With his reelection, President Obama has a chance to make substantially more progress on today’s foreign policy challenges. His first term was hampered by myriad economic crises and two difficult wars, all of which depleted his political capital. His strong reelection vote and the gains by Democrats in the Senate set the stage for progress across key fronts. But he must start now.
The American people are ready to partner in this effort. Over the past six months, the Connect U.S. Fund gathered input from our community on a letter urging strong U.S. leadership in meeting today’s key international challenges. The letter, which was sent on Nov. 8 to President Obama, was signed by 181 foreign policy experts and leaders of organizations representing millions of Americans. The signatories, which range from former generals to grassroots organizers, have come together to identify the following priorities for President Obama’s second term in human rights, climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, and development.
The promotion of international human rights and humanitarian law and the prevention and mitigation of deadly conflict will remain priorities in the president’s second term. The constitutional crisis in Egypt demonstrates the continued need for strong leadership in supporting democratic transitions triggered by the Arab Spring. At home, President Obama will need to take action to address the continuing legacy of human rights abuses related to indefinite detentions, torture, illegal surveillance, as well as Guantanamo Bay. The establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board demonstrated that the Obama Administration views atrocity prevention as a core national security concern. A key second term challenge will be ensuring the Board and other government agencies have the necessary resources.
Pressure, in particular, is mounting for clarity on the use of drones which are now a central tool in U.S. efforts to combat terrorists. Over the last four years, the Obama Administration has conducted 409 drone strikes, compared to 53 in all eight years of the George W. Bush administration. Despite this dramatic increase in their use, the administration has yet to clarify publicly the criteria for targeted killing and the mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with international law and the protection of civilians. The work being done to establish a draft rule book is a good start.
Progress in addressing the challenge of climate change was severely hampered in the president’s first term, both by the global economic crisis and a well-funded campaign of distortion by the fossil fuel industry. In his second term, President Obama must assert stronger U.S. leadership — at home and abroad — to get global talks on reducing global emissions finally on track. Developed countries must make good on their commitment to provide the developing world $100 billion in climate financing by 2020, including by implementing mechanisms in the international aviation and shipping sectors that both reduce emissions and generate revenue. Finally, President Obama should meet his commitment to phase out all U.S. fossil fuel subsidies by 2015.
Another key challenge in President Obama’s second term is to accelerate efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear war and prevent proliferation by state and non-state actors, some of the most dangerous security threats that we face. In his first term, the president has prioritized reducing nuclear dangers, securing ratification of New START to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals and launching the Nuclear Security Summit process to accelerate global initiatives to prevent nuclear terrorism. In a second term, he will face key decisions on whether to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy. His new presidential guidance on nuclear weapons policy will establish new targeting requirements better suited to today’s security needs and facilitate future negotiated reductions between the U.S. and Russia. He should also increase warning and decision time by “de-alerting” the nuclear arsenal in cooperation with Russia, and reduce the requirements for costly, new nuclear weapons delivery systems.
Further, President Obama has largely united global opinion against Iran and its nuclear program, and multilateral sanctions have begun to exert pressure on Iran’s leadership. While the president has made clear the use of force remains an option, there is still time to reach a negotiated deal with Iran that ties its enrichment activities and stockpiles to its peaceful nuclear needs, combined with more extensive IAEA safeguards that would guard against an Iranian sprint to the bomb.
Last, despite a tough budget environment, the president should work with Congress to protect the international affairs budget from further cuts and continue to strengthen and invest in poverty-focused foreign assistance that seeks to address the root causes of poverty. The administration should work to implement U.S. commitments and promote adherence to the globally-accepted Busan indicators of aid effectiveness by building partnerships, transparency, and accountability. Assisting less prosperous nations in their rise from poverty is not only the right thing to do, but will also enhance global stability and benefit U.S. economic interests.
President Obama should begin laying the groundwork for the important priorities set forth in the Connect U.S. Fund letter. Our large network of foreign policy experts and organizations stand ready to partner in that task.
The author is President of the Connect U.S. Fund, a foundation initiative to promote U.S. engagement in today’s challenges. She served as an Ambassador to the United Nations from 1997-2001.