The Vineyard Haven Public Library Great Decisions Discussion Group will meet for 8 sessions on Thursday evenings at 7pm, beginning April 6th.
A Great Decisions Discussion Group is composed of interested individuals who want an opportunity to learn and participate in the foreign policy decision-making process. The Foreign Policy Association (FPA) has published the Great Decisions briefing book, a well researched annual publication covering eight timely global topics to be read by group participants in order to prepare for each discussion. At each meeting we will show a 30 minute documentary film on that week's topic, to be followed by a moderated discussion.
Please register online or at the library. The briefing book may be purchased for $25 from the FPA website at www.fpa.org, or by calling (800) 477-5836. A limited number of copies will be available to read in the library.
Topics and meeting dates:
Thursday, April 6th
The Future of Europe: Coping with Crisis
The outcome of the United Kingdom referendum on EU membership sent shockwaves across the globe. It even caught British voters by surprise. The European Union has helped secure peace in Europe for the past 70 years. Now it faces an uncertain future. Amid a refugee crisis, lingering financial recession and the constant specter of terrorism, unity seems more imperative than ever. But the Brexit vote underscores the complexities of integrating an extremely diverse continent. What will post-Brexit Europe look like, and how can U.S. foreign policy adapt?
Thursday, April 13th
Trade, Jobs and Politics
The U.S. political mood toward trade has gone sour. One need look no further than the 2016 presidential contest for the popular narrative: trade means that China wins, at America’s expense. But do the numbers support that conclusion? The metrics used to gauge economic strength—Gross Domestic Product and balance of trade—have not kept up with the realities of modern manufacturing. Obtaining an accurate picture of U.S. economic stature requires a critique of those numbers. Only then can the U.S. develop appropriate policy solutions for the challenges at hand.
Thursday, April 20th
Conflict in the South China Sea
The South China Sea is a locus of competing territorial claims, and China its most vocal claimant. Beijing’s interest has intensified disputes with other countries in the region in recent years, especially since China has increased its naval presence. Despite rising international pressure, including an unfavorable ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, China staunchly defends its policies in the region. Preventing tensions from boiling over is a matter of careful diplomacy.
Thursday, April 27th
Saudi Arabia in Transition
As Saudi Arabia struggles to adjust to the drastic decline in oil revenue, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman attempts to boldly transform the country and shift more power to the younger generation. At the same time, many countries such as the U.S. point out the lack of democracy, women’s rights and human rights in Saudi Arabia, and blame its promotion of Wahhabism, an extremely conservative version of Islam, for creating jihadists. Bipartisan criticism of Saudi Arabia is rising in Congress. Both countries need each other, but they are at a crossroads in bilateral relations.
Thursday, May 4th
U.S. Foreign Policy and Petroleum
What is the effect of U.S. petroleum security on foreign policy? For 45 years, the country has alternated between periods of energy security and insecurity, sometimes able to wield petroleum as a useful instrument of foreign policy, sometimes not. Despite the so-called “energy revolution,” the U.S. today is by no means disentangled from foreign dependence and global trends. In order to be successful, policymakers must recognize both petroleum security circumstances and patterns in the relationship between petroleum and foreign policy.
Thursday, May 11th
Latin America's Political Pendulum
The pendulum of Latin American politics is swinging rightward once again. Yet as the “pink tide” recedes, the forces of change have more to do with socioeconomics than ideology. Dramatic economic and political crises have coincided in countries like Brazil and Venezuela. Still, the final result for Latin America may be the emergence of centrist, pragmatic modes of governance, and with them, opportunities for the U.S. to improve relations. The new administration must look beyond the neoliberal model of the 1990s, and develop an approach to relations fit for the 21st century.
Thursday, May 18th
Prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Major internal conflict has plagued Afghanistan for four decades. The U.S., for its part, has conducted military operations in the country nearly continuously since 9/11. Today, war with the Taliban persists, and tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have gradually deteriorated. As his time in office drew to a close, President Obama limited further withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The incoming administration has a choice: will it maintain the status quo, completely reverse the Obama administration drawdown or withdraw completely? Does the U.S. face a no win situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Thursday, May 25th
Nuclear Security: The Enduring Challenge of Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear nonproliferation was a top priority for the Obama administration. While the Iran Deal was a diplomatic victory toward this end, major threats persist from both state and non-state actors. Countries like North Korea, Russia, and India and Pakistan continue to challenge nonproliferation efforts. The possibility that terrorists will carry out an attack using a “dirty bomb,” made from captured nuclear materials, looks increasingly real. In a fractious world, which way forward for U.S. nuclear security policy?