The next President of the United States will face a complex tangle of international challenges that rank right up there with the worst of World War II or the Cold War, a foreign policy expert told an audience at Lawrence Technological University Thursday night.
Julianne Smith, senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C., said that it’s true that “no single challenge the United States faces today is equal to the challenges of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union.”
But, she said, “What we can argue is that we face a complex set of challenges… that are interrelated and present a very dangerous, fluid and fast-paced situation.”
Smith, delivering the seventh annual Harold Hotelling Memorial Lecture at LTU, broke the challenges down into five categories:
- A growing diversity of actors challenging the United States. During the Cold War, she said, the U.S. was focused on nation-states – and one in particular, the Soviet Union. Now, the U.S. faces challenges from ethnic conflicts, failed states, emerging powers like India and Indonesia, rogue nations like North Korea, and an increasingly belligerent Russia under Vladimir Putin, as well as global terrorist and criminal organizations.
- Adversaries using “asymmetrical” strategies for which the U.S. is unprepared. Included are non-military attacks like cyberwar, propaganda and advanced military technologies falling into the wrong hands.
- Erosion of the foundation of the post-World War II order. Organizations like NATO, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization, as well as the very idea of democracy and free-market capitalism, are under attack.
- Alliances under strain. Smith said organizations like NATO are not equipped to handle modern challenges. She said NATO “knows exactly what it would do if Russian tanks rolled into the Baltic states.” But what about a massive cyberattack on the Baltics? Or “energy coercion,” where Russia turns off the natural gas pipeline to a European country in the middle of a bitter winter? NATO has no clear plan for those attacks.
- Blurred lines between domestic and foreign policy. Forget about politics ending at our shores – domestic disputes have in recent years had major impact on our actions overseas.
Some respond to these challenges by saying the U.S. should walk away from foreign concerns and no longer be world cop, Smith said. But she said the U.S. retains some unique strengths that will serve it well in meeting these challenges. Included are the world’s most innovative and dynamic economy, unrivaled military strength, and the ability to forge coalitions among nations.
In the question and answer session that followed her presentation, Smith had these observations:
- Social media put just as much pressure on policymakers to react quickly as they do to businesses and individuals, and that’s not always a good thing.
- Where did we go wrong with Russia? Smith said policymakers assumed the country would naturally turn to the West and seek to become a European nation. “That all came crashing down when Putin came back into office in 2012,” Smith said.
- U.S. presidential transitions too often boil down to “whatever the last guy did, I’m not doing,” Smith said. But often presidents “learn that there were reasons the last guy had some of those policies… The lessons of Iraq could have applied to Libya.”
- Relations with Turkey and the Philippines are at an all-time low and must be addressed by the next president. In Turkey’s case, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thinks a cleric living in Pennsylvania was behind the recent coup attempt against him, and seeks his extradition. The U.S. wants more evidence. And meanwhile, Erdogan is acting more and more like a dictator, leading to a crisis in a country where the U.S. has important military bases. In the Philippines’ case, President Rodrigo Duterte is cozying up to China and announcing a “separation” from the U.S. Earlier Filipino presidents feared China and sought U.S. backing.
- Climate change will be another foreign policy headache going forward, leading to a long list of problems – refugee flows, armed conflict, and resource scarcity – that the U.S. must prepare for.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will be a vital part of U.S. intelligence-gathering. The fact that it’s the Wild West out there, with little international law covering their use, may actually be good for U.S. interests, since the U.S. leads the world in drone technology.
The Harold Hotelling Memorial Lecture Series was founded to honor an esteemed scholar and colleague. Harold Hotelling (1945 - 2009) joined Lawrence Tech as an associate professor of economics in 1989 and taught courses in business law, business ethics, constitutional law, urban social issues, and law and economics. His life was marked by an unwavering dedication to his family, his church, his students, and his profession.