Foreign-Policy Challenges Await the Next US President

GOV. Bill Clinton may be stressing his concentration on domestic, rather than foreign policy, but if he is elected president a formidable string of foreign challenges awaits him.

The fact is that although the ailing American economy will require the urgent attention of whoever becomes president, at least a dozen or so major foreign issues will also come to the fore.

Most immediately pressing is the civil war in Yugoslavia, and the prospect that American military forces might be called upon to end the strife between Bosnians and Serbs. Other governments and international organizations have proved unable to end the senseless slaughter, and the peace-bringing mission may yet devolve upon the United States.

The future of Russia and the other republics that used to form the Soviet Union will clearly occupy a major portion of the new administration's time. Communism is outlawed, the Soviet Union has disintegrated, and much of its nuclear arsenal is being dismantled. All of that makes the world safer, but not necessarily tidier. The US has an acute interest in the stability of the former Soviet states and their emergence as democratic nations building free-market economies. That will require careful nurturing.

China may undergo a transition in leadership during the next American presidential term. The question is how fast China will push economic reforms, and whether these will be matched by political reforms. Although China has a poor record on human rights, President Bush has been nonconfrontational with the Beijing regime. A Democratic administration might take a different tone.

Unless there is a new showdown between the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein in the remaining months of this year, Iraq will continue to be a major problem for the US in the next president's term. The Iraqi leader has played a delaying game in blocking United Nations inspectors from investigating his nuclear capability, and he clearly delights in taunting the White House. A new American president would have to decide whether or not to bring this continuing confrontation to new crisis.

Another unpredictable dictator who may be a problem for the new president is North Korea's Kim Il Sung. Although he has denied it, there is good American intelligence that North Korea is developing nuclear weapon capacity. There is also uncertainty about the succession in leadership, expected to take place within the next several years. Mr. Kim intends that his son should take over, but North Korean military factions, less than enthusiastic about this, might stage a coup.

Cuba could be another messy foreign-policy challenge. Fidel Castro seems destined for the political scrap heap as his former communism mentors desert him. But the manner of his going is unclear and could pose upheaval on this island so geographically close to the US.

A new president could face a serious challenge in Cambodia, where the communist Khmer Rouge faction is refusing to cooperate with a delicately-crafted peace plan being implemented by the UN. If the plan falls apart, there will be new fighting as the Khmer Rouge try to increase their military control, and an inevitable and substantial exodus of Cambodian refugees to other countries.

Also on the new president's agenda will be the question of normalizing US relations with Vietnam. The Vietnamese, beset by an economy in ruins, are desperate for the American aid and trade they believe will follow the resumption of diplomatic relations. But complicating the question of normalization is the continuing debate in the US on the status of American POWs.

Burma is not often in world headlines, but is under the heel of one of the most repressive regimes in the world. This is a country that could certainly explode into upheaval and violence during the next presidential term.

Then there is simmering Iran, whose zealous mullahs continue a hate campaign against the US, and who strive to spread Islamic fundamentalism throughout their region, even amid hints from the ruling regime that it might entertain a better relationship with Washington. A vigorous political and military opposition operates from border bases in Iraq.

Beyond this there looms the larger question of a Middle East peace settlement on which the Bush administration has been vigorously working.

While the challenge of Japan is primarily economic, rather than military and political, no new American president will be able to ignore the crucial US-Japan relationship, nor the manner in which an increasingly assertive Japan injects itself onto the world stage.

Rounding out the foremost foreign policy challenges is South Africa. The question there is whether black nationalists and the white minority can work out a power-sharing formula in relative harmony, or whether the country is to slide backward into civil war.

In all of these areas, the US has vital interests. Some will require extensive American diplomacy; some will be costly in terms of money; some may require the commitment of American military power. Collectively, they ensure that the next American president will be as deeply involved in foreign policy as domestic.

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