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Security in the age of austerity

    • Milan
    • 25 January 2011

          The members of the debate panel at the launch of the latest edition of Aspenia considered what the future holds for the Obama presidency, observing that the US leader’s State of the Union address for 2011 also virtually marked the beginning of his long race for re-election. It was noted that the President’s popularity has recently received a boost both from his response to the massacre in Tucson at the beginning of January, and from the tax deal reached with Republicans at the end of last year. From this point onwards, however, his effectiveness in producing tangible results, particularly in the area of employment, will be a decisive factor.

          On the economic front, the key problem was seen as being the dangerous mix of high levels of both public and private debt, together with the partial loss of the country’s competitive advantage to emerging markets. It was felt that the dilemma for Obama is how to steer a path out of debt by striking the right balance between austerity and support to certain sectors considered to be strategic, knowing that, historically, other economies in similar situations have also experienced inflation and large-scale bankruptcies. Much will depend on the extent to which America succeeds in gaining a new lease on life by finding new sources of sustainable growth.

          In terms of security and foreign policy, it was felt unlikely that there would be any massive cuts in the defense budget, even though a policy of greater “restraint” is almost inevitable. The reality is that a number of international commitments cannot be foregone, such as efforts aimed at ensuring the US’s ability to exert a strong influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and those with a bearing on the Iranian issue, the relationship with Russia, and, naturally, relations with China in all their various facets. Of course, America must adapt to exerting its influence differently to the past, but isolationism is not a real option – a fact which also has implications for Europeans, who will be forced to shoulder greater responsibility notwithstanding their tight budgetary constraints.

          In conclusion, the panelists pointed to the need for the United States to balance short- and long-term objectives, with Obama having so far proven himself capable of pursuing overall strategies and visions, but less convincing in terms of his ability to adapt quickly to tactical challenges. It was noted that after the defeat suffered in the midterm elections, the administration seems to be aware of this problem – an awareness suggested, among other things, by the appointment to key positions of several prominent figures from the business world.

          • Marta Dassù, Kurt Volker and Boris Biancheri
          • Vittorio Terzi, Mario Calbresi and Marta Dassù
          • Kurt Volker, Boris Bianchieri and Sergio Romano
          • Presentation of Aspenia 51: America 2011. Security in the age of austerity, Milan, January 25, 2011