Recently, foreign policy watchers have been engaged in a frantic bout of hand-wringing over whether America will continue to play the role of global leader. Amid that discussion, however, a much more practical dilemma has crept up. President Obama articulated the quandary in his West Point address: “The question we face… is not whether America will lead but how we will lead.” (Italics added.)
The question reflects the current state of the world. Today’s security environment has no precedent. The sheer volume and complexity of current and emerging security threats, and their interrelationship, creates daunting challenges for the country. We call this the era of “compounding complexity,” defined as an environment where the challenges for policymakers grow exponentially rather than simply by addition, as complex trends interact with one another.
The United States is not in decline and should continue to lead the world. But it needs to radically reshape the way in which it meets today’s challenges, particularly as traditional foreign policy approaches no longer generate the same results. Forging a new model for U.S. global leadership – a new ‘how’ — will require confronting five core strategic challenges.