Five Countries Where the U.S. Election Matters Most

From Syrian rebels to polar bears, global stakeholders hope for changes after Tuesday's U.S. presidential election

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SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the end of their third and final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., on Oct. 22, 2012

3. China: Big Change? No, Thanks

On his first day in the White House if elected, Romney has vowed, he would declare China a “currency manipulator,” threatening a potential trade war. The Obama Administration, for its part, has tried to make containing China the top U.S. strategic priority. But the Chinese leadership is not particularly fazed. While polls find a strong preference for Obama in Chinese public opinion, the leadership has confined itself to castigating both candidates for China bashing on the campaign trail. And Beijing isn’t taking Romney’s currency threat especially seriously. “Significant parts of the U.S. economy are in trouble, and you need to find a scapegoat, and China happens to be the one,” Chinese analyst Jia Qingguo recently told the Council on Foreign Relations. “But if the past experience serves as a guide, a new President will not significantly change the U.S. policy toward China because the relationship between the two countries has become so close and the interests have become so intertwined. It’s very difficult for a new Administration to significantly change its China policy without bringing a lot of damage to [the] U.S. economy and U.S. national interest.”

Beijing’s preference for stability may lean it toward hoping for an Obama victory, because relations with any new Administration usually start on awkward footing. On the other hand, Fudan University’s Shen Dingli argues that a Romney victory would allow the consummate geopolitical Etch A Sketch moment:

“If Romney wins in November, both he and presumably Xi Jinping will likely shake hands and forget what candidate Romney has said thus far, in much the same manner as both Beijing and Washington have moved beyond the rhetoric of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. But China has reason to be concerned that a second term for Obama — and the continuation of present policies — would present continuous challenges to the relationship. A new President would allow for a clean slate, one that wouldn’t push the United States in a harmful direction with regard to China. And, frankly, the quiet truth is that even if President Romney were to intend irrationally to hurt China, there’s little chance he would actually be able to chart a path to do so in which the United States remained unhurt by its own actions.”

Either way, regardless of what the candidates have said, Beijing appears not to be overly concerned about how their rhetoric would translate into governance decisions.

(MORE: Obama vs. Romney: Who’s Right on China?)

4. European Union: Austerity or Stimulus?

Yes, yes, the European Union isn’t a country. But the interlinked financial and debt crises of the past four years have demonstrated just how closely tied the fortunes of its 27 member states have become — and also how closely their collective economic fate is tied to that of the wider global economy, first and foremost that of its largest player (and consumer), the U.S. Anemic consumer demand in America is a major problem for European economies looking to revive growth through exports, while the state of U.S. debt has an impact on financial markets everywhere.

Obama is the overwhelming favorite of most European electorates, and the likes of France’s President François Hollande see him as a vital ally in the European debate between the more Keynesian growth-oriented policies of the center-left and the austerity orientation of the center-right led by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Romney’s laissez-faire approach to economic challenges may put him well to the right even of Merkel, and officials in Berlin and other European capitals see the Republican as an unknown quantity, whose policy choices are far from clear. His hawkish talk on Russia and Iran makes most European governments somewhat uncomfortable, while his greater resistance to the regulation of financial markets is unlikely to be greeted with much enthusiasm among the E.U.’s power players.

The relative decline of the U.S., of course, means that Europe is no longer inclined to take a lead from Washington on issues ranging from the size of its military budget and share of NATO commitments to the management of its economies — as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner found a year ago, when European finance ministers simply ignored his exhortations to act more decisively to address their debt crisis. On Tuesday, Europe’s primary concern, like that of most American voters, is to see the U.S. get its own economic house in order as rapidly as possible. A robust American economy, after all, is vital for a global recovery.

(PHOTOS: Antiausterity Protests Sweep the Euro Zone)

5. The (Rapidly Shrinking) Arctic

Of course, the Arctic is even less of a country than is the E.U., but its rapidly shrinking ice cap may give it a more urgent stake in the outcome of Tuesday’s election than any other territorial entity on the planet. The shrinking ice is a symptom of a warming planet — a phenomenon the scientific consensus attributes primarily to the effects of carbon-gas outputs resulting from human activities. But restricting those outputs hasn’t been considered a crowd-pleaser by either candidate in an election race strongly focused on job creation — at least, that is, until Hurricane Sandy’s brutal intervention.

Scientists warn against reducing Sandy to a symptom of global warming, but at the same time note that climate change is a measurable and alarming phenomenon not being addressed by political leaders, to whom it will fall to both curb and change human behaviors that exacerbate the problem, as well as to develop strategies to mitigate the impact of the predictable nasty changes under way in global climates. Rather than an aberrant catastrophe, Sandy may be a harbinger of a new normal.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, originally elected on a Republican ticket, last week endorsed Obama for President on the grounds that he had already taken significant policy steps toward curbing carbon-gas outputs, while Romney had backed away from his previous positions in support of climate action. Bloomberg was essentially backing Obama as the candidate more likely to take the necessary action, even though the President has disappointed many environmentalists. If polar bears could vote, the Arctic might not be thrilled by the choices on offer on Tuesday. But like Bloomberg, they’d probably choose the candidate they believe would be less likely to ignore or evade their plight.

MORE: Arctic Sea Ice Melts to Its Lowest Extent Ever

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13 comments
AllanAshby
AllanAshby

Canada should be on that list. It never even got a mention in the foreign policy debate, but the Keystone XL is up for consideration. After Obama wins, will the Keystone XL be approved? Now that there's no further political risk in doing so, expect it to be turned down. This decision will please environmentalists, but it will have enormous strategic implications. It should at least be discussed.

That decision will leave two other pipelines - the Gateway to Kitimat and the Transmountain upgrade to Vancouver - pipelines the Canadian government dearly wants to see approved. If Keystone XL is turned down, the path for both projects gets much easier. Canada is keen to escape the poor deal it now gets under NAFTA, having only one buyer for 97% of its oil exports. The discount between WTI rates and the Brent - not to mention the other discounts US buyers want made to 'oil sands' oil - amount to about $15 Billion per year. 

What is more important, though, is where the oil will go, after it reaches salt water. China and India - not to mention an energy-hungry world - will be happy to take every barrel they can get. The US will want some of that oil, too. It's just that, from now on, they'll have to take their place in line, along with everyone else.

davidnc2
davidnc2

What happened to Canada? 'The Arctic' is a Territory, not a country.

peace.and.common.sense
peace.and.common.sense

The arctic is not a country... at least mention Canada by name, unless... it is also no longer considered a separate country.

HerbertKaine
HerbertKaine

Iran is hoping for an Obama win so it can produce nuclear weapons without restrictions

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

Mexico isn't one of the top five? Or is it that after so many open-borders U.S. administrations, Mexico is no longer considered a separate country?

Rosanadana
Rosanadana

The anniversary of 9/11 this year saw vehement anti-American protests in no less than 22 countries across the Middle East, northern Africa & parts of Asia. We recognize that extremist radical Jihadists, Al Queda & affiliates, organized these angry crowds that assaulted our embassies, burned our flag, as well as effigies of our president, and in Libya, murdered our ambassador & 3 other Americans. Many millions in those countries, including those affected by the 'Arab spring,' HATE us & wish us harm. To the extent that Obama & co. assisted countries wanting to overthrow dictators in the 'Arab spring' take-overs, the strategy has come back to bite him. Al Queda & their brothers are now spread far & wide throughout the Muslim world; the region is on fire. If this isn't the greatest concern & threat to our nation, what is? What is Mr Karon thinking?     

NicoleBeharie
NicoleBeharie

Indians may hate them, but Barack Obama's anti-outsourcing ads are helping him win swing states like Ohio which will determine the US presidency.

sridhar.sid
sridhar.sid

Excellent summation Mr. Karon. I think your list should have included Pakistan, the Middle East(non-Syria), Japan and India. The Pakistani's may publicly complain about the drones, but deep inside they know that Clinton/Obama have been good for them. They would not want Romney, who will be more hostile to Pakistan. The Middle East has enjoyed the fruits of the Arab Spring under Obama/Clinton. Romney would prefer to revert back to Dictators. Japan is the most crucial player in the US Pacific strategy to curb China and they want Obama to finish what he started. India is strategically very important for the US, both in terms of providing support for the US Pacific Policy and also in terms of trade. India has gained from the liberalized technology transfer in Military equipment manufacture. They too will want continuity

KeninIL
KeninIL

The shrinking icecap is not a symptom of global warming, but of climate change -- that is a change in the direction of the jet stream or the ocean currents-- most probably due to solar flairs and other sun actions. We need to send Al Gore and Michael Moore to the sun to intervene !!

pnkearns
pnkearns

Tony forgets:

6. The (Rapidly Expanding) Space, a.k.a. The Universe

Of course, Space is even less of a country than is the E.U. or Arctic, but what the hell.  Tony is making this nonsense up by the word, so let's go big big big.   And Space, with all the orbiting junk, "may give it a more urgent stake in the outcome of Tuesday’s election than any other territorial entity on the planet."

JamesHarvey
JamesHarvey

Did Mr. Karon get paid to write this stupid column? What a waste of bandwidth.

The US elections have an impact on the rest of the world? How insightful.

Foreigners and even polar bears prefer the incumbent over the challenger. Who cares?

People in other countries think that they should have a say in choosing the President of the USA. They don't.

Blah, blah, blah. Does Time even have editors anymore?

diz1776
diz1776

@ViableOp We got to remember that voter fatigue plays a lot into Americans getting frustrated with the political process all together.  Many western nations have voter holidays in which the country designates a couple of days or even a weekend to vote.