Vail Daily column: Foreign policy challenges facing the next president |

Vail Daily column: Foreign policy challenges facing the next president

Matthew Kennedy
Valley Voices
Matthew Kennedy
Staff Photo |

The White House’s next occupant will face several difficult international issues. The challenges will test American leadership in the next four years and beyond. The question is what are those? What do they entail? And how might the issues test American foreign policy? The next several articles will examine those subjects. The last piece will furnish an endorsement of whom is best suited to meet those tasks.

Several issues will dominate the next president’s foreign policy agenda. These include in priority order:

• China

• Russia

• The al-Qaida/ISIS threat

• A new European Union devoid of the United Kingdom’s presence

• Potential below the surface flashpoints in the South China Sea, Balkans and Indian Sub-continent

Each of those has the potential to dominate American foreign policy in the immediate and long-term. A strong possibility is various issues from those areas may occupy policymakers’ attention simultaneously.

China’s internal and external climate poises several threats to American foreign policy. Beijing is experiencing an economic transition. It involves reducing the nation’s income inequality, restructuring China’s state-owned enterprises, plus changing consumer savings-spending habits. Authorities are also gradually attempting to introduce political reforms. The last China connected issue surrounds its external activities. The next president will have to monitor how Beijing responds to events on the Korean peninsula, with Japan, and in the South China Sea. The Sino-American relationship will preoccupy the Clinton or Trump administration’s attention on several fronts.

Russia is another issue. Moscow’s internal climate is possibly more unstable than currently seems. Russian President Putin is presently shifting various policymakers within the country’s political system. The Kremlin leader may be attempting to neutralize a potential weakening of support among his traditional power base, the Siloviki — former members of the intelligence/security services currently occupying different offices within Russia’s government. He might have information indicating support for his domestic policies is declining; he may be repositioning allies who may address those issues in a better capacity than the present office holders. The timing of Putin’s action is interesting considering Moscow is preparing for Parliamentary elections in September. The outcome might influence how much control the Kremlin has over Russia’s domestic climate. Moscow is also testing Washington’s interests in the Baltics, Central Europe, Ukraine, Caucasus and Syria. How Russia’s internal/external policies evolve will be a principal concern to the next president.

The third issue surrounds al-Qaida and ISIS. Both organizations remain active. ISIS is the principle concern facing counter-terrorism officials. The Islamic State launched several attacks in Europe last year producing several hundred casualties. ISIS is a consistent threat to the region; it also remains a dominant presence in Syria and Iraq. A large-scale attack against the American homeland by the organization cannot be discounted. The next president must ensure neutralizing the ISIS menace is the administration’s primary counter-terrorism priority.

The European Union’s future after the United Kingdom’s exit is the final major concern. Several policy directions will need assessing: how high a priority will London be in Washington’s diplomatic circles? Will the U.S. take a different economic or diplomatic approach towards the EU after the U.K. exits? How will the United States react if similar Brexit movements emerge in different European Union member states? A Trump/Clinton administration will need to address these issues with the understanding that the adopted policies may strengthen or weaken the EU’s status.

The next administration will need to monitor several secondary issues. These include the conflicting territorial interests of China, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia over the South China Sea’s status. Bosnia and Kosovo’s internal situation within the Balkans is another concern. A beneath the surface tension exists between Bosnia’s Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian communities — a spark could instigate an inter-ethnic conflict not witnessed since the 1990s. Kosovo is the Balkans’ other worry. The country has made notable progress towards acquiring international respect since declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008. Kosovo is facing a high unemployment rate, corruption, a growing militant Islamist threat, and a continued wariness among its Serbian populace towards Kosovo’s authorities. Unsuccessful mitigation of either nations’ internal affairs may incite domestic or regional instability. The last issue will be ensuring Afghanistan’s path towards political and economic stability continues. It will additionally require neutralizing the Taliban threat towards Afghanistan’s socio-economic-political climate.

In conclusion, the next White House occupant will face many of the threats the Obama Administration encountered. The most notable menaces will come from China, Russia and different militant Islamist groups. It will also have to deal with various issues coming from Europe and Asia.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia.

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