January 06, 2014

Three Foreign Policy Opportunities in 2014

By Richard Fontaine

A glance at any newspaper will reveal the daunting list of foreign policy challenges facing American leaders at the outset of a new year.  The war in Syria rages on, with over 100,000 killed and a fifth of the country’s population displaced.  Al Qaeda has seized portions of western Iraq and President Karzai has refused to sign on to an agreement permitting American troops to remain in Afghanistan.  Violence is roiling the world’s newest country, South Sudan, and trouble is brewing in the Central African Republic.  China’s announcement of an air defense identification zone heightened tensions with Japan and Korea, while North Korea’s young leader indulges a penchant for eliminating rivals and brandishing nuclear weapons. 

Wherever one turns, trouble seems to appear on the foreign policy horizon.  Ties with India have been damaged by a row over the arrest of an Indian consular officer in New York, and U.S.-Brazil relations are reeling from the post-Snowden NSA revelations.  Egypt, Libya, Russia – the list goes on.

But for all the trouble in the world, there are opportunities as well, and our foreign policy leadership should not lose sight of those that remain.  Here are three in 2014:

  • TPP and TTIP.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are two key economic agreements that together could provide deep economic and strategic benefits for the member states.  TTIP, while still very much a work in progress, has the potential to break down an array of remaining trade barriers between the United States and the European Union, which together represent nearly half of global economic output.  TPP, which now includes twelve countries (with the significant addition of Japan), is much closer to resolution.  Reaching an agreement on the transpacific pact would benefit the American economy and give greater meaning to the administration’s vaunted “pivot” to Asia.  Inking both TPP and TTIP could even spur another round of (currently stagnant) global trade talks, with the possibility of India and China joining the fold.
  • Mexico.  American policy toward Mexico has in recent years been defined by worries about illegal immigration and the power of narco-gangs south of the U.S. border.  Yet now other issues may rise to the fore.  At the end of 2013, Mexico approved constitutional changes that permit foreign investment in the energy sector for the first time in nearly eight decades.  These sweeping reforms promise a boost in employment and economic growth in Mexico, and significant opportunities for American companies.  While many of the details remain to be worked out, present in these legal changes is the chance for greater integration of the North American energy market and the opportunity to change the tenor of U.S.-Mexico relations – already, net migration from Mexico to the United States has fallen to zero. 
  • Congress.  After what has been derided as the least productive Congress in history, it may seem a stretch to look for opportunities on Capitol Hill.  Yet the end of the year budget deal, which reversed a portion of sequestration’s most damaging effects, suggests a step toward a more constructive path. The budget deal addressed one of the most sensitive issues – the growth of military benefits – and in recent weeks, Congress also relaxed restrictions on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay and Speaker of the House John Boehner has signaled his desire to pursue immigration reform.  The President will need to work with Congress on a raft of foreign policy priorities, including “fast track” negotiating authority and passage of TPP.

There are, of course, other opportunities to be had in 2014.  Secretary of State John Kerry would no doubt add a comprehensive Iranian nuclear deal and an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement to this list.  We’ll see.  For now, a focus on these three – and not only on all the problems in the world – would be a nice start.  

Richard Fontaine is the President of the Center for a New American Security.

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