This report considers some of the major challenges the Obama administration will face over the next four years. Topics covered include: the economy, trade, energy, environment, defence, China, the Middle East and North Africa, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia, and Europe.
As in his first term, President Obama's second-term foreign policy is likely to lack a grand strategic vision and instead to react more to events in an ad hoc manner. The exception to this will be a continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Unlike most second-term presidents, Obama is likely to focus on building his domestic legacy rather than an international one – 'nation building at home'. In combination with the domestic challenges that this administration faces – from austerity to the highest ever recorded levels of political partisanship – this will result in an America less active on the world stage, and one whose actions mirror its rhetoric of responding only to its vital national interests.
In the coming years, US foreign policy is likely to be driven more by economic, developmental and diplomatic tools rather than military ones. When the military is engaged, Obama will tend towards its targeted use through such mechanisms as drones, Special Forces and action in cyberspace. Given the strong desire by the US public to pull back military forces, and their high cost, Obama is very unlikely to deploy them in large numbers except as a last resort (such as in Iran).
The challenges and constraints that the US will face in projecting power abroad will also make it more important, and more likely, that the US will seek to collaborate with key partners, international institutions and other stakeholders in order to achieve its objectives.
Authors: Stephen Blank, Shawn Brimley, Steve Clemons, Janine Davidson, Xenia Dormandy, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freed, Joe Hurd, Cathleen Kelly, Robin Niblett, and Bruce Stokes.