The Biden Era: America’s Decisive and Welcome Return to Multilateralism
Photo by Office of the President-Elect
Article by Hiep Nguyen,
On Saturday, November 7, 2020, news networks around the world projected that Joe Biden would win the presidency of the United States and Kamala Harris would be the first woman elected to the vice presidency of the United States. The triumph of the Biden-Harris ticket was not only celebrated by Americans in major cities across the country, but also in global capitals. International leaders from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen sent their congratulations to the new president-elect.
For countless global leaders, Biden’s election heralds a welcome and long-awaited change because his philosophy is firmly rooted in multilateralism: the idea that countries should work together to solve global problems instead of going it alone. To that end, a Biden-Harris administration will utilize the diplomatic muscle of the United States to work hand-in-hand with allies to advance human rights, democracy, and global cooperation. If successful, a Biden-Harris administration would fundamentally shift US foreign policy away from the nationalism, protectionism, and isolationism under the Trump administration and towards a brighter future.
Below are some of the actions the incoming administration is likely to take in critical foreign policy areas:
On the day of the 2020 election, the outgoing Trump administration’s 2017 action to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords (COP-21) officially took effect. This departure will ultimately be short-lived. The incoming Biden-Harris administration has already stated it will move to immediately rejoin the COP-21 Agreement. But beyond Paris, Biden would work with U.S. allies to take even more drastic measures to reduce climate change on a global scale. His domestic plans seek to set a global precedent with higher emissions targets, revolutionary investment in renewable energy infrastructure, and collaboration with large countries like China to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants and gas-powered vehicles.
Instead of embracing a dynamic of unhelpful competition among countries in a “race” for the vaccine, Biden will emphasize global cooperation as the antidote to the ongoing pandemic. He will work with the United Nations to distribute an eventual vaccine on a global scale and ensure that all countries receive critical health materials equitably and safely. Alongside a strategy of mask-wearing and increased testing to control the virus on the domestic front, a Biden-Harris administration could also collaborate hand-in-hand with allies on opening safe travel corridors between countries and eventually easing border restrictions. Lastly, Biden would work with US allies to resume the presence of public health inspectors from the CDC across the world so that the spread of potential pandemic viruses from any region can be detected immediately and the world can work together on a strategy to contain spread and keep people safe.
Human Rights and Democracy
During his years in politics, President-elect Biden developed a reputation for his forceful advocacy of human rights and democracy. As the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he called for the United States and its allies to stop recognition of the apartheid regime in South Africa and advocated for NATO forces and UN peacekeepers to intervene in Serbia to stop the genocide of Muslim minorities. In the latter half of his vice presidency, he worked with European Council leaders to rebuild democratic institutions from the ground up in Ukraine.
Working on these same principles, a Biden-Harris administration could rally U.S. allies to increase sanctions on and forcefully condemn Chinese officials and businesspeople for their role in the genocide of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and the subversion of democratic elections and freedom to protest in Hong Kong. It will use every diplomatic lever possible to support the rights of minority groups from Kurdish people in Turkey to Rohingya people in Myanmar. And it will reopen American doors to and streamline the application process for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from every corner of the world. This includes removing the public charge rule for green card holders relying on federal benefits, expanding temporary protective status for Latin American migrants, beefing up temporary work visas, and increasing refugee admissions to 125,000 people every year.
NATO and the European Union
Like many Europeans, Biden sees the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as bulwarks of peace, democracy, and security in Europe. To that end, he will immediately halt the threats President Trump has continually made to remove funding and even depart from NATO, while still applying courteous diplomatic pressure to convince NATO countries to maintain their goals of spending 2% of GDP on defense. A Biden-Harris administration would also work with NATO to review and likely stop Trump’s reduction of allied troop levels in the continent, as Biden and many German leaders see the strong presence of allied forces in Europe as an integral defensive measure against an increasingly aggressive Russia. Moreover, Biden would push the post-Brexit United Kingdom to maintain an open Irish border as a condition for a critical bilateral trade agreement the British need with the United States.
North and Central America
While the Trump administration antagonized Canada and Mexico with tariffs and border walls, the incoming Biden-Harris administration will return to a policy of cooperation on economic and immigration matters. Biden supports the US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), he will stop construction of a border wall, gradually ease retaliatory tariffs, and will work with countries across the Americas to reinvest in Northern Triangle nations whose citizens are still migrating en masse to the United States.
President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” doctrine, which increased US and NATO diplomatic, military, and trade presence in East Asia to support smaller countries in the region and counter a growing China, will make a quick return under President-elect Biden. He could work with US allies in the Asia Pacific to propose a new multilateral trade agreement in the vein of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership, ensuring that party nations conduct trade with fair labor and environmental practices and benefits all nations in the region equitably.
Photo by Pete Souza
And as opposed to President Trump, who has repeatedly suggested reducing or withdrawing troops from Asia, Biden will maintain an armed forces and naval presence, as requested by allies such as South Korea, and warn Beijing about its incursions into areas such as the South China Sea. While South Korean leadership eagerly anticipates an expanded US presence in Asia to guarantee security for smaller nations, there are many who have also voiced pressing concerns. Thousands of indigenous Okinawans have protested continued US military base presence on their sovereign territory. There have also been significant reports over decades of sexual exploitation and violence among US military forces stationed in South Korea and Japan. Biden, who has vowed to take a hard line against sexual assault and abuse among US troops and has shown a willingness to listen to local leaders, will not shy away from addressing these serious issues.
The inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will mark a decisive end to four years of isolationism, nationalism, and protectionism emanating from the United States. The impact of the incoming administration will be a new foreign policy dedicated to supporting democracy, upholding human rights and self-determination, and fostering cooperation among all nations to solve the difficult challenges that lie ahead for the globe. Vulnerable countries and groups will be more secure with the diplomatic muscle of the United States and its allies used to check bullies, enforce international law, bolster long-standing alliances, and increase refugee admissions. The active role America will play in shaping coordinated international action on climate change and COVID-19 will lay the groundwork for a healthier and greener future for generations. And the collaborative approach the incoming administration will forge on trade agreements will reduce barriers to economic activity while bolstering labor protections in North America and Asia, increasing shared prosperity across the globe.
America’s welcome return to multilateralism in foreign policy and international law will positively impact lives everywhere.
Hiep Nguyen is a first year at Berkeley Law who is interested in regulatory and comparative law. Hiep received his undergraduate degree from Cal (Go Bears!). Before law school, Hiep worked for a public health agency and a political campaign.