Making Democracy Work

Great Decisions

The Great Decisions program is a series of discussions on current international issues based on materials from the Foreign Policy Association.

General Information

GREAT DECISIONS 2016 The Great Decisions discussion series uses materials developed by the Foreign Policy Association, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization formed in 1918 to promote understanding of international affairs. Learning materials include a briefing book and a videotape set. Tapes are usually broadcast on the local cable access channel.

The Midland League has sponsored the Great Decisions program of the Foreign Policy Association for more than thirty years. See below for details about discussion groups.

Topics for 2016

Middle East 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? As calls for closer ties with the EU failed to be met, Ukrainians took to the streets in in November 2013. As the movement later known as the Euromaidan, or "Euro Square," pulled western Ukraine closer to Europe, another powerful force threatened to tear away the country's eastern half: Russia. Putin's pushback against European expansionism has the West wondering: If Putin's Russia isn't afraid to take an aggressive stance against Europeanization in Ukraine, what does that mean for the rest of Russia's neighbors.

The Rise of ISIS Born out of an umbrella organization of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burst onto the international stage after it seized Falluja 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?t. Many of the current conflicts in the Middle East have been attributed to sectarianism, a politicization of ethnic and religious identity. 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. But for all the religious discourse permeating the conflict, much of its roots are political, not religious. 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?

The Future of Kurdistan Kurdistan, a mountainous region made up of parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria, is home to one of the largest ethnic groups in West Asia: the Kurds. Now, most in the West know them for their small, oil-rich autonomous region to the north 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 is at an all-time high, a number of world powers find themselves facing a difficult question: How can they secure their borders and maintain humanitarian concerns? More importantly, what can they do to resolve these crises so as to limit the number of refugees?

The Koreas At the end of World War II, Korea was divided in two. The northern half of the Korean peninsula was occupied by Russia, 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 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 U.S. president 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 2016 elections will be the first to emphasize 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, its neighbor to the south. 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 a crisis in the 1960s into the 21st century.

Discussion Groups

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New members are welcome. You do not have to be a LWV member to join a group.

Groups set their own pace, but most begin in January or February and wrap up in March and April . A Great Decisions briefing book provides participants with analysis and resources for discussion. There is also a DVD series.

Sign up is underway. Participants can choose a group that meets on Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, or Thursday evening.

Become better informed by attending one of the Great Decisions study groups, coordinated locally by the League of Women Voters; It gives us the opportunity to read and hear what the experts have to say about topics we may be quite unfamiliar with. The books are hot off the press in Nov. so the material is quite up to date. Our groups will begin in mid January. New participants are always welcome.

Discussion groups will be announced; For further information call Sandy Burmester 832-3079.