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Great Decisions Series brings global issues to West Michigan

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World Affairs Council brings world-class experts to West Michigan for dialogue on global issues

Dictators using digital media, global health, the future of American global leadership, the defense budget and Putin’s Russia are some of the dynamic topics being explored as the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan launches its 2018 Great Decisions Global Discussion Series.

Discussions will take place January 29 through March 26, and feature national scholars and experts—including former ambassador and CEO of the Carter Center Mary Ann Peters, Susan Glasser of POLITICO and Amitav Acharya, UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance at American University—who will stimulate conversations on global issues and foreign policy.

“We call this edition of the Great Decisions series ‘Context for a Complex World’ because the amount of information coming our way these days is overwhelming,” said Michael Van Denend, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. “Through these presentations, we hope to help our community step back for a bit and ponder how we can engage thoughtfully in a complicated world.”

Each presentation will be available twice—from 12 noon to 1 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Covenant Fine Arts Center on the campus of Calvin College, and again from 6:00 to 7:15 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center on Aquinas College’s campus.

“Calvin College is delighted to renew its relationship with the World Affairs Council on this excellent series filled with international and foreign policy experts,” said Ken Erffmeyer, vice president for advancement at Calvin. “The noon-hour presentations at Calvin will allow busy professionals to catch the Great Decisions speakers live and the college’s livestreaming capabilities will make it possible for more people in Michigan to participate in the dialogue.”

The Great Decisions format features a world-class expert leading each conversation, followed by an extensive question-answer session. The World Affairs Council is the local sponsor of these eight current foreign policy topics as determined by the New York City-based Foreign Policy Association. The Council has sponsored the series for more than 50 years.

The 2018 series will feature:

Monday, Jan. 29: “Are Dictators Getting Smarter?” William Dobson, Chief International Editor, International Desk, NPR

Democracy has fallen on tough times. Authoritarian regimes in Russia, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are on the march, while the West seems to be taking a back seat. Are the world’s dictators getting more sophisticated in their repression? How do the world’s despots manipulate media to serve their own ends? In the age of Twitter and smart phones, can democracy keep up?

Monday, Feb. 5: “China in the World: Conundrums of a Socialist Market Economy” Dr. Badrinath Rao, Associate Professor of Sociology and Asian Studies, Kettering University

China has ambitious plans for global leadership with their “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Yet the country faces major challenges: the economy, the environment, energy, governance and corruption. How will China respond to these challenges and how will it affect the global community?

Monday, Feb. 12: “Trouble Brewing: Can the U.S. and Turkey Cooperate?” Dr. Sinan Ciddi, Director, Institute for Turkish Studies, Georgetown University

The Turkish-American bilateral relationship has its roots embedded in the Cold War. However, since the onset of heightened instability in the region, Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. has come under increased strain. To what extent has the U.S.-Turkish relationship suffered irreparable harm? Are there ways that the partnership can be rebuilt?

Monday, Feb. 19: “The Right Bang for our Bucks: The U.S. Defense Budget” Dr. Stephanie Young, defense budget expert, RAND Corporation

What will be the role of the military in years to come? Some argue for a large military to protect our interests. Others urge for greater cooperation with our allies to share the cost of global security. Regardless of approach, what size force or what kind of weaponry is appropriate for the nature of today’s conflicts? Are we spending responsibly? And will American interests at home and abroad be effectively maintained?

Monday, Feb. 26: “Is American Global Leadership Waning?” Dr. Amitav Acharya, UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance at the School of International Service, American University

Since World War II, the U.S. built and maintained an international order on the foundation of superior military and economic power, ensuring the country a leadership role in world affairs. Now, it seems that U.S. leadership is coming to an end—or is at least changing significantly. Why is the global order changing and what does that mean for American leadership? If the U.S. doesn’t lead, who will?

(There is a spring break recess and thus no program on March 5.)

Monday, Mar. 12: “Putin, Russia, and the New Cold War?” Susan B. Glasser, Chief International Affairs Columnist, POLITICO and co-author of Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin and the End of Revolution

Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent years consolidating his leadership, moving the country closer to an authoritarian state. For what end? To bring former Soviet satellites once again into the Russian fold and expand its global influence? Is a new Cold War brewing? How will the U.S. respond?

Monday, Mar. 19: “South Africa at a Crossroads: Implications for U.S.-South Africa Relations” Desirée Cormier, Senior Director, Africa Practice, Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG)

Recession and unemployment. Accusations of corruption. Internal divisions and public frustrations. Major issues threaten to bring down the African National Congress (ANC), the party that has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. What are the implications for the country and for U.S. foreign policy in the region?

Monday, Mar. 26: “Global Health: Equity, Ethics, and Eradication” Ambassador Mary Ann Peters (ret.), CEO, The Carter Center

The diseases that afflict the poorest of the poor are often neglected by the global health community. Virtually no one in United States or Europe suffers from Guinea worm disease, or river blindness or lymphatic filariasis, diseases that mire their victims in extreme poverty.  Ambassador Peters will talk about the campaign against neglected tropical diseases, using examples from the work of The Carter Center.

For more information on sessions, dates and times, as well as detailed information on speakers, visit

In addition to participation from World Affairs Council members and the general community, some college students will take the series through their respective political science or international relations departments. Local participating institutions include Aquinas College, Calvin College, Davenport University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, Montcalm Community College and Western Michigan University.

Northern Michigan University in Marquette will also have students participating in this year’s series via an interactive webcast.

Cost to attend either session at Calvin or Aquinas is $10 for each discussion. No reservations are needed. World Affairs Council of West Michigan’s corporate and Senator members attend free, as do students, faculty and staff of the schools listed above. Tickets are available at the door. Free parking is available at Calvin and Aquinas Colleges. Complimentary email notices of upcoming Council events are available to those who sign up on the website, at one of the Council’s events or by emailing [email protected].

Throughout the year, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan offers numerous programs on global issues and international affairs, including a spring partnership with the Kent District Library. A global executive briefings series is aimed at business leaders and an annual anniversary event brings in a world leader or global headliner. 

For more information on the Council, visit or phone 616.776.1721. 

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