The Realist Prism: Obama, Romney Vie for Term Full of Challenges

The Realist Prism: Obama, Romney Vie for Term Full of Challenges

No matter who wins the U.S. presidential election next week, the man who governs from January 2013 to January 2017 will face several challenges during his term in office. While we don’t know who the next American president will be, we do know what items will be appearing on his agenda.

In 2014, Scottish voters will go to the polls to determine whether they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom or secede as an independent nation. With separatist sentiment also on display in other key regions of Europe, especially in Flanders (in Belgium) and Catalonia (in Spain), the map of Western Europe could see some major revisions for the first time in more than a century. The consequences of a breakup of the U.K., however, would have particularly significant implications for the U.S., especially if Scotland embraces a neutral stance in terms of its foreign policy. That would raise the question of whether England, on its own, would be able to maintain its major power status. The U.K. has been an important partner for the United States in a number of military actions around the world, from Kosovo to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Losing such a “faithful companion” would be a major adjustment for U.S. strategists to have to accommodate.

Further east, particularly in the Balkans, armed conflicts that have been frozen for a dozen years could start to thaw. With nationalists having reclaimed the Serbian presidency, and with far-right parties like Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece gaining strength and visibility, there is a real possibility that old but not forgotten enmities might reignite. And due to the ongoing effects of the European economic crisis, European states are not spending scarce tax revenues to rearm, re-equip and retrain their armed forces, which have been depleted by the campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya. America’s vaunted “pivot to the Pacific” is based on a strategic assessment that Europe will remain quiet and able to cope with its own security challenges. By the middle of this decade, however, that assumption may no longer be operative, and the United States may find itself having to make a sudden pivot back to Europe.

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