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Great Decisions Lecture Series

Great Decisions Lecture Series
Great Decisions is the longest-running and largest grassroots world affairs educational program of its kind.

Each year, the Great Decisions program brings citizens together for lectures and small-group discussion to share ideas and opinions on the issues affecting our global future. 

The way it works: The Foreign Policy Association picks eight themes related to major issues in the arena of US foreign policy and international affairs. They publish the Great Decisions book with chapters by experts in the field to be used as a springboard for group conversation with Great Decisions Discussion Groups. Discussion Groups, like a book club, are self organizing and can meet anywhere you are (in classrooms, community centers, libraries, senior centers, and workplaces) to engage in spirited discussion of world affairs. 

Every winter, the Council presents the eight-week Great Decisions Lecture Series in partnership with Portland State University’s International Colloquium that features a wealth of perspective and opinion from diplomats, policy experts, academics, and foreign service professionals addressing the topics in the Great Decisions book. This program is free for WAC members, a $5 charge is required for non-members.

2017 Great Decisions Lecture Series

Great Decisions Returns

Fridays, January 13* — March 3, 12 p.m.

*Note: Friday January 13th lecture has been postponed to March 10, 2017 due to snowy road conditions. Stay tuned for venue information. Thank you!

Cosponsored by World Affairs Council & Portland State University's International Studies Department

The perennially popular Great Decisions lecture series returns in January, presented in conjunction with the International Colloquium at Portland State University.

January 13 Geopolitics of Energy

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. 

Speaker: Amy Below, Political Science, School of Public Policy, Oregon State University

January 20 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? 

Speaker: Najia Hyder, Deputy Regional Program Director - Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mercy Corps

January 27 The Future of Europe

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?

Speaker: Craig Parsons, Political Science, University of Oregon

February 3 A New Political Era in Latin America

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. 

Speaker: Fr. Claude Pomerleau, Associate Professor Emeritus, Political Science, University of Portland

February 10 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.

Speaker: Mel Gurtov, Professor Emeritus, Political Science and International Studies, Portland State University

February 17 Saudi Arabia in Transition

As Saudi Arabia struggles to adjust to the drastic decline in oil revenue, 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.

Speaker:Thomas Bartlett, Former President American University, Cairo, Past Chair, Board of Trustees, World Affairs Council of Oregon

February 24 Trade 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. 

Speaker: Doug Badger, Pacific Northwest International Trade Association, former Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy

March 3 Nuclear Security

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? 

Speaker: David Kinsella, Political Science, Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University


Note: speakers and dates subject to change. 

The 2017 Great Decisions Lecture Series takes place Fridays, January 13 - March 3, 12 p.m. at Portland State University, Academic & Student Recreation Center, 1800 SW 6th Ave, Portland, OR 97201. This exciting 8-week lecture program free to World Affairs Council Members; Admission to individual lectures is $5 for nonmembers 

Upcoming Great Decisions Events

There are not currently any upcoming events for this program.

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