Great Decisions 2023

January 14- “China and the U.S.” with John Owen

For the past ten years, the United States and China have been locked in a competition for who has the greatest global influence. One major point of contention is the status of Taiwanese sovereignty, which has become even more relevant recently with the possibility that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may prompt China to take similar action regarding Taiwan. How will the United States engage a China which is increasingly seeking to expand its sphere of influence?

John M. Owen IV is Amb. Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.  A former Chair of the Politics Department, he is a Senior Fellow at UVa’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and Miller Center of Public Affairs.  His latest book, Protecting Democracy from the Outside: Constitutional Self-Government and International Order, is forthcoming in 2023.  He is author of Confronting Political Islam (2015), The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (2010), and Liberal Peace, Liberal War (1997).  Owen has published in a number of academic journals and media outlets, including Foreign Affairs and the New York Times.  A former Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies, he has held fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, the Free University of Berlin, the WZB Berlin Social Science Research Center, and the University of British Columbia.  In 2015 he received a Humboldt Research Prize (Germany).

January 21- “Global Famine” with Richard Parker

Fears of global food shortages have followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted grain shipments from the major grain producer. But what about countries and regions that were suffering before this impending shortage? How is famine defined, and how is it different from simple food shortages? What if any remedies are there?

Richard Parker serves as the Vice President of External Affairs at Food for the Hungry, leading the advocacy, policy, and visibility efforts of the organization’s work in 20 countries to create resilient, flourishing communities. 

Prior to joining Food for the Hungry, Mr. Parker served as Assistant Administrator for Legislative & Public Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), having been unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to manage the corporate brand and all public and congressional relations for the agency. He oversaw all external and internal communications efforts within the U.S. and globally with missions and offices in more than 100 countries. 

He was previously the Vice President of External Affairs at Project Concern International (PCI), leading its global brand and marketing strategies, media relationships, and online tools in 18 countries.  He previously oversaw the communications teams for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and the U.S. Peace Corps and served at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where he focused on international health issues, including the creation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Before his service in government, Mr. Parker worked in communications and marketing for the American Red Cross and Levi Strauss & Company.

Mr. Parker serves as an Advisor to Concordia and on the Board of the C.S. Lewis Institute. He holds a Master’s degree in public policy from Regent University and a Bachelor’s degree in business management from North Carolina State University.

January 28- “Energy Geopolitics”

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Access to oil and gas has long held an influence over the politics of individual nations and their relations with others. But as more countries move toward sustainable energy, and supply chain shortages affect the availability of oil and gas, how will this change the way in which the United States interacts with the outside world?

Rosemary A. Kelanic is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, where her research focuses on international security, coercive diplomacy, energy politics, and U.S. grand strategy.  Her book, Black Gold and Blackmail: Oil and Great Power Politics (Cornell University Press, 2020), explains why great powers adopt radically different strategies to secure oil access in case of emergency or war.  Kelanic has also published Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil (Georgetown University Press, 2016), a book co-edited with Charles Glaser, which questions whether the United States needs to station military forces in the Gulf to protect the flow of oil. 


Professor Kelanic earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago.  She holds an M.A. in International Relations, also from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in Political Science, summa cum laude, from Bryn Mawr College.  Prior to joining the faculty of Notre Dame, Kelanic taught political science at Williams College and held research positions at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

February 4- “Politics in Latin America” with Christer Persson
Electoral results in Latin America over the past four years have led many observers of the regional/political scene to discern a left-wing surge in the hemisphere, reminiscent of the so-called “Pink Tide” that swept the area some 20 years ago. But how much do these politicians actually have in common? What implication does their ascendency have for the region?

Christer Persson, Amb. (ret.) Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs

After graduating from the University of Lund Law School in Sweden he joined the Swedish Foreign Ministry. With the Ministry, he held various positions at the home-office and abroad. Among those at the home-office are Director for American (North and South) Affairs, Director for Latin American Affairs. Abroad postings include several in Central- (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras), North- (Washington D..C) and South America (Chile, Uruguay) including as Head of Mission in Montevideo, Uruguay and in Managua, Nicaragua. During 4 1/2 years he served as Senior Adviser for, i.a, Latin American Affairs, at the European Council Secretariat, Directorate General for International Affairs and served 2007-2008 as the Representative (Ambassador) of the local EU-Presidency in Nicaragua. 

 More recently, on a leave of absence from the Ministry, between 2009 and 2013 he held the position of Dean at the UN-mandated University for Peace (Universidad para la Paz), Department of International Law and Human Rights, in San José, Costa Rica. 

 After retirement in May 2014, he taught International Law and International Relations at “la Universidad de Chile” in Santiago de Chile and at “la Universidad Catolica” in Valparaiso, Chile. In 2015, he taught International Law at “la Universidad Americana” in Managua, Nicaragua.  

In addition to his native Swedish Mr. Persson is fluent in English and Spanish, and somewhat less fluent (due to lack of practice) in German and French.  

February 11- “Climate Migration” with Erika Frydenlund

As climate change accelerates and drought and rising sea levels become more common, millions of people in affected regions must uproot themselves and seek safety elsewhere. Who are these affected individuals, and how might the United States aid them, and be affected by the migration?

Erika Frydenlund is a Research Assistant Professor at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University. Her primary research focus is on forced migration and computational modeling. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, master’s degree in statistics, and Ph.D. in International Studies. Additionally, she has graduate certificates in Women’s Studies and Modeling & Simulation. Much of her work focuses on combining quantitative and qualitative data in simulations for understanding the emergence, dynamics, and consequences of human migration and displacement. She led of team of international scholars to place first in the Safety & Security category of the Data for Refugees (D4R) Challenge hosted by TurkTelekom to use mobile phone data for refugees and citizens to examine issues related to refugee hosting in Turkey. She currently works on two large Department of Defense Minerva Initiative funded projects. One examines the dynamics of refugee receiving communities in Greece, Colombia, and South Africa; the other seeks to understand safety and security in slums and informal settlements in Colombia and South Africa by bringing together multidisciplinary teams. 

February 18- “War Crimes” with David Scheffer

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in widespread charges of war crimes and calls for justice. But what exactly are war crimes? Opinions of what constitutes a war crime have evolved, as have ways to identify and punish the perpetrators. How will the war crimes committed in Ukraine be dealt with?

Ambassador David Scheffer is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University.  He was the first U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues (1997-2001) and Senior Adviser and Counsel to Dr. Madeleine Albright when she was U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and when he also served on the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council (1993-1996).  Ambassador Scheffer was the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Expert on U.N. Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (2012-2018) and Vice-President of the American Society of International Law (2020-2022).  He was the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law (2006-2020) and is Director Emeritus of the Center for International Human Rights there.  He is author of the award-winning All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton, 2012) and The Sit Room: In the Theater of War and Peace (Oxford, 2019).  He is a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University (where he was a Knox Fellow), and Georgetown University Law Center and was awarded the Berlin Prize in 2013.

 February 25 – “Economic Warfare” with Dr. Anand Toprani

Waging economic warfare consists of a variety of measures from implementing sanctions to fomenting labor strikes. Such tools are utilized by states to hinder their enemies, and in the case of the United States have been used as far back as the early 19th century. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, economic warfare has been the main means for the west to challenge Russia. How effective will these sanctions be at convincing Russia to cease its war?

Anand Toprani is a graduate of Cornell, Oxford and Georgetown. He is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College, the author of Oil and the Great Powers: Britain and Germany, 1914-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), and the co-author with Rear Admiral Dave Oliver (USN-ret.) of American Defense Reform: Lessons from Failure and Success in Navy History (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2022). 

March 4- “Iran at a Crossroads” with Farzaneh Milani

By the fall of 2022, Iran was in a state of turmoil due to widespread protests against government-enforced wearing of the hijab, a failing economy, an ineffective new president, and the looming succession of the country’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Abroad, renewal of the Iran nuclear deal seemed doubtful and tensions remain high between Iran, Israel, and Arab states. Many Iranians have lost hope of a better future, and the country seems at a crossroads. How should the United States deal with it?

Farzaneh Milani completed her graduate studies in Comparative Literature in 1979 at the University of California in Los Angeles. Her dissertation, “Forugh Farrokhzad: A Feminist Perspective” was a critical study of the poetry of a pioneering Iranian poet. A past president of the Association of Middle Eastern Women Studies in America, Milani was the recipient of All University Teaching Award in 1998 and nominated for Virginia Faculty of the Year in 1999.

Milani has published over 100 articles, epilogues, forewords, and afterwords in Persian and in English. She has served as the guest editor for two special issues of Nimeye-Digar, Persian Language Feminist Journal (on Simin Daneshvar and Simin Behbahani), IranNameh (on Simin Behbahani), and Iranian Studies: Journal of the International Society for Iranian Studies (on Simin Behbahani). She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Magazine, Readers Digest, USA Today, Daily Progress, and N.P.R.’s All Things Considered. She has presented more than 250 lectures nationally and internationally. A former director of Studies in Women and Gender and Chair of the department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, Milani is Raymond J. Nelson Professor of Persian Literature and Women Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She was a Carnegie Fellow (2006-2007).

The Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy invited Milani to join it as a member of its Board of External Experts for Literature in 2021. Milani will serve in that capacity for three years.

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