5 Overlooked Foreign Policy Challenges Of Obama’s Second Term

As President Obama’s electoral victory continues to sink in, many have already begun to refocus on the many foreign policy issues overshadowed by the race for the White House. Most rapid analysis has focused on those items that always seem to top such lists: ongoing issues in the Middle East, the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, and possible confrontations with China. Rather than rehashing those matters, here’s five issues that while they may be less discussed will definitely help shape Obama’s second term:


Absolutely ignored during the general debate, and only brought up the the myopic frame of border security during the Republican primaries, President Obama will eventually be forced to confront the instability in Mexico. President Felipe Calderon’s six-year war against the drug cartels has yielded an estimated 50,000 deaths just south of the U.S. border as of August. The bloodiest of the gangs, the Zetas, have made it their strategy to consolidate control over large swaths of territory in their entirety. By conquering all elements of crime and supplanting the government, the Zetas now control the third-largest state in Mexico. As President Enrique Pena Nieto takes office next month, Obama needs to work closely with his counterpart at finally developing a strategy for cooperation.


During Obama’s first term, there was a rhetorical emphasis on nuclear disarmament, with the President calling for a world free of nuclear weapons in 2009. Obama then launched the Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, became the first sitting President to chair the U.N. Security Council during a high-level meeting on nuclear non-proliferation, and achieved passage of the New START Treaty with Russia.

Since 2010, however, North Korea has proved to be unwilling to roll-back its nuclear weapons program despite substantial concessions from the U.S. Russia has likewise opted to walk away from the Nunn-Lugar agreement, saying they can now safeguard nuclear material throughout the former Soviet Union without the United States. Obama next has the chance to show American leadership on the issue at the Helsinki Conference on a Nuclear-Free Middle East later this year, possibly bringing Iran and Israel both to the table.


While also completely forgotten during the election, Europe is nowhere near out of the woods yet in ending its ongoing economic crisis. On Wednesday, the European Commission revised its projected growth for the Eurozone from 1 percent to 0.1 percent. The ongoing economic instability continues to rattle financial markets, making it clear that the United States’ economic recovery remains closely tied to Europe’s. Obama made significant progress at the last meeting of the Group of 20 in forcing Europe to take strong action, counter to Germany’s prescribed austerity measures. It’ll take even more leadership over the next four years to ensure Europe pulls out of its tailspin.


Far more so than if Mitt Romney had won, a second term for President Obama can be expected to include a strengthening of the role of international law in the world. First, the President can showcase the U.S. commitment to international law through the signing and ratification of new treaties, including final passage of the Law of the Sea Treaty in Senate or a United States-led push on climate change, a subject finally mentioned by Obama in his victory speech. Obama will also likely continue to strongly hold other states accountable to their obligations under international law and bolster support for those adhering to the rule of law. Such an approach has been, and will continue to be, key in Obama’s strategy towards China, particularly in its territorial dispute with Japan.


Though it’s gotten far less press than the much-more publicized “Asia Pivot,” the increased flow of resources to Africa during the Obama administration can’t be denied. The shift has been part of Obama’s fight against terrorist groups globally, including the launch of drone strikes from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and providing support for Kenya’s fighting al-Shabab in Somalia. The U.S. also currently provides military training and support to armies throughout the continent, such as the task force helping Uganda hunt war -criminal Joseph Kony. As questions of how to handle al Qaeda-related or branded groups in Africa, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali, continue to grow, Africa will remain closer to the forefront of Obama’s foreign policy than many realize.