2021 Great Decisions International Affairs Discussion Program to be held virtually beginning Feb. 9


By Janice Sheftel
Great Decisions International Affairs

The 2021 Great Decisions International Affairs Discussion Program, now in its 20th year, will be held on Zoom for the first time, beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 9, with a moderator- led discussion on the topic of “China’s Role in Africa” and continuing, generally, every other week thereafter for eight sessions. 

The discussions will begin at 11:45 a.m. and end at 1:15 p.m. Please see the website of the League of Women Voters, LaPlata County, LWVLaPlata.org, for the exact schedule and the link to the Zoom programs. 

The eight international affairs discussion subjects are presented to Great Decisions discussion groups annually by the Foreign Policy Association, which prepares a briefing book, a teacher’s guide and a video on each of the topics. 

Feb. 9: China’s Role in Africa: moderator, Mike Todt.

Feb. 23: Roles of International Organizations in a Global Pandemic: moderator, Benjamin Waddell.

March 9: Brexit and the European Union: moderator, Paul DeBell.

March 23: Global Supply Chains and National Security: moderator, Alexander Lemmel. 

March 30 Persian Gulf Security Issues: moderator, Curt Johnson.

April 6: The End of Globalization: moderator, Ruth Alminas.

April 20: Struggle Over the Melting Arctic: moderator, Guinn Unger.

May 4: The Korean Peninsula: moderator, Holly Vaughn.

More about the topics and moderators 

 Feb. 9: China’s role in Africa: The COVID-19 crisis has put a massive strain on what was a growing economic and political relationship between China and Africa. As Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road initiative” expands Chinese power, the response to the spread of COVID-19, as well as African governments’ growing debt to China, has seen pushback. What are the growing economic and political issues between China and Africa?

Todt, the facilitator, is semi-retired, working on publishing history articles. He has lived in Durango for seven years with his wife Tammy Hoier. He is actively involved in the community with Manna Soup Kitchen, Neighbors in Need Alliance and the Boulevard Neighborhood Association. His hobbies include biking, hiking, kayaking, travel and, most important, history and public policy. Todt loves the opportunities for outdoor activities and the engaged community available there.

Prior to coming to Durango, Todt taught history at West Virginia University, focusing on modern U.S., health care reform and North American (U.S., Canada, Mexico) history. Other employment has included hospital CEO, international management consultant and private practice psychologist. He has a Ph.D. in history from West Virginia University (2011) and a Ph.D. and M.A. in organizational behavior from the University of Chicago.

Feb. 23: Roles of international organizations in a global pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the World Health Organization (WHO) into the limelight. While many of the Trump administration’s criticisms of the organization are unfair, WHO’s response to the early stages of the pandemic left many experts wanting more from the organization. The Biden administration, by executive order, has now rejoined WHO. What is WHO’s role in responding to international pandemics? What can be done to improve WHO’s response to future global health crises?

Waddell, the facilitator, is a first-generation college student who grew up in Colorado and New Mexico. Around the age of 12, he began working on construction sites near Telluride, where he met numerous immigrants from Latin America. Captivated by their astounding efforts to overcome adversity, Waddell chose to study issues related to poverty, inequality and emigration in the Americas.

Waddell holds a Ph.D. in sociology (2013, University of New Mexico), a M.A in Latin American studies (2009, University of New Mexico), and a B.A. in international affairs (2005, CU Boulder). He researches the impact of international migration on human well-being. He has published in Sociology of Development, Latin American Research Review, The Social Science Journal and Rural Sociology. Waddell’s work has also appeared in the Huffington Post, The Conversation and Global Americans.

Waddell’s primary interest continues to lie in education, which he believes is the heartbeat of humanity. As an educator, Waddell aims to promote equal opportunity structures for all people regardless of the conditions they were born into. His favorite quote comes from Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” Waddell’s goal as an educator is to help students imagine a better world.

March 9: Brexit and the European Union: The United Kingdom formally left the European Union at the start of 2021. What does the future of Europe and the UK look like? Will the UK survive a possible Scottish vote to leave? Who will take command of Europe now that Angela Merkel will be out of the spotlight? 

DeBell, the facilitator, is an assistant professor of political science at Fort Lewis College. His teaching and research interests span political psychology and comparative politics, with particular focus on democratic governance, the psychology of political division and the role of emotions in political behavior. His dissertation analyzed the link between populist outrage and democratic backsliding in Hungary, and his current research revolves around the psychology of democratic citizenship in light of 21st century challenges to self-governance.

DeBell received his doctoral and master’s degrees in political science from Ohio State University in 2016 and his undergraduate degrees in government and philosophy from the College of William and Mary in 2006.

March 23: Global supply chains and national security: The shutdown of global supply chains because of the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the high level of global economic interdependence: What happens when one country is the main source for an item and then can no longer supply the item? Countries suddenly unable to meet the demand for those supplies are faced with growing calls for economic nationalism. What are some of the lasting effects of the pandemic on global supply chains and trade? How could this affect national security?

Lemmel, the facilitator, is a financial professional and certified public accountant with experience as an auditor, analyst and executive at multinational, manufacturing and consumer goods companies. Through this work, Lemmel has developed a keen understanding of international supply chains, inventory movements, value chains and costing.

 March 30: Persian Gulf security issues: The Persian Gulf remains tense as the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran continues. Tensions escalated in early 2020 as the U.S. began to intervene in the Gulf, launching an air strike that killed two Iranian military commanders. What are the historical influences that have led to these tensions? What role, if any, should the United States play? Is using military force a viable foreign policy option for 2021 beyond?

Prior to Johnson’s official retirement in 2002, he completed a 35-year career in public education as a teacher and administrator at all levels, ranging from elementary through graduate school. Most of the 35 years were spent as a principal in Northbrook, Ill. Since his retirement, he has been a member of the adjunct faculty in the graduate school of education at National-Louis University. Johnson has facilitated meetings, workshops, training sessions, annual meetings and retreats for various groups and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, he continues to serve as an educational consultant and trainer and as a facilitator for public employee contract negotiations specializing in interest-based negotiations.

While enjoying the many benefits of Durango, Johnson and his wife, Marilyn, have been active volunteers at Mesa Verde National Park. They have found meaning and pleasure as Habitat for Humanity volunteers. As well as remaining active at Summit Church, Johnson currently serves on the La Plata Habitat board of directors and several advisory boards. He is finding retirement comes in fits and starts, and phases. The most treasured is the grandparent phase.

April 6: The end of globalization? During the 2020 election season, the merits and drawbacks of globalization were debated by the presidential candidates. With the UK finally leaving the European Union, Trump’s America First, protectionist policies have become more prevalent, challenging globalization. What is globalization and how will it be affected by protectionist trade policies? How will the U.S. and the world be affected by such policies? Is globalization really at an end, or in need of a refresh?

Alminas is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Fort Lewis College, where she teaches courses such as international politics, armed conflict and its management, global environmental politics, international political economy and Middle Eastern politics. Her research interests include persons displaced by armed conflict, secession, international law, international nongovernmental organizations and post-conflict peace-building processes. She received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Arizona, an M.A. in religion from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in religious studies from the University of Colorado.

April 20: Fight over the melting Arctic: Donald Trump left many scratching their heads when it was rumored that he was looking to purchase Greenland from Denmark, which shows the changing opinion within the U.S. government toward engagement with the Arctic region. Because of climate change, large sheets of Arctic ice are melting, exposing vast stores of natural gas and oil. With Russia and China already miles ahead with their Arctic strategies, can the U.S. catch up?

Unger grew up as an Army brat and lived in many different places. He graduated from Frankfurt American High School in Frankfurt, Germany. He then attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering.

Unger worked for McDonnell Douglas at the NASA Johnson Space Center for two years on the space shuttle design team. He also worked as a computer software developer, computer consultant and small business owner. He and his wife purchased their house in Forest Lakes in January of 2013.

Unger got involved with the Colorado Care Amendment 69 campaign in 2016 and served as the regional coordinator for southwest Colorado. He currently serves as co-chair for Healthcare Durango, advocating for universal health care. He served on the board of directors for La Plata Electric Association from 2017 to 2020 and ran (unsuccessfully) for the Colorado State Senate District 6 seat in 2018. He currently serves on the Durango La Plata County Airport Advisory Commission.

May 4: The Korean Peninsula: The Korean Peninsula is facing a defining era. Attempts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and past U.S. President Trump to repair the rift between North and South Korea have lost momentum, as Pyongyang continues to test long-range missiles for its nuclear weapons program. As U.S.-China relations deteriorate, South Korea may end up in the middle of the two superpowers. What does the future hold for the U.S. relationship with the Republic of Korea?

Vaughn is the senior exercise planner for Summit Training and Exercises LLC. For the last decade, she has created, facilitated and managed training exercise programs based on terrorist scenarios involving radioactive material. Sponsored by the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, these programs of tabletop exercises are presented to U.S. and foreign civilian and military agencies. She also was the project manager for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s counterterrorism exercise program and development team for three years. Retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a captain, Vaughn also served over 25 years providing direct operational support to military forces worldwide as a career intelligence officer. Her jobs included the director, Joint Military Intelligence Training Center; and commander, Naval Element, Defense Intelligence Agency. She has an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, and an M.A. in war studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. She also has a certificate in terrorism studies from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.