The Catholic University of America

John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

Four Looming Problems

The economy is getting the lion's share of attention at the moment, but lying in wait are a number of difficult and dangerous foreign policy challenges for the Obama Administration.

There are four major problems staring at the United States at the moment, and their names are Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, according to a former top U.S. diplomat.

John R. Bolton, America's ambassador to the United Nations in 2005-2006, offered a thoughtful synopsis of each country's issues during a March 12 lecture at the Columbus School of Law titled "Foreign Policy Challenges Facing the New Administration." The discussion was sponsored by Catholic University's Federalist Society and The Military and National Security Lawyers Association, and packed Slowinski Courtroom with an overflowing crowd.

"The stage is set for a very interesting dynamic between the Obama and Putin administrations," said Bolton, who believes that Russian is intent on re-establishing its former hegemony in Eastern Europe, among other places. Referring to Russia's invasion of the Republic of Georgia in the summer of 2008, Bolton said "the signal the Russians sent was clear: if you get too close to the U.S., you will face a substantial penalty."

Bolton believes that many in the new administration hold an overly benign view of China as well. He said that Chinese behavior cannot accurately be predicted by its actions of the past 3 or 5 years; rather, one should consider its history going back at least a century. A longer view, he said, reveals a nearly unbroken chain of war, famine and turmoil. "China's behavior leads to real uncertainty about how the future will unfold," according to Bolton.

North Korea, summarized by Bolton as "fundamentally a criminal state, with 23 million residents living in a large prison camp," will never voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program, he predicted. The threat that such weapons may pose in the future is the only bargaining chip the country has with the international community.

In some ways, however, Iran poses the hardest problem of all. The Israelis believe that Iran can already manufacture nuclear weapons. American experts aren't convinced yet, at least publicly. But Iranian leaders leave no doubt about the country's intention to join the nuclear club.

"I think that we're down to some very unattractive options regarding Iran's nuclear program," said Bolton. "I don't think the Obama Administration understands that yet." Bolton thinks the U.S. cannot rule out military action against Iran's nuclear ambitions, and that its willingness to "negotiate" endlessly over the issue is simply a way of buying more time to get the program on track.

The ambassador took questions at the end of his presentation and afterward attended a reception in his honor.