A US strategy of engagement with China should be the next step, and Chinese commentaries suggest it would be welcome.
Episode #25, Israel’s Mistreatment of Palestinians Continues. The defeat of the Netanyahu government has hardly changed Israeli policies on Palestine and the Palestinians. This episode particularly notes the expansion of Israeli settlements and the designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations. Also discussed is the failure of the Arab states to come to the support of the Palestinians and a two-state solution. The Biden administration has been mildly critical of Israeli policy but has not used its leverage to push for change. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/43705/25-israels-mistreatment-of-palestinians-continues.mp3
Episode #24, Interview of Keith Luse on North Korea. Keith Luse, Executive Director of the National Committee on North Korea, examines recent developments in North Korean society, its national defense priorities, and relations with the US. He dissects controversial issues such as use of sanctions, the North Korean threat to the US, and the role of domestic politics in both the North and the US in shaping the leadership’s views in both countries. The NCNK, a nonpartisan organizations, promotes “principled engagement” with North Korea. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/43536/24-interview-of-keith-luse-on-north-korea.m4a
Episode #23, “Dim Prospects for Climate Mitigation” As COP26 opens in Scotland, the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on climate change reveals numerous international security challenges that will undermine chances of reaching the 2015 Paris Agreement goals. At bottom, national self-interest is highly likely, as usual, to have priority over the global community interest.
Episode #22, “Gravy Train: Corporate Profiteering on National Security” In this episode I return to the topic of Pentagon economics and the military-industrial complex. Wartime or peacetime, US military spending spirals upward, to the benefit of the weapons makers and pro-defense Congress members. It’s a gravy train, and beneficial to all the parties. President Eisenhower’s famous comment that excessive military spending is “a theft” from social programs is especially pertinent today. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/42179/22-gravy-train-corporate-profiteering-on-national-defense.mp3
Episode #21, “Dissecting North Korea’s Missile Tests” North Korea’s latest round of short- and long-range missile tests come at the same time that South Korea is also testing missiles and North and South Korean leaders are exchanging messages about peace talks. What to make of these seemingly contradictory developments? I argue for putting emphasis on prospects for diplomacy between North and South, and between North Korea and the US. The Biden administration should return to the 2005 agreement on “action for action,” which in particular means gradually reducing sanctions on the North in exchange for a moratorium on missile testing. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/41603/21-dissecting-north-koreas-missile-tests.mp3
Episode #20, “Donald Trump, Traitor” Donald Trump and his supporters are openly engaged in subversion of the US political system–the Constitution, the rule of law, the electoral process. He is not only a demagogue, he is a traitor, and he must be stopped before the country descends into widespread violence. The January 6 insurrection is mere prologue.
Episode #19, “The China Initiative: A Harmful Dragnet” President Biden is continuing a justice department “China Initiative” that aims to prosecute Chinese and US citizens allegedly involved in economic espionage. The main effect of this dragnet is to limit educational and scientific exchanges with China, which once had strong bipartisan support. But now, as relations with China have deteriorated, Chinese graduate students and researchers, and Chinese American scientists, are being viewed with suspicion and even hostility. The China Initiative is doing real long-term harm to the US economy, its scientific research, and the US reputation for openness to international collaboration.
Episode #18, Interview of Richard Tanter on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Tanter, an Australian expert on nuclear weapons with the Nautilus Institute, discusses the groundbreaking treaty and its legal, political, and ethical implications at a time when nuclear war prevention is again a central international issue. Interviewed Sept. 1, 2021.
Episode #17, “Two Serious Errors on the Road to Afghanistan” Along the road of war in Afghanistan, the US missed an opportunity to negotiate with the Taliban in 2001 and negotiated Afghanistan away in 2020. This episode explores both events and what they tell us about the American experience in that country. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/38978/17-two-costly-negotiating-errors-in-afghanistan.mp3
Episode #16, Interview with Benon Sevan. In this interview on August 26, 2021, I discuss the Afghanistan war and the return of Taliban rule with Benon Sevan, a longtime senior official with the UN and former personal representative of the secretary-general from 1988 to 1991. Mr. Sevan comments on the futility of nation building in Afghanistan, the American misadventure, and the prospects for international cooperation in working with the Taliban, among other issues. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/38430/16-interview-of-benon-sevan-former-un-official-in-afghanistan.m4a
Episode #15, “After Afghanistan: Will US Military Power Wane?” In this episode I dispute the criticism that defeat in Afghanistan will constrain US military power. US bases overseas and other elements of power projection will not be affected, nor will US credibility with allies suffer. As happened after the Vietnam War, doubts at home and abroad about US power will dissipate. Unfortunately, the most important lessons to be learned from Afghanistan, about the need for military restraint and introspection about American hubris, seem likely not to be learned. https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/38359/15-after-afghanistan-will-us-military-power-wane.mp3
Episode #14, “The Afghanistan Debacle.” The terrible denouement of the Afghan War was actually widely anticipated by military and civilian officials years earlier. The reasons, which boil down to American hubris and exceptionalism, are strikingly similar to those that led to defeat in Vietnam. As an author of the Pentagon Papers, I examine US policymaking with comparisons to what the Afghanistan Papers have uncovered. A fuller version of this podcast, with sources and charts, can be found on my blog site, https://melgurtov.com, Post #308.
Episode #13, “Pegasus and the Global Surveillance Business.” Pegasus spyware, developed by an Israeli company, has penetrated the smart phones of thousands of activists, journalists, and political leaders. Some 50,000 names have so far been uncovered, including current government officials around the world. The Pegasus case shows that neither the producers nor the users of surveillance technology can be trusted to prevent criminal abuses.
Episode #12, “The Lobbying-Industrial Complex” examines influence peddling in Washington: the lobbying firms and the people who pay huge sums for access to policy makers. It’s a pernicious business that undermines democratic policy making. I look at three areas of lobbying: social media, voting rights, and foreign policy. The written version of this podcast, with sources, can be found at Mel’s blog at melgurtov.com.
Episode #11, “Brazil, Beyond Bolsonaro”
This is an interview July 23 with Prof. James N. Green, the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Latin American History at Brown University. He’s an expert on Brazil where, under the rightwing government of Jair Bolsonaro, over a half million people have died from the pandemic, democracy has been set back, and the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people have suffered immensely. Green, author and co-editor of 11 books on Brazil and Latin America in English and six in Portuguese, is the National Co-coordinator of the U.S. Network for Democracy in Brazil.
Episode #10, “Intervention in Haiti?” Foreign meddling in Haiti’s latest political crisis is the last thing the Haitian people need. Nor is an immediate election for a new president a useful answer to a population with a multitude of human security problems. There are civil society groups with a grassroots agenda that should be consulted and relied upon to address Haitians’ real needs while sidelining self-interested politicians.
Episode #9, “Reining in Presidential Warmaking.” I critically examine presidential authority to use force, an authority that has consistently been granted by Congress. Recent Authorizations to Use Military Force (AUMF) have provided blank checks for warfare, whereas the 1993 War Powers Bill has been systematically ignored or slighted. Thus both Congress and presidents are responsible for an abuse of power, and only a redefinition of US national security, with emphasis on diplomacy over use of force, can remedy the situation.
Episode #8, “Return of the Nuclear Peril,” examines the new global threat posed by “modernization” of nuclear weapons arsenals in the US, Russia, and China. What the major nuclear-weapon states should be doing is further reducing nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and signing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Episode #7, “Saving the Iran Nuclear Deal,” urges swift action by the Biden administration to begin dismantling sanctions on Iran in advance of a new, hard-line president taking office in Tehran. Renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal is in the best interests of the US and the Middle East.
Episode #6, “The Pentagon’s Untouchable Budget,” delineates the 8-point narrative used by all administrations to justify excessive military spending. Biden could draw from the $752 billion proposed FY2022 Pentagon budget to help finance his economic recovery proposals, but he won’t touch it. Listen at
Episode #5 emphasizes the threat to America’s democracy posed by the far-right Republican leadership, and urges Pres. Biden to act decisively on voting rights. The consequences of failure will be severe for the conduct of US foreign policy and for the country’s democratic system. Listen at
Episodes #3 and 4 address US-China relations at a time of increasing friction. #3 raises questions about Biden’s China policy, which seems to be heavy on criticism of China (some of it well-deserved) but light on engagement for mutual benefit. Listen at https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/31753/bidens-puzzling-china-policy.m4a. #4 focuses on the dangerous escalation of tensions over Taiwan, with a look back at a US-China crisis in 1958 that almost led to US use of nuclear weapons. Each side’s misreading of the other’s intentions then could be repeated, with catastrophic consequences. Listen at https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/32051/is-a-us-china-war-over-taiwan-possible.m4a
Episodes #1 and 2, concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, are available at: