Saturday, December 31, 2011

Main ‘drivers’ underlying US foreign policy in 2012

As in previous years, we set out below some of the main ‘drivers’ which we expect underlie US foreign policy in 2012: 
1.     International crises may come and go in 2012, but domestic and economic issues will dominate the political debate. Barring emergencies, foreign policy will come a distant second. 2.     With all sides perceiving that the outcome of the 2012 elections will be extremely tight, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will have an incentive to co-operate with the other – even in minor ways. The immediate prospect, therefore, is for the current polarized legislative deadlock to continue. Whether either side achieves a sufficient majority at the elections to reverse this pattern does not appear likely at this stage. 3.     Although many foreign policy experts hold deep reservations about President Obama’s foreign policy, his standing on this subject among the wider electorate – where, crucially, he is perceived to have been pro-actively tough on terrorism – is more robust. During the presidential campaign, he should remain relatively fireproof on foreign policy. This will give him freedom of maneuver to continue the drawdown in Afghanistan. 4.     The presidential campaign will, however, spark pressure on the White House to adopt hardline positions on US ‘leadership’ and assertiveness in particular contexts. This will tend to aggravate tensions with countries like Russia, China and Pakistan with which there are underlying causes of tension. 5.     Economic stringency will collide with foreign policy and defense objectives throughout the year. Proposals for expensive initiatives will receive a frosty reception. One way of responding to this need to maximize impact despite limited resources will be an expanded deployment of the ‘drone’ network as well as an enhanced role for special operations.    6.     The US ‘pivot’ to the Pacific will continue as an important component of strategic thinking. The focus will be on finding a ‘happy medium’ between containing and cooperating with China. The US will encourage joint military exercises and strategic planning between India, Japan, and Australia.    7.     Iran will present a recurrent theme. Rhetoric is likely to be heated and persistent calls for military action will be heard. While there is always room for misunderstanding or an unplanned violent incident, the US will strive to prevent any outbreak of large-scale hostilities. It will continue to dissuade Israel from military action. 8.     The Middle East peace process will remain moribund. The continued vacillations in the ‘Arab Spring’ will present a series of awkward choices for US policy makers. These will be most evident in the cases of Egypt and Syria. The US will, however, be strongly resistant to be drawn into on-the-ground operations. 9.     The US will struggle to develop even-tempered relations with Europe in the face of the continuing economic difficulties there. Political realities will exclude any expansion of IMF resources, but the Federal Reserve will act cooperatively.      

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