Pacific Pundit

Welcome to Pacific Pundit, a podcast on Asian geopolitics, foreign policy, and history hosted by Van Jackson. We're here to make sense of the world's most important region, and America's role in it.
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Pacific Pundit


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Aug 30, 2017
In this episode, we talk about the various ways conspiratorial thinking has encroached on the Asia-Pacific and US foreign policy.  We explore a number of recent developments ripe for competing explanations, including the surprising centrality of East Asia in Steve Bannon's nativist worldview and why Singapore recently expelled political scientist Huang Jing.  In our history segment, we introduce the greatest conspiracy in the history of East Asia--a memorandum between William Howard Taft and Japan's Katsura Taro in 1905.  We also discuss a tandem pair of recommended readings; one about the "paranoid style" in American politics, and the other a leaked memo from the National Security Council that embodies such paranoia.
Music: Carl Ranson Vorpahl. Producer: Tre Hester.
Aug 9, 2017

Don't call it a comeback! In this episode of "Pacific Pundit," we explain the many perils of preventive attacks against North Korea. Our history segment discusses the crazy options the U.S. considered to prevent China from going nuclear in the 1960s. In a satirical role play with Mira Rapp-Hooper (Yale's Paul Tsai China Center and the Center for a New American Security), we walk through every argument that war hawks might make in favor of bombing North Korea. We also discuss research that highlights the theories and risks of preventive attacks against North Korea, and urges making the avoidance of nuclear conflict the foremost policy goal for the Korean Peninsula.

Music: Carl Ranson Vorpahl; Producer: Tre Hester

Apr 20, 2017

In this episode, we explain how the Pentagon gets coercion wrong, what hip-hop tells us about deterrence, and why it all matters.  Our history segment recalls Operation Rolling Thunder, the failed bombing campaign of North Vietnam.  And in an interview with Matt Fuhrmann (Stanford University, Texas A&M University), we discuss his new co-authored book (with Todd Sescher), Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, and how unhelpful nuclear weapons are for coercion. 

Music: Carl Ranson Vorpahl

Producer: Tre Hester

Mar 7, 2017

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we debate whether grand strategy under Trump is possible, and the role that his new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, will play. Our history segment recalls the national security policy processes Henry Kissinger ran during the Nixon administration. Next, in a wide ranging conversation with Hal Brands (of the School of Advanced International Studies), we talk about what grand strategy is good for, and why Trump’s “operational code” on foreign policy is scary as hell. We also introduce two pieces of scholarly commentary explaining why “Trump won’t get the best deals,” and how loose and inconsistent presidential rhetoric is feeding the worst predatory excesses of international anarchy.

Production: Tre Hester.

Music: Carl Ranson Vorpahl.​

Jan 26, 2017

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we think through the implications of President Trump’s words and deeds for the US “One China” policy.  Our historical segment explores Henry Kissinger’s negotiation with China’s Chou Enlai to establish the Shanghai Communique—the foundation of modern U.S. relations with China.  In expert interviews, we get Mira Rapp Hooper (Center for a New American Security) and Dean Cheng (The Heritage Foundation) to weigh in with advice on how to navigate China-Taiwan relations during the Trump administration.  And in a recently declassified National Intelligence Estimate from 1999, we discover what the CIA believed China’s “red lines” were for Taiwan. 

Music and production by Tre Hester.  ​

Dec 27, 2016

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we bring strategic sense to Southeast Asia and the rhetoric of Filipino strongman, Rodrigo Duterte. Our history segment considers how Cosimo de Medici used political communication to consolidate power in Florentine Italy during the 15th century. In a conversation with Joshua Kurlantzick (Council on Foreign Relations), we discuss how much power President Duterte really has, how unique he is compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, and how important political changes there are for the United States. We also talk about Kurlantzick's new book, A Great Place to Have a War. In the final segment we examine research by Evelyn Goh for clues about how to understand Duterte's strategic hedging between China and the United States.

Music: Nangdo - Skaffa Flute.

Production: Tre Hester.

Nov 18, 2016

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we explore the possibilities for US Asia policy under President-elect Trump, from continuity and stability to disaster and nuclear war.  Our history segment recalls the campaign rhetoric and foreign policy promises of Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential run.  And in conversations with an eclectic group of experts--Hugh White (Australian National University), Michael Horowitz (University of Pennsylvania), and Ali Wyne (Atlantic Council)--we debate Donald Trump's war propensity, the failure of "NeverTrump" open letters, and how Asia will respond to a Trump presidency.  Music by Carl Ranson Vorpahl.​

Oct 26, 2016

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we have the audacity to argue that great power competition exists between the United States and China. Our history segment reminisces about War Plan Orange and the importance of taking a long view of competition when faced with rising revisionist powers. In conversations with Oriana Mastro (Georgetown University) and Tai Ming Cheung (UC San Diego), we explore various causes and consequences of competition between the United States and China.  We also turn to new research by Phil Saunders and Julia Bowie in the Journal of Strategic Studies that examines the military side of Sino-US relations. Music by Nangdo--Foolin' (Chrome "Album") and The Look (Chrome "Album").

Oct 4, 2016

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we explore the scope, causes and consequences of trilateral cooperation in Asia.  In our history segment, we revisit how the Australia-New Zealand-US (ANZUS) alliance broke up in the 1980s.  We discuss Japan-South Korea-US cooperation with Brad Glosserman (Pacific Forum CSIS); China-Japan-South Korea cooperation with Andrew Yeo (Catholic University of America); and EU-US cooperation in Asia with Sharon Stirling (German Marshall Fund of the United States). We also turn to research by Amy Catalinac (New York University) to better understand why and when trilateral relationships might prove vulnerable to disruption.

Sep 15, 2016

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we put North Korea's fifth nuclear test in a historical, theoretical, and policy context.  We review historical evidence revealing U.S. preferences for preventive nuclear war when America was a new nuclear power.  Our guest is Dr. Vipin Narang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who talks about his book Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era (Princeton University Press) and what it means for North Korean nuclear doctrine.  And at the end of the show, we explain the changes needed to alliance deterrence, military posture, and public diplomacy to adapt to the realities of North Korea as a second-tier nuclear-armed adversary.  

Aug 24, 2016

In this episode, we explain why William Seward is the OG of US Asia strategy, debate the origins of the rebalance to Asia under President Obama, and bring on two guests-- James Brown (University of Sydney), explaining how Asia and Australia are viewing the United States and China, and Evan Montgomery (Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments), discussing the importance of military superiority for any grand strategy. Evan also discusses what his new book, In the Hegemon’s Shadow (Cornell University Press), means for future US strategy toward Asia. 

Aug 8, 2016

In this first episode of our new podcast, Pacific Pundit, we explain why offshore balancing strategies are a loser's bet, critique an article by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer advocating an offshore balancing grand strategy, and interview Dr. Denny Roy, Senior Fellow at the East-West Center and most recently author of the book Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security (Columbia University Press).We talk about how America became a wealthy great power--it wasn't through isolation.