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The American Interest

Global Security Challenges in 2014

The year ahead is likely to bring unforeseen foreign-policy challenges.  Two years ago nobody anticipated the “Arab Spring,” and that phenomenon’s causes, significance, and future developments are still a matter of dispute.  The North Korean regime is fundamentally less stable than at any time since the 1950-53 war, and its sudden unraveling could cause a first-class regional tsunami.  Similar uncertainty applies to Pakistan, a chronically fragile multiethnic state ruled by the Punjabi elite, with three quarters of the country’s 180 million Muslims perceiving the United States as an enemy.  All of Africa, on both sides of the Sahara, is unstable.  Last but not least, the euro may collapse and leave a trail of social, economic, and political devastation in its wake.

Setting such “known unknowns” aside, several key themes will be on Obama’s foreign-policy agenda in the months ahead that will require strategic planning and realist assessment of costs and benefits—decisionmaking imperatives that were obviously missing in last summer’s Syrian crisis.  The first of them is the U.S. relationship with China, which I outlined in some detail in the December issue.  The still-unresolved strategic dilemma is whether the United States should try to contain China by maintaining regional preponderance, or develop offshore-balancing...

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