In the last half-century, the world has rarely—if ever—been perched on such a parlous ledge, or, more accurately, so many of them. Yes, the Cold War was dangerous, and yes, 9/11 was a historic watershed. But it isn’t hard to make the case that we’re dealing with more danger today across more fronts. The Islamic State and a fragile Middle East. A refugee crisis that was the worst in history even before the recent wave from Syria commenced. A China that seeks global economic hegemony but could bring down the world financial system. And a Russia that under its current leader is as big a threat to the global order as the Soviet Union ever was.
Add to these some other issues that are not traditionally thought of as belonging under the “foreign policy” umbrella but that very clearly now do, in our shrunken and interconnected world. Climate change is the most obvious, since it can be fought only through a massive international effort. But, in a world of easy mobility, there is also the threat of global pandemic. And what about the perils inherent in the realm of cybersecurity, where Russia and China and Iran could create massive global commercial and security disruptions? As the Chinese stock-market troubles show, there is also the stability of the global financial system to worry about. Of course, there is terrorism. And finally, there is the question of how well equipped our bureaucracy is to respond to this head-spinning buffet of potential crises. Dean Acheson didn’t even have to think about most of these problems. They cannot be avoided now, and in the era of global social media, most of them have to be addressed quickly and in full view of the whole world.
That’s what foreign policy involves today—a lot more than handshakes between the great nation-states. And this is the world the next President will confront, and it’s why we’ve assembled this magnificent group of contributors to address the coming foreign-policy challenges in a way that matches the realities of our times.
Joseph Nye Jr. of Harvard contributes an overview of the United States’s position and argues that America is not in decline at all but is confronting some crises that the United States can’t manage as it once might have. The Atlantic Council’s Faysal Itani writes on terrorism and Syria. Ronald Klain, who led the successful U.S. fight to contain the West African Ebola outbreak, describes what the next global pandemic might look like. Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, considers the future of the global financial system. Cathleen Kelly of the Center for American Progress lays out the coming climate-change challenges. Jason Healey of Columbia University and Klara T. Jordan of the Atlantic Council assay cybersecurity. And finally, Julianne Smith of the Center for a New American Security shows how to reorient our overstretched national security bureaucracy to be less reactive and more deliberative. All of the pieces are presented to one degree or another as advice to the next President, with useful and practical prescriptions and recommendations.
It’s a foreign-policy package that’s very different from the usual regionalist-dominated fare. But it’s a different world out there.