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A Times Editorial

Editorial: A world of challenges

With his inauguration seven weeks away, President-elect Donald Trump is fast assembling his national security team. Trump's picks for national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, are known as much for their sharp elbows as expertise. And now, Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as defense secretary. The administration will inherit many challenges Jan. 20, and the risks of managing them begin on Day One. The president-elect should remember that in military matters as well as in trade, the United States cannot go it alone. It needs allies and alliances, and wherever the United States pulls back, someone else will push forward. Here is a snapshot of what awaits Trump across the globe.

1. China Trump faulted China during the campaign as an unfair trading partner and suggested he would raise tariffs on Chinese imports. But China, the largest export economy in the world, is using its economic might to pose new security threats, notably in the South China Sea. Will the United States maintain a show of force for its allies in the western Pacific? How will it shore up the regional economies to act as a check on China's territorial ambitions and influence?

2. Russia Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a direct challenge to European order and the West's resolve, just as Russia's intervention in Syria's civil war was a bid to reassert its muscle in the region. How would Trump respond to a new act of Russian aggression in eastern Europe? What limits, if any, would he place on Russia's presence in Syria? How would the new president work with Russia on improving cyber security, given the broad suspicions of Russian hacking in the recent U.S. election cycle?

3. Syria Thanks to Russia's help, Syrian President Bashar Assad is making gains against the rebels, guaranteeing no end in sight to a five-year-old civil war that has killed a quarter-million people and caused another 5 million to flee the country. The political and security vacuum, combined with an ever-growing humanitarian crisis, is outside Syria's ability to control and beyond Moscow's narrower geopolitical concerns. The United States could face new fallout in Syria, Iraq and Turkey as the fighting spirals on.

4. Israel Trump's indifference to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a candidate was a hallmark of his foreign policy inexperience. But with no progress on a peace deal in years, with right-wing leaders pushing for new Jewish settlements on occupied land and with both sides becoming increasingly polarized, the two-state solution is seriously under threat. Will Trump lay out some early markers for reviving the peace talks, or will his election embolden Israeli hardliners?

5. Afghanistan The Taliban have retaken more ground in Afghanistan than at any time since the United States invaded in 2001. Yet the war appears on autopilot, with no real sense of the Afghan central government's capabilities, the willingness of the insurgents to assimilate or the West's fallback option should security deteriorate even further. Is Trump prepared to commit more money or troops? Must the United States hold territory to control the spread of insurgent groups?

6. Trade Though the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is dead, Trump still needs to carve America's place in the modern economy, where factory jobs are more threatened by technology than overseas labor. And he'll need to avoid a trade war for a country where consumers rely on cheap manufactured goods from abroad. These deals protect intellectual property and other innovations that create high-wage jobs. And they are vital to Florida, where airports and ports have billion-dollar impacts.

7. Alliances Trump has not articulated any vision for using international institutions such as the United Nations to further America's global aims. He openly questioned the value of NATO and tapped for U.N. ambassador the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, who has no foreign policy credentials. Alliances are critical, whether contributing to America's military obligations or managing foreign debt, refugee and other crises. Standing alone internationally carries great risk.

8. Mexico Trump is already backtracking on his unrealistic plan for a wall along the Mexican border. But he still needs to address a broken immigration system and the need for stronger drug enforcement along the border. Both require Mexico's cooperation. Washington also has a security interest in strengthening Mexico's police and civil institutions. The tone Trump sets will shape the role others in the region will play on key issues from managing ports and combatting trafficking to disaster response.

9. Europe Trump's victory comes as a nationalist fervor takes hold in Europe. As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, as isolationist parties are on the rise and as the continent splits under the financial weight of more than a million refugees from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, Europe's postwar stability and power is coming under question. Would Trump manage the crisis or allow Europe to further split along national lines? How would weakened central governments maintain the fight on terror?

10. Iran Trump vowed during the campaign to tear up the Iran nuclear arms deal. But that deal involved six major world powers, not simply the United States. And Trump has not said what plan he would put in its place to forestall Iran's nuclear weapons program. Any retreat would embolden hard-liners in the Iranian regime who had insisted the United States could not be trusted. Even declaring he would withdraw could further unsettle a tense relationship, causing new frictions in the Mideast and a divide among the six parties that Iran could exploit.

11. North Korea The U.N. Security Council adopted new sanctions against North Korea last week in response to Pyongyang's continued nuclear weapons tests. Even China, North Korea's chief sponsor, joined the move, condemning the situation as "dire" and urging the resumption of multistate negotiations. Trump suggested during the campaign that Japan and South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons as a check. Given its history, North Korea could test the new administration early on.

Editorial: A world of challenges 12/02/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2016 2:49pm]
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