As President-elect George W. Bush’s designated secretary of state, Colin Powell could face a world of foreign policy-related challenges as soon as his appointment is confirmed.
Many involve tensions between Bush’s campaign promises, pressures from leading Republicans in Congress, opposition from Democrats, and the need to balance the United States’ many and sometimes conflicting interests abroad.
With Bush lacking diplomatic experience, Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and adviser to three American presidents, seems certain to play the lead role in formulating U.S. foreign policy.
Here are some of the pressing issues Powell will face:
The question of whether to begin building a national missile defense system is one that could cause friction not just with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but also with Russia, China and some of America’s closest allies.
Russia and China have been adamantly opposed to the proposed system, saying it would dilute the deterrent effect of their nuclear arsenals. Russian leaders have warned the system currently planned could scuttle much-needed arms control cooperation with the United States. Beijing warns it would build more missiles if the system is implemented.
Many of America’s closest allies also oppose building the system, which would require termination of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States. Powell could find himself expending a good deal of political capital to keep relations good with Russia and China and to win allied support of the program.
Bush has said if the United States couldn’t convince Russia to amend the ABM Treaty, then he was prepared to cancel it.
The issue could well confront Powell right after the new administration begins. Bush has vowed to build the system and the Pentagon says it needs to start some construction in Alaska this spring to meet a goal of having the system ready by 2005, at which time North Korea may have the capability to strike the United States with a ballistic missile.
President Clinton delayed the construction decision this year after two of three tests of the system failed to knock a mock warhead out of the sky.
Critics of the program, including many Democrats, have argued construction should only begin after tests have proved the system will actually work. The previous botched tests a doubts about the technology have prompted some scientists to say the estimated $30 billion system will never work.
Saddam Hussein could become a major headache for the Bush administration.
Powell also must consider what to do about the 8-year-old economic sanctions against Iraq, which have failed to compel the country’s leadership to allow confirmation it has given up its weapons of mass destruction.
Russia, France and some states in the Middle East have been clamoring for the sanctions to be relaxed or lifted, and for the United States and Britain to discontinue their occasional, retaliatory bombing while maintaining “no-fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq.
The Clinton administration has been criticized in the press because the sanctions and the bombings have not removed Saddam from power or compelled him to allow U.N. inspections of suspected weapons.