Past seasons

GREAT DECISIONS 2017

THE EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union is under severe strain. British voters have chosen to leave the EU while the Eurozone debt crisis and the influx of migrants pose an existential threat to the political and economic bloc. Can the EU withstand the pressure?

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

International trade has transformed the way we live. Supporters of free trade say it creates the greatest amount of wealth for the highest number of people, fostering growth and lifting nations out of poverty. Opponents say free trade eliminates jobs at home and makes the country vulnerable.

CHINA’S MARITIME BUILD-UP

China is building up its maritime presence, investing heavily in its Navy, and ambitiously advancing territorial claims in the South and East China seas. Does this maritime expansionism indicate a more aggressive foreign policy or is it simply the next logical step in China’s growth?

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia is a nation in transition, with increasing signs that the status quo it has enjoyed for decades is beginning to fray. Once known for having a “special relationship” with the U.S., growing concerns about human rights, terrorism and the Iran nuclear deal suggest the relationship between Riyadh and Washington is coming under strains.

THE GEOPOLITICS OF OIL

After decades of relative stability, the U.S. energy revolution is beginning to shift the dynamics of the energy market.  Once dependent on the Middle East for much of its energy, the U.S. is now producing more of its own—potentially freeing America to pursue a new foreign policy in the region.

LATIN AMERICA

Once known for economic and political turmoil, the majority of nations in Latin America are now constitutional democracies. Shifting away from the “revolutionary” leftist economic policies, Latin Americans are combining left-leaning social agendas with more pragmatic governance.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan for over 15 years—making it the longest war in American history. As Washington and NATO pivot away from Afghanistan by reducing troop numbers, the ability of the government and security forces to maintain stability will be tested.

 NUCLEAR SEUCIRTY

The nuclear status quo is changing. Nine nations are declared nuclear powers—and non-state actors are upending cold war era strategy. How can leaders stop countries from acquiring nuclear weapons, keep nuclear materials out of the hands of non-state actors and protect nuclear facilities from potential terrorist attacks?

 

GREAT DECISIONS 2016

Middle East Alliances

From a proxy war in Yemen to an ongoing civil war in Syria, a number of ongoing conflicts have shaken the traditional alliances in the Middle East to their core. As alliances between state and non-state actors in the region are constantly shifting, the U.S. has found itself between a rock and a hard place. In a series of conflicts that are far from being black-and-white, what can the U.S. do to secure its interests in the region without causing further damage and disruption?

The Rise of ISIS

Born out of an umbrella organization of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burst onto the international stage after it seized Fallujah in December 2013. Since then, the group has seized control of a number of critical strongholds in the country and declared itself a caliphate, known as the Islamic State. Still, the question remains: What is ISIS, and what danger does it pose to U.S. interests?

The Future of Kurdistan

Kurdistan, a mountainous area made up of parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, is home to one of the largest ethnic groups in region: the Kurds. Now, most in the West know them for their small, oil-rich autonomous region in northern Iraq called Iraqi Kurdistan — one of the U.S.’ closer allies in the Middle East and a bulwark against the expansion of the so-called Islamic State. What does the success of Iraqi Kurdistan mean for Kurds in the surrounding region?

Migration

As a record number of migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea to find refuge in Europe, the continent is struggling to come up with an adequate response. Although Europe’s refugees are largely fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa, their struggle is hardly unique. Today, with the number of displaced people at an all-time high, a number of world powers find themselves facing a difficult question: how can they balance border security with humanitarian concerns? More importantly, what can they do to resolve these crises so as to limit the number of displaced persons?

The Koreas

At the end of World War II, Korea was divided in two. The northern half of the Korean peninsula was occupied by the Soviet Union, the southern by the United States. Today, North and South Korea couldn’t be further apart. The North is underdeveloped, impoverished and ruled by a corrupt, authoritarian government, while the South advanced rapidly to become one of the most developed countries in the world. With such a wide gap, some are asking if unification is possible, even desirable, anymore?

The United Nations

On the eve of the international organization’s 70th birthday, the United Nations stands at a crossroads. This year marks a halfway point in the organization’s global effort to eradicate poverty, hunger and discrimination, as well as ensure justice and dignity for all peoples. But as the UN’s 193 member states look back at the success of the millennium development goals, they also must assess their needs for its sustainable development goals — a new series of benchmarks, which are set to expire in 2030. With the appointment of the ninth secretary-general in the near future as well, the next UN leader is bound to have quite a lot on his or her plate going into office.

Climate change

In the past few years, the American public has become more aware of the damage wrought by climate change. From droughts in the west to extreme weather in the east, a rapidly changing climate has already made its footprint in the United States. Now, it’s expected that the presidential election in 2016 will be one of the first ever to place an emphasis on these environmental changes. What can the next president do to stymie this environmental crisis? And is it too late for these efforts to be effective?

Cuba and the U.S.

The U.S. announced in December 2014 that, after decades of isolation, it has begun taking major steps to normalize relations with Cuba. The announcement marks a dramatic shift away from a policy that has its roots in one of the darkest moments of the Cold War — the Cuban missile crisis. Although the U.S. trade embargo is unlikely to end any time soon, American and Cuban leaders today are trying to bring a relationship, once defined by antithetical ideologies, into the 21st century.

 

GREAT DECISIONS 2015

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE: RUSSIA’S FOREIGN POLICY

Synopsis:

Putin’s pushback against European expansionism has the West wondering: If Putin’s Russia isn’t afraid to take an aggressive stance against Ukraine’s pivot to the West, what does that mean for the rest of Russia’s neighbors?

 

THE TRADEOFF: PRIVACY IN A DIGITAL WORLD

Synopsis:

The idea of “privacy” has undergone significant changes in the digital age, as has the idea of privacy “harm.” Concerns about what some see as a U.S. “dragnet” and unwarranted privacy intrusions have compelled other countries to revamp their own privacy protections. Legislation, both at home and abroad, hasn’t kept pace with technological developments, leaving some wondering if privacy as we know it is long dead.

 

THE GREAT DIVIDE: SUNNI vs SHIA

Synopsis:

From the crisis in Iraq and Syria to the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the struggle between Sunni and Shi‘i groups for dominance is tearing apart the region and shows no signs of abating. How does sectarianism fit into a larger narrative of the Middle East? How have governments manipulated sectarian differences? And finally, what is the U.S. doing about it?

 

INDIA RISING

Synopsis:

Inspired by its “top-down” model for growth, the world’s largest democracy has started taking its cues from China, one of America’s economic rivals. It’s a mindset that led to Modi’s election in 2014, and has signaled the developing economy’s desire for real change. Now, it’s up to the U.S. to determine how to best secure its interests as India asserts itself on the world stage.

 

THE PROMISE OF AFRICA

Synopsis:

Africa is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation. The continent is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and it’s become a draw for foreign investors from across the globe. After the “Obamamania” of 2008 died down, though, the realization that Obama wasn’t going to overturn, or even prioritize, U.S. Africa policy kicked in. How can U.S. policy live up to its promise and values while securing its interests in the region?

 

SYRIA: THE WORLD’S LARGEST REFUGEE CRISIS

Synopsis:

Syrians have for a century welcomed over a million refugees from Armenia, Palestine, Iraq and other countries around the region. Now, thanks to a multiyear civil war, they are on track to become the source of the world’s largest refugee population in a matter of months. As Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other neighbors strive to accommodate the millions of Syrians, the risk of allowing Syrians to become dependent on emergency aid and forming a “lost generation” remains.

 

MODERN DAY SLAVERY

Synopsis:

Human trafficking represents over $30 billion in international trade per annum and continues to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries. The U.S. and the international community have adopted various treaties and laws to prevent trafficking, but to truly understand and combat the issue, they must find the root causes enabling smugglers to commit millions into slavery.

 

BUILDING BRAZIL

Synopsis:

Brazil — it’s the “B” in the acronym BRICS, five emerging economies once seen as soon-to-be superpowers. After economic troubles in the 1990s, Brazil has risen to new global prominence — it’s drawing in more investment, working on global issues ranging from climate change to peacekeeping, and even hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. But some of Brazil’s trickiest problems — staggering income inequality, weak civic institutions, poor regional leadership — have held it back.

 

GREAT DECISIONS 2014

SACRED COW: DEFENDING AMERICA ON A BUDGET

Synopsis:

For the first time in decades, the U.S. is tightening its belt on defense spending. While traditional threats like nuclear and great power conflicts do remain. The post 9/11 challenges of terrorism and counterinsurgency have led to a paradigm shift in the way we think about our national security. Emerging threats like cybersecurity and biowarfare also require new thinking. Do 21st century challenges now pose a greater threat to U.S. national security than traditional threats like nuclear war, naval supremacy and ability to fight ground wars? Defense in an age of economic uncertainty.

Guests:

 

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: THE NEW EGYPT

 

Synopsis:

The U.S. has enjoyed 30 years of relatively stable relations with both Israel and Egypt, thanks in large part to the peace plan outlined by the historic Camp David Accords. The harmony between the two rivals has provided a key element of stability in an otherwise turbulent Middle East. But Egypt’s bumpy transition from the autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak to its post Arab Spring reality – has put many on edge. What challenges does the new Egypt post for American policymakers and U.S. allies in the region?

Guests:

  • Jimmy Carter, Former U.S. President
  • Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
  • Bruce Rutherford, Author, Egypt After Mubarak
  • Thanassis Cambanis, The Atlantic
  • Michael Wahid Hanna, The Century Foundation

 

FEEDING THE DRAGON: CHINA IN AFRICA

 

Synopsis:

African economies are booming like never before, thanks in large part to China. The global giant is investing in infrastructure projects to help it tap into the continent’s resources – oil, minerals, and its huge agricultural potential. Critics charge China with cozying up to dictators and ignoring issues of human rights and transparency. Others fear that U.S. is being left behind and its influence in Africa waning. China in Africa.

Guests:

  • Governor Jon Huntsman, Former U.S. Ambassador to China and Singapore
  • Dambisa Moyo, Author, Winner Take All
  • Rosa Whitaker, President and CEO, The Whitaker Group
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group
  • John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations

 

IMPERFECT UNION: THE EUROZONE IN CRISIS

 

Synopsis:

After World War Two, the leaders of Europe established greater economic ties to help prevent future continental conflict. Now, more than half a century later, the EU faces the biggest financial crisis in its history – and the future of the Eurozone itself is under question. What’s preventing the world’s second largest economy — and America’s largest trading partner — from pulling itself out of recession?

Guests:

  • Nouriel Roubini, New York University
  • Matthew Bishop, New York Bureau Chief, The Economist
  • Zvolt Darvis, Bruegel
  • Matina Stevis, The Wall Street Journal, Brussels
  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs

 

RED LINE : IRAN, ISRAEL AND THE BOMB

 

Synopsis:

For nearly a decade, Iran’s quest for nuclear capabilities has topped global security concerns in Washington, Brussels and Tel Aviv. Why is a nuclear armed Iran considered so dangerous to U.S. and Israeli interests, and what’s prevented Iran from reaching a deal year after year?

Guests:

  • Yukiya Amano, Director General, IAEA
  • Trita Parsi, Founder and President, National Iranian American Council
  • Cliff Kupchan, Eurasia Foundation
  • Irshad Manji, New York University
  • Robin Wright, Author, Rock the Casbah

 

THE INTERVENTION CALCULATION

 

Synopsis:

The U.S., for better or worse, is often seen as the world’s policeman. But the question of when to intervene in other nations’ affairs with military force has long stymied American policymakers, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria. Why do we intervene in some conflicts and stand on the sidelines in others?

Guests:

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
  • General James Jones, Former National Security Advisor
  • Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard
  • Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations
  • General Richard Meyers, Former Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff

 

THE GENERALS AND THE DEMOCRAT: MYANMAR IN TRANSITION

 

Synopsis:

Controlled by a military junta, the nation of Burma, or Myanmar, has long been isolated as an international pariah state. But a flicker of hope for many Burmese has been Aung San Suu Kyi, who’s spent decades defying military leaders in her quest for democracy. Now, the generals have started to implement a series of democratic and economic reforms – which the U.S. and other Western powers have welcomed overwhelmingly. But are Myanmar’s military leaders serious about reform? And is Aung San Suu Kyi the one to lead Burma through what could be a rocky transition from international outcast to Asian “tiger?”

Guests:

  • Derek Mitchell, U.S. Ambassador to Burma
  • Maureen Aung-Thwin, Open Society Foundations
  • Suzanne DiMaggio, The Asia Society
  • Louise Arbour, International Crisis Group
  • David Steinberg, Georgetown University

 

JOINT STRIKE: NATO AND THE U.S. IN THE 21ST CENTURY

 

Synopsis:

NATO enjoyed a surge in popularity following the quick success of its air campaign in Libya. The much needed boost in morale comes as NATO moves into its twelfth year in Afghanistan, fighting a war that many see as destined to fail. Can the NATO alliance – forged during the Cold War – ensure global stability in the 21st Century? And should the U.S. continue to foot most of the bill?

Guests:

  • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary-General, NATO
  • Chuck Hagel, Former U.S. Senator
  • Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander Europe
  • Ivo Daalder, U.S. Ambassador to NATO
  • Robert Kagan, The Brookings Institution