Noble: Vail Symposium continues focus on geopolitical issues this winter (column)
“The Kim family has a high tolerance for other people’s pain,” was arguably one of the most memorable comments during Jung Pak’s wide-ranging program on North Korea in September. It was a program that was at times alarming — such as learning that North Korea has large amounts of uranium — to absurd, the admission that Dennis Rodman remains a primary source for information about Kim and his family.
Kim came across as an established and cunning young dictator who let nothing get in his way of solidifying his control over North Korea — not even family. He ordered the killing of his brother and uncle. In his short time in power he has elevated the stature of his tiny kingdom far beyond what his father and grandfather were able to achieve during their time in power — thanks to his nascent nuclear arsenal.
Since 1971, the Vail Symposium’s mission has been to provide the community with educational and thought-provoking programs. We do so by providing programs on diverse subjects such as geopolitics, adventure, environmental awareness and health and wellness. Earlier this year, our board agreed to devote half of our programming to geopolitics and hot topics. We are particularly proud of our recent slate of geopolitical speakers. Record crowds turned out to hear recognized experts on China, North Korea, the Middle East and Africa.
Noted China expert Minxin Pei kicked off our geopolitical series in the summer with a discussion of U.S. — China Strategic Competition. One of the hallmarks of Vail Symposium programs is the generous audience Q&A time. Questions ranging from North Korea to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative provided Pei the opportunity to elaborate on points from his prepared text as well as address topics he did not get to, such as Taiwan.
Ambassador Dennis Ross, along with veteran foreign correspondent Greg Dobbs, addressed a sold-out crowd. With assistance and the occasional joke from Dobbs, Ross discussed a wide range of intertwined issues that form the complex web of challenges that beset the Middle East. Ross addressed the well-known major players in the Middle East such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia and the United States as well as less known, but integral players such as Oman, Jordan and Yemen. Issues included conflict, refugees, oil and nuclear weapons, as well as the perceived absence of American leadership in the region.
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The Hotel Talisa set the stage for a memorable evening on Africa. Dr. Peter Matlon and Dr. Monde Muyangwa were the evening’s guides on this journey. Matlon and Muyangwa proceeded to chip away at the misconceptions and oversimplifications that abound about the vast African continent — home to 54 countries. Muyangwa dazzled with a content-rich presentation that both wowed the audience members and inspired them with a message of hope about Africa and the possibilities of future U.S.-Africa relations.
James Andrew Lewis, an internationally recognized expert in cybersecurity, kept the conversation accessible with generous doses of humor sprinkled throughout his fascinating and at times alarming presentation. Lewis made it clear that the threat from cybercrime is real, and frequently at the behest of international adversaries of the United States, in particular Russia. In addition to Russia — North Korea, Iran and China all pose active and aggressive threats to the United States in all areas of cybersecurity.
“Bigger, better, faster” was the consensus on future Russian efforts to influence American politics and society. Both David Salvo and Rand Waltzman agreed that Russia will not ease up on their efforts to sow discord and further divide Americans with the ultimate goal of weakening our country. Thus far doing so has been relatively inexpensive, reaped huge benefits to Russia and incurred little in retribution from the United States.
This winter, the Vail Symposium continues its emphasis on geopolitics with its first geopolitical program on Jan. 3, examining the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Turkey. Later in the month on Jan. 23 and 24, the Vail Symposium offers two evenings of in-depth analysis of Asia with our geopolitical doubleheader. Hear, and have the opportunity to question, experts on China, trade, democratic efforts in the region and what the future holds for U.S. relations with the East. Visit www.vail symposium.org for a complete winter season lineup and to purchase tickets.
Claire Noble joined the Vail Symposium as program manager in May of 2018.