The Future of American Foreign Policy

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the United States of America was far from a dominant global force. […]

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the United States of America was far from a dominant global force. The deep wounds of the Civil War had only begun to heal, and the predominant policy of the US was one of isolationism and myopia. The success of the Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt’s nationalism began the slow emergence of the US as a world power. The two World Wars ravaged Europe and the Far East, and the United States emerged victorious from WWII only to face the Soviet superpower and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the United States closed the 20th Century as the sole remaining superpower, and enjoyed unprecedented economic dominion over the world.

The 21st Century, however, has been dominated thus far by the threat of international terrorism. The advent of the internet and cheap mobile communication has empowered billions of people, but it has also allowed radicals and terrorists to easily recruit members and coordinate disruptive attacks. The paradigm shifted away from conflict between nation-states to the idea of battling individual groups and organizations across the globe. With no borders or boundaries, the new international reality presents no shortage of challenges for the US military and policy-makers. To further complicate matters, the next battlefield may not even exist outside of computer networks and encrypted mainframes; a Wild West without rules or precedent.

The president today has a myriad of tools at his disposal in conducting foreign policy. Diplomats, Ambassadors, Attachés and other advisors are still widely used and fulfill their roles just as they did in the past centuries. They are an indispensable part of any nation’s foreign policy process, and will be around for the foreseeable future. Likewise, representatives on global bodies such as NATO and the UN are indispensable in communicating US policy and exchanging dialog with the other countries of the world. Interestingly, the Wilsonian ideal of a global government is arguably less likely today than it was in 1919, and the nation-state construct remains the dominant form of organization of power in the world today. The intelligence community has been expanded and refocused over the decades, but it too remains a crucial component of American foreign policy. If Teddy Roosevelt came back to life and was reëlected as president, he would still recognize the current tools of foreign policy at the president’s disposal (although I’m confident that he’d be baffled by computers glow-in-the-dark sunglasses).

The point is that the challenges that the United States will face in the coming decades are likely going to be a complete departure from the challenges of the 20th Century, just as the challenge of a nuclear-armed USSR that Kennedy faced was very different from the challenge of the global slave trade that Lincoln faced. We must ask ourselves whether or not we are ready for the next century of foreign policy, and if we have the right tools to complete future missions. This is the first major question: what will the future of foreign policy look like for the United States?

The second major question is what our response should be to unfolding situations across the globe. In no particular order, here are some major hot-spots in foreign policy:

  • Iranian nuclear program progress
  • The Syrian Civil War
  • The European Debt Crisis
  • The “Arab Fall” and developments throughout Northern Africa
  • The War in Afghanistan
  • South China Sea conflict
  • Israeli – Palestinian conflict
  • The covert drone war in Pakistan
  • Somalia and Yemen terror cells – AQAP
  • Chinese political changeover and trade agreements
  • Creeping Russian autocracy
  • Massive Mexican drug war
  • Investment in Central and South America
  • Canadian oil and resource agreements
  • Nigerian and Mali terrorist groups

In addition, the Presidential Debate last night posed a few interesting questions, namely the role of America and the US military internationally. Will the US continue to inject its influence into unstable regions? Will it expand its military presence into Asia and the Pacific indefinitely? What will be the United State’s strategy to deal with a powerful China? Will it be able to create peace or stability in the Middle East? What is the most effective way to combat the rise of radical Islam? Finally, is the United States on the correct path with regards to its foreign policy ambitions, or is it focusing on the wrong issues and regions?

As you prepare for Wednesday’s meeting, please keep in mind that all opinions are welcome, and that many of these questions are inherently political questions. I will be moderating the debate and will do my best to get a wide range of input on all topics. To review, there are essentially two parts of the discussion: The first is the long-term future of foreign policy, and the second is our short-term outlook on many current issues. I think that these topics are both important, and both inform each other. If you have any questions before the debate, feel free to email me at our main email account and I will do my best to respond. Prognostication is often a fruitless endeavor, but it is worthwhile when undertaken in an informed manner. I hope that you will come prepared for an excellent discussion and debate!

Colin Rosenow