On the Record

Global Challenges for the Next U.S. President

The next president of the United States will face significant domestic and international challenges. Brookings president Strobe Talbott, author of The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation (Simon & Schuster, 2008), explains that nuclear proliferation and climate change are two of the most critical issues the next administration will have to address.

Transcript

“It’s only through global governance that we’re going to be able to reverse an ominous increase in the number of states that have nuclear weapons. We have something called the Non-proliferation Treaty that’s been around for decades under which there‘s supposed to be only five nuclear weapon states and we’re already up to nine. And, the Non-proliferation Treaty is coming apart in a way that could mean that we could have 15, 20 maybe as many as 30 countries with nuclear weapons in another decade. And that means you’ve got the potential not just for thermo-nuclear war but multiple thermo-nuclear wars; very bad and that has to be dealt with by fixing the NPT and that in itself would be a way of bolstering global governance.

“Climate change—we’ve all become much more knowledgeable about that. I think the scientific evidence suggests that we have maybe a decade to dramatically turn the corner, which is to say, to reduce this steadily climbing line on the charts that indicates the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere in a way that will make life in many parts of the planet unsustainable, including human life. And we have to take very dramatic action; not just us as a nation but us setting an example to the rest of the world including giant countries of over a billion people like China and India that have to be part of the solution, as well. And, that again, would be a big step forward not just on the specific issue of climate change but also be a big step forward for global governance.

“I think it’s quite likely that the next president of the United States is going to be John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I think it’s a good thing that all three of them have definitely faced up to the reality of this problem and seem to be prepared to give it priority. The next president, in addition to all of the other challenges that he or she will face, is going to have to spend a lot of political capital at home and a lot of diplomatic energy abroad to put the United States back in a solid position of leadership. I think that the rest of the word or much of the rest of the world wants us to succeed, wants the United States to be a leader, but there’s a difference between being a leader and a boss. And we’ve been acting too much like a boss in recent years, and we have to see what the distinction is and be more like a leader, which means people willingly follow you.”

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