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Research Questions

  1. What long-term policy issues and organizational, financial, and diplomatic challenges will confront the next president and senior U.S. officials in 2017 and beyond?
  2. What strategic choices does the United States have in dealing with the challenges of today's — and tomorrow's — fast-changing world?

This book is the first of a series in which RAND will explore the elements of a national strategy for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in a fast-changing world. Here, we lay out the major choices facing the next American administration both globally and in three critical regions. The initial chapters lay out alternatives for managing the world economy and the national defense, countering international terrorism, handling conflict in the cyber domain, and dealing with climate change. Subsequent chapters examine in more detail the choices to be faced in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. The final section proposes broad strategic guidelines that can inform and guide these choices.

Later volumes will develop further particular aspects of such a national strategy, including national defense, alliances and partnerships, institutional reform of the American system for managing national security, climate change, surprise and the role of intelligence in reducing it, and the global economy.

Key Finding

Today, the United States faces no existential threat; rather, it confronts an unusually wide and diverse array of challenges.

  • Russia has reemerged as an aggressor state. China has become more repressive at home and more assertive abroad. Al Qaeda has spawned offshoots and imitators more powerful and more radical than itself. Climate change has advanced, and predictions of climate-related disasters have become more ominous, more imminent, and more credible. Cyberspace has emerged as a new battleground between the forces of order and disorder. Expansion of international travel makes the emergence of new communicable diseases like Ebola more dangerous. The past few years have been a reminder that stability is not the natural state of the international environment, that peace is not self-perpetuating, and that whole regions can descend suddenly into anarchy.


  • The United States, as the world's most powerful nation, should continue to take the lead in sustaining and extending a rules-based international order. It should promote the development of new norms in domains where these do not yet exist, such as cyber and climate management. States are the essential building blocks in any such system. Challenges come from strong states that break the rules, and weak ones that cannot enforce them. Both of these challenges need to be addressed. A focus on defense, deterrence, and dissuasion is essential, but it is not enough. State capacity needs to keep pace with the growing capacity for disruption of individuals and groups. The most successful eras of American statecraft have been periods of construction: the birth of new institutions, the reconstruction of shattered nations, and the establishment of new norms for international behavior. The United States needs to combine its defense of existing institutions and norms with a rededication to such a positive agenda, and commit itself to providing the necessary resources.

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