22 January 2013


Ahead of the US Presidential inauguration, Chatham House is pleased to publish a new report, The Next Chapter: President Obama's Second-Term Foreign Policy.

This multi-authored report takes an in-depth look at the major challenges the Obama administration will face over the next four years and assesses the likely policies that will be implemented in response. The topics covered are: the economy, trade, energy, environment, defence, China, the Middle East and North Africa, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia, and Europe.

Summary points

  • 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. This will result in a less active America 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, cyberspace, and Special Forces. Given the strong desire by the US public to pull back military forces, and their high cost, Obama is very unlikely to redeploy 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 objectives. For this reason the trend towards greater multi- and plurilateralism will continue.

Notes to Editors

Read The Next Chapter: President Obama's Second-Term Foreign Policy

Read Executive Summary

This report is a culmination of the US Election Note Series released between May and October 2012.

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