The Great Decisions program is a series of discussions on current international issues based on materials from the Foreign Policy Association.
The Great Decisions discussion series uses materials developed by the Foreign Policy Association, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization formed in 1918 to promote understanding of international affairs. Learning materials include a briefing book and a videotape set. Tapes are usually broadcast on the local cable access channel.
The Midland League has sponsored the Great Decisions program of the Foreign Policy Association for more than thirty years.
During the first months of Donald Trump's presidency, the U.S. began a historic shift away from Pax Americana, the liberal international order that was established in the wake of World War II. Since 1945, Pax Americana has promised peaceful international relations and an open economy, buttressed by U.S. military power. In championing "America First" isolationism and protectionism, President Trump has shifted the political mood toward selective U.S. engagement, where foreign commitments are limited to areas of vital U.S. interest and economic nationalism is the order of the day. Geopolitical allies and challengers alike are paying close attention.
Russia's foreign policy
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is projecting an autocratic model of governance abroad and working to undermine the influence of liberal democracies, namely along Russia's historical borderlands. Russia caused an international uproar in 2016, when it interfered in the U.S. presidential contest. But Putin's foreign policy toolkit includes other instruments, from alliances with autocrats to proxy wars with the U.S. in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. How does Putin conceive of national interests, and why do Russian citizens support him? How should the United States respond to Putin's foreign policy ambitions?
China and America: the new geopolitical equation
In the last 15 years, China has implemented a wide-ranging strategy of economic outreach and expansion of all its national capacities, including military and diplomatic capacities. Where the United States has taken a step back from multilateral trade agreements and discarded the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), China has made inroads through efforts like the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). What are Beijing's geopolitical objectives? What leadership and political conditions in each society underlie growing Sino-American tensions? What policies might Washington adopt to address this circumstance?
Media and foreign policy
State and non-state actors today must maneuver a complex and rapidly evolving media landscape. Conventional journalism now competes with user-generated content. Official channels of communication can be circumvented through social media. Foreign policy is tweeted from the White House and "fake news" has entered the zeitgeist. Cyberwarfare, hacking and misinformation pose complex security threats. How are actors using media to pursue and defend their interests in the international arena? What are the implications for U.S. policy?
Turkey: a partner in crisis
Of all NATO allies, Turkey represents the most daunting challenge for the Trump administration. In the wake of a failed military coup in July 2016, the autocratic trend in Ankara took a turn for the worse. One year on, an overwhelming majority of the population considers the United States to be their country's greatest security threat. In this age of a worsening "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, even more important than its place on the map is what Turkey symbolically represents as the most institutionally Westernized Muslim country in the world.
U.S. global engagement and the military
The global power balance is rapidly evolving, leaving the United States at a turning point with respect to its level of engagement and the role of its military. Some argue for an "America First" paradigm, with a large military to ensure security, while others call for a more assertive posture overseas. Some advocate for a restoration of American multilateral leadership and a strengthened role for diplomacy. Still others envision a restrained U.S. role, involving a more limited military. How does the military function in today's international order, and how might it be balanced with diplomatic and foreign assistance capabilities?
South Africa's fragile democracy
The African National Congress (ANC) party has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. But the party today suffers from popular frustration over official corruption and economic stagnation. It faces growing threats from both left and right opposition parties, even as intraparty divisions surface. Given America's history of opportunistic engagement with Africa, there are few prospects for a closer relationship between the two countries. Meanwhile, a weaker ANC could lead to political fragmentation in this relatively new democracy.
Global health: progress and challenges
The collective action of countries, communities and organizations over the last 30 years has literally saved millions of lives around the world. Yet terrible inequalities in health and wellbeing persist. The world now faces a mix of old and new health challenges, including the preventable deaths of mothers and children, continuing epidemics of infectious diseases, and rising rates of chronic disease. We also remain vulnerable to the emergence of new and deadly pandemics. For these reasons, the next several decades will be just as important--if not more so--than the last in determining wellbeing across nations.
Become better informed by attending one of the Great Decisions study groups, coordinated locally by the League of Women Voters. Become part of a group that reads and hears what others have to say about important world issues. The Great Decision briefing books are hot off the press in November so the material is quite up to date. Discussion groups will begin in mid January.
New members are always welcome. You do not have to be a LWV member to join a group.
Groups set their own pace. Most begin in January or February and wrap up in March and April. The Great Decisions briefing book provides participants with analysis and resources for discussion. There is also a DVD series.
Participants can choose a group that meets for two hours on Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, or Thursday evening. If these times don't work for you, consider gathering some friends and forming your own group.
Discussion groups will be announced early in 2018. To sign up, form a group or for further information call Sandy Burmester 832-3079.