China, with impunity, has fortified seven newly created artificial islands located in the hotly disputed Spratlys archipelago, a strategic pathway positioned in the heart of the South China Sea. Has China now set a precedent that any nation can build artificial but sovereign islands in the Pacific, replete with automatic territorial claims to surrounding waters?
If so, will Iran or Russia in 2016 create new islands out of thin air in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, or the Atlantic? Or will the next president have to warn the Chinese that no nation can in godlike fashion birth permanent fortified islands in the middle of international sea lanes?
Will Beijing seek to push the envelope even more in 2016, fearful that the next president in 2017 — whether Hillary Clinton or a Republican — could be more like Truman or Reagan than Carter or Barack Obama?
Russian president Vladimir Putin has come to expect that his border aggressions do not risk much Western pushback. Will Putin continue to take risks after the departure of Obama, who would rather lecture the Russian leader than stop Russian aggression, more worried about keeping intact his legacy as a Nobel Peace Prize winner than preserving post–Cold War borders?