Great Decisions Discussions Group in Social Hall at Manatee Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Bradenton, FL


Great Decisions Discussion Group is an annual seminar, held each of 8 weeks during February and March using the Great Decisions Manual published by the U.S. Foreign Policy Association of New York. Our group, 25 years old, is an official group, registered on the Great Decisions website and is open to the public. As a result, the discussion participants are not only from our Fellowship, but also from the community. This makes a group of about 20 — congenial, inquisitive and concerned about the world. Participants are encouraged to vote online for the various subjects covered in the discussion questions. An up-to-date global map is provided and supplemental readings are suggested.

An organizational meeting is held in January during which discussion books are distributed and members may sign up as facilitators for one of the eight topics. The topics are relevant to today’s world.

During the rest of each year, participants are invited to access the FPA at Foreign Policy Association to view the newsletter which highlights a different discussion group, has interviews and videos, and follows up on previously discussed topics with copies of recent magazine articles. Also there are conversations with foreign policy experts and videos of talks. Contact Bill Hayes:  largomatch@hotmail.com or 727-470-9148  for information and to order books in Nov. and Dec. at a group rate.

The curriculum is developed by the Foreign Policy Association of New York.  There is no requirement of knowledge about foreign affairs, just an interest in what is happening in the world around us.  A different participant guides the discussion each week, but there is no requirement to do so.  In addition to the discussion, a video is shown about the week’s topic.  Each session last about 2 hours.   We meet during the months of February and March. 

For 2020 our organizing meeting was Monday January 20 at 10:00 am at the Fellowship. Everyone is welcome. No foreign policy expertise is needed and folks new to Great Decisions are very welcome. We ask only that you read the material each week and maintain an open mind to diverse opinions. Curriculum books are $30.00.

The topics for 2020 are the following:
1. Feb. 3     Climate Change and the Global Order – Paul Carr
Climate change has become one of the defining issues of our time. As much of the world bands together to come up with a plan, the U.S. remains the notable holdout. What is the rest of the world doing to combat climate change? What impact will the effects of climate change have on global geopolitics?
2. Feb. 10   India and Pakistan – Neil Niekerk
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode a wave of Hindu nationalism to a historic reelection in 2019. His first order of business was to revoke the special status granted to the Kashmir region, inflaming the rivalry between India and Pakistan. How will the Kashmir situation affect the region, both economically and politically?
3. Feb. 17    Red Sea Security –  Bill Hayes
The Red Sea has remained vital for global trade since the time of ancient Egypt. Once home to the spice trade, the Red Sea now sees millions of barrels of oil a day transported across its waters. With major nations like China, France, Italy, and the U.S. building large ports and bases in the region, what does the future of the region look like? How important is Red Sea security for global security? Can the region be a place of global cooperation?
4. Feb. 24    Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking – Chuck Wolff
Almost every nation has enacted laws criminalizing human trafficking, and international organizations, governments, and NGOs sponsor a large variety of projects to curb trafficking and slavery. Billions of dollars have been allocated to these efforts. What is the international community doing to combat slavery and trafficking? What are the experiences like for those being trafficked?
5.  March 2   US Relations with the Northern Triangle – Renee Motley
Combating illegal immigration has become a priority of the Trump administration. The Northern Triangle of Central America, made up of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, is a special target of the administration, which hold the nations responsible for the large flow of migrants from Latin America to the U.S. With funds from the U.S. cut, how can the Northern Triangle countries curtail migration?
6. March 9   China’s Road Into Latin America – Nelson French
As the Trump administration continues to withdraw from the world stage, China is looking to fill the void. How does Latin America fit into China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan? How will the relationship with China affect the region? Should the U.S. be concerned about China’s growing “sphere of influence?”  
7. CANCELLED   March 16   The Philippines and the US – Bill Hammes
The Philippines has had a special relationship with the United States since the islands were ceded by Spain to the United States after the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century.  However, since the election of Rodrigo Duterte, the country has pivoted more toward China, and away from the U.S. Duterte has also launched a large-scale war on drugs that many criticize for its brutality. What does the future hold for U.S, relations with the Philippines?
8. CANCELLED  March 23   Artificial Intelligence and Data – John Isham
Policymakers in many countries are developing plans and funding research in artificial intelligence (AI). Global growth is slowing, and not surprisingly, many policymakers hope that AI will provide a magic solution. The EU, Brazil, and other Western countries have adopted regulations that grant users greater control over their data and require that firms using AI be transparent about how they use it. Will the U.S. follow suit?

Great Decision Discussion Group – topics for 2019 were the following:
1.  2/4/19  Nuclear Negotiation: Back to the Future — Paul Carr
2.  2/11/19  The Middle East Regional Disorder — Mustafa and Patty Bulut
3.  2/18/19  The Rise of Populism in Europe — Eric Merson
4.  2/25/19  Decoding US – China Trade   open
5. 3/4/19  Refugees and Global Migration -Ed Kobee, Al Usack, Chuck Wolfe
6.  3/11/19  Cyber Conflicts and Geopolitics  – John Isham
7.  3/18/19  The US and Mexico: Partnership Tested  – Bill Hammes
8.  3/25/19  State of the State Department and Diplomacy  -Renee Motley

Great Decision Discussion Group -topics in 2018
1. Feb. 5  The waning of Pax Americana – Nelson French
2.  Feb 12   Russia’s foreign policy -John and Carol Butzow
3.  Feb. 19   China and America: the new political equation – Paul Carr
4. Feb. 26   Media and foreign policy
5.  March 5  Turkey: a partner in crisis – Patty and Mustafa Bulut
6.  March 12    U. S. global engagement and the military – Bill Hammes
7.  March 19  South Africa’s fragile democracy -Bill Hayes
8.  March 26    Global health:  progress and challenge – Robin Groelle and Sherry Lowe

Great Decision Discussion Group – topics in 2017
February.   Future of Europe
March 24.  MarTrade and Politics
February.  Conflict in the South China Sea
March 3.  Saudi Arabia in Transition
February.  US Foreign Policy and Petroleum
March 10.  Latin America’s Political Pendulum
March 17.  Prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan
March 31.  Nuclear Security

Great Decision Discussion Group –  topics in 2016
The dates and topics were as follows:
2/1   The Middle East -Bill Hammes
2/8 The Future of Kurdistan – Walter Pascal
2/15 The United Nations – Bob Condon
2/22  Cuba and the U.S. – John and Carol Butzow
2/29  Migration -Ernie Kerr
3/7 The Koreas  –  Ed Kobee and Al Usack
3/14  The Rise of ISIS  – Bob Yavis
3/21 Climate Change  –  Paul Carr

Great Decision Discussion Group –  topics in 2015
The dates and topics were as follows:
Wed., 2/4  Brazil – Walter Pascal
Mon., 2/9  Human Trafficking – Robin Groelle
Mon., 2/16  Russia – John & Carol Butzkow
Mon., 2/23  US & Africa – Bev & Rodney Bovee
Mon., 3/2  Sectarianism in Mid East – Al Usack & Ed Kobee
Mon., 3/9  Syria – Nelson French
Mon., 3/16  India – Gladys Kannankeril

Great Decision Discussion Group – topics in 2014
The Great Decisions topics were as follows: Defense Technology, Israel and the U.S., Turkey’s Challenges, Islamic Awakening, Energy Independence, Food and Climate, China’s foreign policy, and U.S. trade policy. A final meeting included a video from the Foreign Policy Association.