Five Foreign Policy Issues That Will Be With Us for Another Decade

When this decade, which is now only a few days old ends, we will almost certainly be confronting foreign policy challenges that are hard to foresee right now. In January of 2000 few would have foreseen that a terrorist attack on the U.S. would so radically reorient and drive our foreign policy for most of the decade or that we would spend most of the decade embroiled in a seemingly endless war in Iraq. However, it is likely that some of the foreign policy issues confronting the U.S. now will not go away and will remain confounding problems throughout the decade. Some issues such as the problem of combating terrorism or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will remain, but may take very different forms over the course of the decade. These five are likely to remain substantially unchanged over the next ten years.

The Israel/Palestine Conflict-This conflict has been going on in a very similar form for decades. The resolution to the conflict will likely be a two-state solution, along the lines of what has been discussed periodically for most of the last 30 years. However, there seems to be almost no likelihood of that resolution being agreed upon in the short term. A hard line Israeli government and a Palestinian leadership that is divided with an uncertain future, makes it very difficult for any real progress to be made in this area. Periodic wars, attacks, bombings and the like only serve to further entrench existing positions. It is not at all difficult to envision a scenario where ten years from now Israel is building more settlements, rockets are being fired into Israel from Gaza or the West Bank and peace talks are moving slowly. Some might argue that the current situation cannot hold, but history would suggest otherwise.

Russia-The efforts of the current administration to press the reset button with regards to Russia have not been entirely unsuccessful. However, the question of resetting to what remains unanswered. U.S.-Russia relations have been ambiguous with tensions and flashpoints between the two countries for most of the almost two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While the details of the U.S.-Russia relationship will not remain unchanged over the next ten years, the basic nature of the relationship will not change too much and will remain ambiguous. In 2020, the U.S. may well still be trying to determine what Russia wants, how to balance areas of cooperation with areas of competition with Russia and how to help guarantee the security of Russia’s many neighbors.

Democratic Development-In recent years, the wave of democratization which peaked in the 1990s has slowed substantially. The Color Revolutions in the former Soviet Union, which brought hope for further democratic gains, proved disappointing. Regimes in the non-democratic world have become resilient both to democratic change and to western efforts to accelerate or facilitate that change. While there are clearly non-democratic regimes, for example those in Cuba, Iran and Belarus, which may not survive the decade, the challenges of consolidating democracy in these countries and elsewhere will remain significant. The next ten years will see western countries struggling with both the political and technical questions of democracy assistance while aspiring democrats all over the world will wrestle with the same challenges that have confronted them during the last ten years.

Immigration-While immigration into the U.S. and Europe, largely from Latin America and the Muslim countries respectively, will continue during the next ten years, fears about the creeping Islamization of Europe, or Hispanization of the U.S. will not come to fruition. The fears will remain, but the population will not change quickly enough to make these developments occur in the teens. Thus, the debates, fear mongering and concerns about changing populations which we have heard in recent years will probably continue for at least another ten years.

Foreign Assistance-There has been a growing realization in the over the last ten years that our system for delivering foreign assistance is somewhat broken. Criticisms of the structures, intentions and results of U.S. assistance are widespread. Many of these observations are accurate, but none of this is likely to change. Changing the way assistance is delivered requires extraordinary bureaucratic pyrotechnics, building consensus around new ideas and a willingness to take risks. Achieving any one of these things in official Washington would be difficult, achieving all three is close to impossible. The teens will end with the same debates and complaints about foreign assistance which we hear now. They may gain some traction, but they will not yet translate into concrete policy changes.

A decade from now we may be consumed with new foreign policy crises, wars, climate and economic related problems, but at least some of the challenges the U.S. faces will be sadly comforting and familiar.