Foreign Policy and the Next U.S. Administration

author: Barry R. Posen, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Carol Saivetz, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University
author: M. Taylor Fravel, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Jan. 28, 2013,   recorded: September 2008,   views: 3352

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After tuning in closely to the presidential campaign, these panelists don’t discern worlds of difference in the candidates’ approaches to foreign policy. But the speakers convey key concerns and offer words of advice to the next U.S. president.

Barry Posen is interested in the future of U.S. grand strategy, by which he means our plan for achieving and maintaining security and power. Thus far, says Posen, both presidential candidates “largely share the same view on U.S. grand strategy,” which is very expansive, with “a long, global agenda for U.S. security goals.”

Both sides agree on the continued struggle against terror, containment of rogue states, and a commitment to the spread of democracy. Their disagreements are “tactical, though not trivial,” involving for instance the relevance of international institutions, and the role of diplomacy. Posen worries that both campaigns “overlook key problems in U.S. post-Cold War strategy or offer facile answers.” Money is a big problem: we’ve been financing military ventures with so much borrowed money that Posen wonders if our power position in the world hasn’t been diminished. The candidates “tend to talk about national security policy as if there are no resource constraints,” and if the next president adopts the same unfettered approach, the U.S. risks provoking other nations -- pushing them to act recklessly and build up their militaries. Candidates must join the issue of “whether or not we need to make tradeoffs between solving problems at home and slaying dragons abroad.”

Carol Saivetz worries that the next president will usher in a new cold war with Russia. The past eight years have led to a steady erosion of U.S.-Russian relations. When Putin came to power, he “wanted to play in the old boy’s club,” but met with a series of “perceived and real humiliations,” from NATO expansion to Kosovo. Because “Russia is a superpower wanna be,” says Saivetz, the next president must “craft serious policy towards Russian and not just knee-jerk reactions.”

Toward that end, Saivetz recommends the new administration develop a consistent and even tone of discourse with the Russians; keep them in international institutions but “reign them in tightly;” work with Russia on all issues where there’s a commonality of interests, such as terrorism; make room for Russia in the negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program; and if U.S. missile defense must go on in Europe, at least give the Russians access to sites. “We must stop this tit for tat retail,” she says, noting Russia’s new interest in Venezuela. The next president must “pull back from the edge; it sounds like Cuba.”

The candidates are not really discussing Asia, says Taylor Fravel, but they are surprisingly similar in what they do say. He describes a set of challenges to the next administration, including handling the evolving crisis with North Korea’s nuclear program; maintaining stability in Taiwan and Chinese relations; achieving a climate change agreement with China; engaging multilateral institutions like ASEAN rather than bilateral military agreements; and “coping with and accommodating China’s rise.”

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