Great Decisions 2024 – February and March

The WACMB offers these moderated discussions which for decades have generated insightful exchanges. Eight critical topics in the Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions 2024 briefing book will be discussed in a moderated group setting. After viewing an online master class for each topic, which complements the week’s reading, participants are invited to share their knowledge and views. Those who would prefer to listen rather than be an active participant in the discussions are welcome.

Dates in 2024: Tuesdays, Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27 & March. 5, 12, 19, 26
Time: 5:00pm-6:30pm
Fee: Free – All Welcome (8 sessions)
Place: Livestream Zoom

There are two ways to register: send an email with your first and last name to discussiongroup@wacmb.org, or register via OLLI (from January 18) at https://olli.csumb.edu/courses/

The Great Decisions Briefing Book is not included. It provides background provided by recognized experts. Order directly, please: online at https://www.fpa.org/great_decisions/index.cfm?act=show_material&product_id=16886, or call (800) 477-5836, or email sales@fpa.org. Cost $35+ shipping (no shipping charge for ebook).

First topic: Mideast Realignment (February 6) – Marc Lynch
The United States and Middle East are at a crossroads. In spite of a reduced presence in the Middle East, the U.S. still has significant national interests there and the area is a key arena for global power politics. Can the U.S. continue to defend its interests in the Middle East and globally with a lower level of military and political involvement or, should it recommit to a leading role in the region?

Topics for subsequent sessions:

Climate technology and competition. Presented by Bud Ward

Science across borders. Presented by Mila Rosenthal

U.S.-China trade rivalry.  Presented by Jonathan Chanis

NATO’s future.  Presented by Sarwar Kashmeri

Understanding Indonesia.  Presented by Charles Sullivan

High Seas Treaty.  Presented by Foreign Policy Association Editors

Pandemic preparedness.  Presented by Carolyn Reynolds

Discussion Group December 4, 2023: Whither the dollar?

Our fourth and final combined WACMB + OLLI world affairs discussion group meeting of the fall season will be held on Monday, December 4th at 5:00 PM PST via Zoom.

The discussion topic is Whither the Dollar: How shall we be affected if the greenback is no longer the reserve currencyfollowing on the November 20th WACMB luncheon presentation on this subject by Professor Barry Eichengreen from UC Berkeley.

The U.S. dollar has been the world’s reserve currency since 1944, where transactions in international trade and foreign exchange market are mostly conducted in U.S. dollars. But since the Russian invasion of Ukraine when the U.S. imposed draconian sanctions on Russia and froze their foreign reserve funds, other countries awoke to their own vulnerability to the weaponization of the international bank-messaging system known as SWIFT by the U.S. because of the dominance of the U.S. dollar. As a result, many countries have shaved some of their dollar holding and increased their gold holding in their foreign exchange reserves. Last year, leaders of Brazil, India, China, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and a few others have called for creating an alternative means to trade in currencies other than the U.S. dollar.  What would de-dollarization mean for geopolitics and the U.S. and the world economy?

If you are interested and have never attended this Discussion Group, just send a request to discussiongroup@wacmb.org to receive log-in information and related study materials.

Come join the conversation!

Discussion Group November 6, 2023: U.S.-China Relations: Handle with Care

Our third combined WACMB + OLLI world affairs discussion group meeting of the fall season will be held on Monday, November 6th at 5:00 PM PST via Zoom.

The discussion topic is U.S.-China Relations: Handle with Care, following on the October 25th WACMB luncheon presentation on this subject by Dr. David Michael Lampton of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Foreign Policy Institute.

For the past ten years, the United States and China have been locked in competition for who has the greatest global influence. As they enter what looks like a new Cold War of sorts, Dr. Lampton discussed: (i) how both nations arrived at today’s juncture in U.S.-China relations, (ii) how to think about the perils of that new, more conflictual circumstance, and (iii) what both sides need to do to put our two countries on a more promising trajectory, which will frame our discussion.

If you are interested and have never attended this Discussion Group, just send a request to discussiongroup@wacmb.org to receive log-in information and related study materials.

Come join the conversation!

Discussion Group October 2, 2023: Russia’s war on Ukraine – what way forward?

Our second combined WACMB + OLLI world affairs discussion group meeting of the fall season will be held on Monday, October 2nd at 5:00 p.m. PDT via Zoom.

The discussion topic is Russia’s war on Ukraine – what way forward? following on the September 26th WACMB luncheon presentation by The Honorable William Taylor providing an update on this topic. He most recently visited Kyiv in July 2023.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 continues to cause serious destruction on many levels as the world struggles to find a resolution that will settle the conflict. Is there a path to victory in Ukraine? What are the prospects for a negotiated peace and what are the obstacles?

If you are interested and have never attended this Discussion Group, just send a request to discussiongroup@wacmb.org to receive log-in information and related study materials.

Come join the conversation!

Discussion Group July 10, 2023: Looming Confrontation in the Indo-Pacific?

Our next discussion group meeting will be on Monday, July 10th at 5:00 p.m. PDT via Zoom on the topic of Looming Confrontation in the Indo-Pacific? following on the June 26th WACMB dinner presentation by Professor James Russell.

If you are interested in participating in the WACMB discussion group, please email us at DiscussionGroup@wacmb.org. It is free and open to the public.

U.S. policymakers are increasingly focused on China’s growing assertiveness and military build-up in the Indo-Pacific region. In a recent report to Congress, the Department of Defense described China’s navy as the “largest navy in the world and, by far, the largest of any country in East Asia.” This and other elements of China’s military modernization efforts have led to deepening the U.S.-China strategic and economic rivalry in the region.

In his presentation, Professor Russell discusses the unfolding confrontation in the Indo-Pacific. Drawing on current research he is undertaking for the U.S. Navy, he focusses on the role of the U.S. Navy in meeting this challenge.

James A. Russell serves as Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School where he teaches courses on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, military innovation, and national security strategy. His articles and commentaries have appeared in a wide variety of media and scholarly outlets around the world. From 1988-2001, Dr. Russell held a variety of positions in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Near East and South Asia, Department of Defense.

The following resources are provided as background for our discussion:

A. Looming Confrontation in the Indo-Pacific? Prof. James Russell:

B. The Sino-American Split: At sea with a broken compass. Discussion with Ambassador Chas Freeman, 10 Sept 2021 at The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy. Video (1h28m) and transcript at https://peacediplomacy.org/2021/09/10/ipd-remarks-ambassador-chas-freeman-sino-american-split/

Some questions to guide our discussion:

  1. What should be the U.S. objective in the Indo-Pacific and what are the strategic options for achieving this objective?
  2. What are the benefits and risks of improving the U.S. – China relationship (moving from adversarial to cooperation) and how can improvements be facilitated?

Boyd Haight and Linda Dilger
Moderators

Discussion Group June 5, 2023: Geopolitics of Energy

Our next discussion group meeting will be on Monday, June 5th at 5:00 p.m. PDT via Zoom on the topic of Geopolitics of Energy, following on the May 24th WACMB dinner presentation by Dr. Daniel Nussbaum.

Energy. It seems to be in the news and all around us—Energy security, energy policies, energy technologies, energy and climate security, energy infrastructure, energy infrastructure protection and resilience, and so on.

In his talk, Dr. Nussbaum discussed some background issues like what is energy, where does it come from, and how much do we use, and then look at what are the risks to continued supply. He discussed these topics through the three lenses of “What?”, “So what?”, and “Now what?”.

Dan Nussbaum is the Chair of the Energy Academic Group at the Naval Postgraduate School, an organization that cuts across traditional academic disciplines, blending technology and policies, and focusing on teaching and research. He previously was the Director of the Naval Center for Cost Analysis, in which role he was the chief advisor to the Secretary of Navy on all cost estimates and cost benefit analyses.

Some question to guide our discussion:

1. What are the similarities and differences in the geopolitics of production and use of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) and non-carbon (nuclear, solar, wind, etc.) energy?

2. How will the world’s energy mix evolve in the next 25 years and what are the geopolitical implications?

3. How will great power competition affect the development of non-carbon energy supplies?

The following resources are provided as background for our discussion:

A. Geopolitics of Energy. Daniel Nussbaum:

B. Clean energy investment is extending its lead over fossil fuels, boosted by energy security strengths. International Energy Agency, 23 May 2023, at https://www.iea.org/news/clean-energy-investment-is-extending-its-lead-over-fossil-fuels-boosted-by-energy-security-strengths

C. Great Decisions 2023 topic (Feb 6) on “Energy Security” at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LGlfC4e9YzZvG_3FdnEyIoHUxtbE0v5n/view?usp=share_link

D. Data and trends in world energy production and consumption, see online at: Enerdata World Energy and Climate Statistics Yearbook 2022; and, Wikipedia World Energy Supply and Consumption

Boyd Haight and Linda Dilger
Moderators

Discussion Group May 1, 2023: Turkey

Our next discussion group meeting will be on Monday, May 1st at 5:00 p.m. PST via Zoom on the topic of Turkey – Between Earthquakes and Elections, following on the April 28th luncheon presentation by Scott Kilner on this topic.
Not long ago, the United States saw Turkey as a uniquely democratic Moslem-majority country and a model for the Islamic world. In sharp contrast, today most U.S. observers view the country as our most problematic NATO ally, dominated by the increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan. Against the backdrop of recent devastating earthquakes, Turkish citizens will go to the polls on May 14 to elect both the next President and a new parliament.
Some question to guide our discussion, including those that Scott Kilner will have addressed at the luncheon lecture on April 28th:
1.  What are the chances that Erdogan’s 20-year-reign will end?
2.  How is the aftermath of the earthquakes expected to affect the vote?
3.  What are the implications for the U.S., NATO and regional neighbors of Turkey’s evolving foreign policy?
The following resources are provided as background for our discussion:
A.  Update on Turkey: Between Earthquakes and ElectionsScott KilnerWACMB Luncheon Lecture on 28 April 2023. Recording will be posted by 29 April at https://www.wacmb.org/member-resources/, password: Gibraltar
B.  Erdoğan Is In Danger. Council on Foreign Relations, 13 March 2023 at https://www.cfr.org/article/erdogan-danger, and Will Turkey’s elections finally spell the end of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?  The Guardian, 16 April 2023 at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/apr/16/will-turkeys-elections-spell-end-of-recep-tayyip-erdogan
C.  Turkey has a newly confrontational foreign policy. The Economist, 16 January 2023 at https://www.economist.com/special-report/2023/01/16/turkey-has-a-newly-confrontational-foreign-policy
D.  Ahead of a critical election Turkey’s economy is running on borrowed time. The Economist, 26 March 2023 at https://www.economist.com/europe/2023/03/26/ahead-of-a-critical-election-turkeys-economy-is-running-on-borrowed-time
E.  CIA World Facebook on Turkey (Turkiye) at https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/turkey-turkiye/
Looking forward to our spirited discussion.
Boyd Haight and Linda Dilger
Moderators

Great Decisions 2023

As announced in the January 2023 issue of The Passport, WACMB is pleased to present the 2023 Great Decisions program beginning the first week of February (see topics below). Produced by the Foreign Policy Association of America, Great Decisions is America’s largest discussion program on world affairs. The program is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required.

As usual, WACMB will offer two groups: one solely through WACMB, and one in collaboration with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at CSUMB. Both groups will be moderated by Boyd Haight and Linda Dilger. Each group will meet eight times for two hours, with an optional master class lecture for the first 30 minutes.

WACMB Great Decisions Group will meet virtually each Monday from February 6th to April 3rd (except February 20th) from 4:30 – 6:30 PM. If you have not already done so, please register in advance by sending an email to discussiongroup@wacmb.org. Once registered, you will be sent Zoom links for each session.

WACMB/OLLI Great Decisions Group will meet each Tuesday from February 7th to April 4th (except February 14th) from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. Please register in advance online at https://olli.csumb.edu/courses/.  Registration opens on January 19th at 10:00 am. Once registered, you will be sent Zoom links for each session.

The Foreign Policy Association produces a Great Decisions Briefing Booklet. The Booklet costs $35 plus shipping (or $25 for ebook version) and is required for those in the program. It can be ordered online at https://www.fpa.org/great_decisions/index.cfm?act=show_material&product_id=16882 or by calling the Foreign Policy Association at 1-800-477-5836.

2023 Great Decisions topics (see short descriptions at https://www.fpa.org/great_decisions/?act=gd_topics):

Week 1:  Energy Geopolitics
Week 2:  War Crimes
Week 3:  China and the U.S.
Week 4:  Economic Warfare
Week 5:  Politics in Latin America
Week 6:  Global Famine
Week 7:  Iran at the Crossroads
Week 8:  Climate Migration

Discussion Group January 9, 2023: Ethiopia

Our first discussion group meeting of 2023 will be on Monday, January 9th at 5:00 p.m. PST via Zoom with the topic of Ethiopia: Understanding the Conflict and the Prospects for Peace, following on the December 19 luncheon presentation by Colonel Bruce Sweeney.
The Horn of Africa, which includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, is one of the world’s most conflict-prone and fragile regions. This strategic area has been immersed in conflict in one form or another since 1974. In addition, both protracted conflict and climate-driven drought have also propelled widespread famine of crisis proportions in the Horn of Africa.

Known as the “cradle of humanity, Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent country. With Africa’s second largest population, Ethiopia represents a melting pot of ancient cultures from the Middle East and Africa. Following a past wracked with military rule, civil war, and catastrophic famine, Ethiopia emerged as a major power in the Horn of Africa during the 21st century, enjoying rapid economic growth and increasing strategic importance within the region. The economic growth of Ethiopia in recent years has been stunted with the outbreak of conflict in the Tigray region in 2020, and the rise of food-insecurity in response to grain shortages caused by the Russian-Ukraine War. Recently, a ceasefire appears to have been established in Ethiopia and peace talks have started, allowing food aid to be delivered to starving people in the Tigray region of the country.

Some questions to help guide our discussion:
1.  What is the basis for conflict in the Horn of Africa, and particularly in Ethiopia?
2.  What is the prognosis for the latest peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea?
3.  What are U.S. interests in Ethiopia and more widely in the Horn of Africa?
Some suggested resources are provided as background for our discussion, starting with the WACMB luncheon lecture (A), general background (B), and in the context of the current conflict the US-Ethiopia-HOA relationship (C and D) and the prospects for peace in the region (E and F).
A.  Ethiopia: Understanding the Conflict and the Prospects for Peace. WACMB luncheon lecture on 19 December by Colonel Bruce Sweeny, podcast (41 minutes) at https://www.wacmb.org/member-resources/, password: Gibraltar
B. Ethiopia: East Africa’s Emerging Giant. Council on Foreign Relations, 4 Nov 2020 at https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ethiopia-east-africas-emerging-giant
C.  A Perspective on the Ethiopian-U.S. Relationship After a Year of Conflict. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, U.S. State Department, 1 Nov 2021 at https://www.state.gov/a-perspective-on-the-ethiopian-u-s-relationship-after-a-year-of-conflict/
D.  The US risks losing its influence in the Horn of Africa. Here’s how to get it back. Gabriel Negatu, The Atlantic Council, 11 Jan 2022 at https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/the-us-risks-losing-its-influence-in-the-horn-of-africa-heres-how-to-get-it-back/
E. Still Far from Peace in Ethiopia. Brookings Institution, 1 Feb 2022 at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2022/02/01/still-far-from-peace-in-ethiopia/.
F. Ethiopian civil war: parties agree on end to hostilities. The Guardian, 2 Nov 2022 at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/02/ethiopian-civil-war-parties-agree-truce-to-end-hostilities

Discussion Group – 2022 wrap and looking toward 2023

This year the WACMB discussion group had nine discussions on Great Decisions 2022 and seven discussions on topics in follow-up to WACMB luncheon lectures. A complete list of the 16 discussion topics covered in 2022, as well as the 27 topics in 2020 and 17 topics in 2021, is available here.

Our first meeting of 2023 will be on Monday, January 9 via Zoom on the topic of “Ethiopia: understanding the conflict and prospects for peace”, in follow-up to the luncheon lecture of December 19th. We intend to invite the four students who attended the luncheon to participate in the discussion. A message with background reading and discussion questions will be circulated by January 2nd. If you would like to join the group, please send a message to discussiongroup@wacmb.org.

After that we will embark on Great Decisions 2023 starting Monday February 6th. A separate message message will be posted in January on how to sign-up and purchase your booklet.

Wishing you all the best in the New Year.

Boyd Haight and Linda Dilger
Moderators