Global Memos are briefs by the Council of Councils that gather opinions from global experts on major international developments.
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden makes a statement on the 2020 U.S. presidential election results during a brief appearance before reporters in Wilmington, Delaware on November 5, 2020.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In this Council of Councils global perspectives roundup, members of seventeen leading global think tanks reflect on the impact of the election outcome and the most important steps that the winner of the U.S. presidential election can take to advance global cooperation from their country or regional perspective.

Joe Biden’s election victory could present a moment of opportunity on a range of issues including trade reform and climate change collaboration, according to many of the submissions. However, many warn that both U.S. and global institutions will be put to the test in the years ahead, in part due to domestic forces.

Opportunities for Africa in a U.S. Diplomatic Reboot


As Americans chose change over continuity by picking a seasoned statesman over a divisive showman, the world looks to reap predictable multilateral and diplomatic dividends. President-elect Joe Biden is no stranger to multilateralism and diplomacy. His long career has placed him at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Given converging challenges at home and abroad, the United States needs a return to evidence-based policy, consistency, and systematic action. A hard U.S. foreign policy reboot is essential.

Since 2017, the United States has led the strongest assault on global multilateralism that the United Nations has faced in its seventy-five years. The U.S. withdrawal from major accords such as the Paris Agreement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action fostered uncertainty and flux.  

This could soon change, however. Biden respects multilateralism and a rules-based international system. He believes that America should lead by example. Against a backdrop of a global pandemic, working with the World Health Organization to prevent infection and boost the race for a COVID-19 vaccine will send positive signals.

Rebuilding the relationship with Africa will require a change of tack—to focus on Africa’s potential and challenges rather than to use the continent as a space for competition with China. Biden could build on former President Barack Obama’s legacy of supporting the African Union to drive democratic governance. In the wake of fragile transitions in Algeria and Sudan, the clear opportunity is to partner to improve governance and ensure civilian transfer of power.

The fight against terrorism has had constructive results in the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, and Somalia, but has not eradicated terrorist groups. A reassessment of Washington’s counterterrorism support to African states could prioritize more comprehensive approaches.

Impartial mediation in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute, drawing on principles of equality and international law, will drive win-win outcomes for all parties involved.

The United States will likely find allies to speed up its diplomatic reboot but will also encounter stiff challenges in driving sustainable resolutions to perennial and emergent challenges—from the Middle East to the Eastern Mediterranean. The world is ready for the reboot, however.  

A Chance for Europe to Pursue Greater Autonomy with U.S. Support


Few regions will be more affected by President Donald J. Trump’s failure to win reelection than Europe. Skeptical that alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization benefit the United States and scornful of European integration, President Trump has made EU countries—especially Germany—a target of his tirades against those who “take advantage of the United States.”

How different will all this be under Joe Biden? The surface will show some continuity. A Biden administration will be equally keen on pushing back against China, keener on standing up to Russia, and determined to keep Iran in check yet open to diplomatically engage with it. The main difference is that Biden will invest in reviving the transatlantic alliance and establishing a working relationship with the EU on all these issues. He will be less eager to adopt tariffs on goods from Europe and reluctant to impose extraterritorial sanctions on European entities. He will also reengage Europeans in multilateral endeavours, especially climate change and global economic governance. Finally, he will press for Europeans to spend more on defense, although—unlike Trump—Biden will look positively at European attempts to pool resources within the European Union.

Paradoxically, the main risk for Europe is within Europe, because Europeans will be tempted to interpret America’s renewed transatlantic commitment as a reissue of the old leader-followers relationship. This, though, is not sustainable in a world shattered by COVID-19 and increasingly shaped by U.S.-China competition. A Biden administration will present Europeans with the historic opportunity of pursuing strategic autonomy and transatlantic cooperation as mutually reinforcing dynamics. Europeans had best seize the chance and take greater responsibility for their own future. Other U.S. presidents may not be as forthcoming.

Biden Can Restore Balance for Democracies


Democracy has been in retreat in many parts of the world. Reports by Freedom House and other watchdog groups show a decline of democratic freedoms for fourteen straight years and a surge in the number of elected authoritarians. The combination of populism and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the decline of the post–World War II world order. A Biden presidency will help restore a balance of powers and could help reboot globalization. 

Despite many doubts about the U.S. election process, legal challenges, and runoffs that remain, U.S. democracy has survived its experiment with protofascism and will become stronger in the next four years. This is a boon for democratic forces worldwide, especially in Europe. Recent developments have shown that democratically elected leaders will try to use majoritarian rule to curb freedoms, overstep constitutional limits, protect the interests of their cronies, and recycle themselves through seemingly free and fair elections. Even if the Biden presidency is slowed by radical conservatism, it is expected to strike up alliances to shore up America’s international role and pressure illiberal and undemocratic leadership in other countries. This is good news for the European Union and its drive to stop the corrosive effects of authoritarian tendencies within the bloc and strengthen rule-of-law mechanisms at the supranational level.

At the same time, Europeans should not kid themselves into believing transatlantic relations will return to the status quo ante. In all but name, the rallying cry of America First is here to stay. Biden has vowed to prioritize investment in U.S. green energy, childcare, education, and infrastructure over any new trade deals. He has also called for expanded Buy American provisions in federal procurement, which has long been an irritant in trade relations with the EU. A Biden presidency will seek to restore America’s status as a constructive presence within multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Health Organization (WHO). That may go a long way toward restoring faith in some of the pillars of the world order that have been battered by the Donald J. Trump administration’s unabashed unilateralism.

Biden’s Presidency: The Challenge of National Reconciliation and Multilateralism


Joe Biden's recent electoral win could enable the United States to develop a more balanced government focused on national unity. For the rest of the world, his presidency could imply a greater willingness to work with allies and friendly governments on regional and global challenges.

U.S. competition with China will remain a critical part of foreign policy. A Biden administration will likely try to deploy a strategy of engagement and compromise in commercial and environment issues, though security competition will continue. Both countries should strive to introduce a hint of future stability in matters of common interest.

A Biden administration is also expected to improve U.S. relations with Latin America. Biden was an integral part of the U.S.-Cuba dialogue under the Barack Obama administration. His State Department could return to that inclination to be a good neighbor. It could also play a constructive role with its European partners to resolve the humanitarian and democratic crisis in Venezuela. After four years of pressure and sanctions, the illegitimate Maduro regime maintains state control. Trump’s views on Latin America were intertwined with his policies on China, commerce, and migration. A Biden administration will be concerned about China’s growing importance in the region but will use all available political tools to construct a favorable hemispheric agenda on political corruption, human rights, and the environment to ensure a more prosperous region.

Biden has also clearly expressed his desire to strengthen the multilateral system. Yet structural and domestic constraints could mean that security policy changes are minimal. Little is known whether a state-of-the-art military is a core element of Biden’s strategy.

Changes in U.S. commercial and environmental policies are not going to unfold quickly. The previous status quo was upended, enabling a future administration to negotiate a better deal with China and other global trade and finance partners.

How will Biden implement a liberal leadership within a framework of global competitiveness? His main challenges include a growing concern about autocratic regimes, the capacity to gain legitimacy over weak countries, and energy competition under environmental constraints.   

Biden faces difficult decisions on the pandemic, economic recovery, and the poisoned political environment. The uncertainty of the transition could hobble his administration.

Biden Knows Central Europe and It Knows Him 


The election of Joe Biden as forty-sixth president of the United States is good news for strategic U.S.-European relations and good news for Polish-U.S. relations. The threat of a U.S. withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and disengagement from Europe will no longer hang over the transatlantic relationship, freeing these two fundamental elements of Polish security policy from an institutional crisis.

Biden brings his political legacy with him: his personal involvement in reunifying Germany, building a whole and free Europe, expanding NATO, and boosting U.S. ties with Central and Eastern Europe. On September 17, 2009the anniversary of Soviet aggression against Polandthe Barack Obama administration withdrew without warning from an agreement to build a U.S. anti-missile defense installation on Polish and Czech territory. It was Biden who flew to Warsaw to mend U.S.-Polish relations. It was Biden who first proposed that a U.S. Air Force detachment should be stationed in Poland permanently. The policy, aimed at increasing the U.S. presence in Poland and on NATO’s eastern flank, has always enjoyed cross-party support in Poland. 

The incoming Biden administration will strive to strengthen compliance with international law. Poland and the rest of the European Union will be desirable allies. Under the Trump administration, Poland worked with the State Department and National Security Council to confirm transatlantic nonrecognition of Crimea’s annexation. It also, along with other EU countries, refused to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and did not recognize Israel’s unilateral inclusion of the Golan Heights. Finally, the world will be able to count on a coherent U.S. policy on illegal territorial annexations.

A Biden administration will bring a generational change to American politics. It will be both the last generation whose policies have been influenced by a generation shaped by the end of the Cold War—represented by Joe Biden—and the first generation to enter its adult political life in the era of global triumph of democratic values and ideas—represented by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. This is the last opportunity to instill commitments to the transatlantic relationship, NATO, and the democratic community for a new generation of American politicians. Poland will certainly be an ally in this regard.

Renewing International Cooperation


Many in Japan believe that the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a test of the very concept of democracy.

Joe Biden’s victory saves the Japanese government some disappointment. Over the past few years, Tokyo’s diplomatic efforts were bolstered by the personal relationship between former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald J. Trump. However, no one in the current Japanese government is capable of working with President Trump in the same way. The election result forestalls that conundrum.

Given former Vice President Biden’s election, chances are good that Japan and the United States will be able to work together to rejuvenate international cooperative efforts. First, Biden supports multilateral cooperation. Second, and equally significant, a recent Genron NPO conducted poll in September found that more than 70 percent of the Japanese people—in the hopes of avoiding global division—support international cooperation.

Japan is also likely to support and align itself with the Biden administration on issues related to free trade, infectious disease, and climate change. A U.S. decision to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership would also help change the tide of recent years, fortifying the U.S.-Japanese alliance as one founded on the values of global freedom and democracy, and, at the same time, helping protect the rules-based global liberal order.

Reconciling U.S. Perception of Values and Ethical Plurality


A Biden presidency will usher in the next phase of an experiment in which the United States adapts  itself to a changing world. The Trump administration conducted the first phase with a forceful and even coarse drive to revise the narrative that dominated the post–Cold War world, shifting toward a more self-centric United States. It provoked largely unfavorable reactions.

A Biden administration will need to heal these wounds by offering a softer approach and using more conciliatory framing. The main dilemma, though, remains—how to reinterpret the notion of global leadership. It seems to be an indispensable part of U.S. political thinking but needs to be adapted to a world that is both fragmented and drifting away from universalism. The latter trend may be corrigible but in the long run is irreversible because a still interconnected but less globalized and more diversified world is beginning to emerge.

Given the uncertainties in the world today, more active U.S. involvement would be positive in several sectors and certainly would be welcomed by other international actors. One area is climate change, where nuanced equilibrium needs to be reached between the common good and various self-interests. Strategic stability is another arena in which the United States is indispensable because the entirely new model of maintaining and strengthening this stability is necessary to a polycentric world (even in terms of nuclear capacities).

The main challenge for any new U.S. administration in the years to come is to reconcile and manage a strong commitment to the American perception of values with the ethical plurality that will shape the next period of international relations. The notion of global leadership will primarily mean mediation and moderation between various interests, not guidance on how this or that problem should be addressed.    

A More Collegial, but Still Constrained, Multilateral System


Most of us will not miss Trump’s bombast or disregard for convention and traditional allies. Trump, though, did not create the political climate at home or abroad on his own. He was a product of it, and added octane to it. As a losing candidate, he nonetheless garnered 47 percent of the popular vote. And though his administration will soon be history, the global environment and its underlying trends remain. Large swaths of people, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, see themselves as victims of today’s globalization and resent it. Authoritarian, populist governments that use this and other reasons to justify their xenophobia remain in power in many countries. Reshoring and decoupling, trends already in progress given the increased prevalence of machine learning and automation, are cemented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the contested ascendancy of China. 

Biden has espoused traditional, outward-oriented foreign policy positions. He will bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement. This commitment to sound environmental management, though, could also mean canceling approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver more Canadian oil to U.S. markets. 

A Biden administration could bring the United States back into the Trans-Pacific Partnerships—now the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—but almost certainly on the condition that some clauses in the original agreement, which restricted small countries’ abilities to boost innovation, be brought back in force. U.S. interests, driven by big technology firms, are not likely to relent in driving home their advantage via bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements [PDF].

The United States will value alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and multilateral institutions such as the WTO more than it has done for the past four years. But given the current climate of indifference to internationalism in the United States and elsewhere, what this means beyond friendlier rhetoric is not clear. For a small, open economy such as Canada, it means weighing the gains from a more collegial, albeit constrained, multilateral system against losses on important bilateral issues. On balance, this is good because rules of the game and stability in bilateral relations and multilateral processes beat the alternatives.

Lingering Challenges in the U.S.-ASEAN Strategic Partnership


Most of the time, Southeast Asia and its regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), were not on President Donald J. Trump’s radar. The president was not domestically pressured to focus on ASEAN issues or to quarrel with ASEAN member states on norms. Southeast Asia was simply not important in Trump’s grand scheme of things and would have remained so had he secured a second term.

President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, however, guarantees neither more U.S. strategic attention on Southeast Asia nor closer ties with ASEAN leaders. China will continue its push to dominate in the region, particularly in the maritime domain, and to undermine the delicate framework ASEAN leaders have stitched together, under a U.S. security umbrella, to offset an overbearing China. 

The narrative from the United States is that its emerging China policy is bipartisan. Further, Biden’s personal character is more palatable to his Asian counterparts and he is said both to be more institutionally driven and to have less will to unsettle agreements or long-held relationships with allies and friends in the region. At the same time, Chinese moves in Southeast Asia, notably in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, are viewed with particular concern given the long-term strategic interests of the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific. The uncompromising attitude of the Democratic Party toward what it perceives as authoritarianism and the role of the military in some ASEAN member states will bring some disquiet to the surface in Southeast Asia when a Biden administration is in the White House.

Regardless of who the next U.S. president is, then, the current strategic environment—defined by a more-inward looking America and a more aggressive China—presents significant challenges to advancing a meaningful U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership.

The United States Will Continue to Relatively Decline


The obsession with U.S. politics among the Australian political class has reached unprecedented heights under the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Australian media coverage of the U.S. presidential election has been utterly extravagant given the financial pressure the media is under.

This obsession can be explained in part by Trump’s personality—he is, in his own way, mesmerizing. If you turn away, you might miss something extraordinary. The growing profile of U.S. politics in Australia, however, is directly at odds with America’s capacity to influence Australian affairs. Australian politicians, journalists, and commentators seem to want to hold on to an alliance and a predominant U.S. presence in Asia that has always served Australia well. They are reluctant to acknowledge the simple truth that the United States will continue its relative decline even after President-elect Joe Biden assumes office.

The term relative deserves to be stressed. America will remain a great power with the most capable military on earth. It also boasts enormous reserves of innovation and a young, growing population. The moral panic about the alleged deepening divisions in U.S. society will pass.

For Australia, however, the inescapable truth is that China will continue to grow more quickly than the United States can. It may soon surpass U.S. gross domestic product to become the largest economy on earth, and no nation of that size will stand by while its adversary dominates its neighborhood. China wants to lead.

Despite lofty rhetoric about preserving the rules-based order and resisting Beijing’s leadership tilt, the United States has made no concerted effort to defend its predominant position. Biden shows no inclination toward the kind of massive military build-up needed to restore America’s undisputed superiority in Asia. And why should he? Competing with China would be costlier than the Cold War and offer uncertain benefits. At best, the United States could be an effective counterweight to China, and Canberra should encourage Washington toward such a redefined role.

The Trump Hangover


The U.S. founding fathers clearly stated that the United States would be a republic, not a democracy. This distinction has become one of the most contentious elements in American elections and the cause of mockery the world over, particularly in fragile democracies and in countries led by authoritarians close to Trump. Although the media has declared Biden the winner, Trump has not conceded, creating dangerous uncertainty. The election has proved much closer than expected and the primary long-term consequence will be the further erosion of America’s greatest asset abroad: soft power. Over the past decade, the United States—promoter of democracy, liberal values, and market economics—has squandered its image and institutions as its politicians abused them and Trump undermined them. 

Few nations have been hit as hard by Trump’s rhetoric and actions as Mexico. Starting in 2016 with his campaign strategy of blaming “Mexican rapists” for American ills, Trump went on to force changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a vital factor of Mexico’s economic growth. He produced a new agreement that, despite establishing rules for economic interaction, undermines the value of NAFTA: legal and political certainty for investors. Forgoing geopolitical considerations critical to its security and even with its closest of neighbors, the United States under Trump has been inward-looking and incapable of understanding long-term trends and consequences. The prospect of four more years of similar policies was not enticing.

How much damage is done between now and Biden’s inauguration on January 20 will be crucial to the future of the United States. At stake will be the strength of American institutions, which will almost certainly be tested by Trump’s refusal to abide by tradition. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin said. The world will be watching, from some places with malicious intent, but most with the hope that the United States will once again prove to be a shining light of democracy and institutional strength.

Furthering the Economic Prosperity and Stability of the Gulf


The countries of the Gulf region are confident that they will continue to have strong relations with the United States in the wake of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory, and indeed have already sent him their public congratulations.

Saudi Arabia and the United States have maintained robust political and economic ties for decades regardless of the political party in the White House. This year in fact marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the meeting between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz that launched formal U.S.-Saudi relations. It is imperative for the stability and security of the Gulf and broader Middle East that a Biden administration continue to prioritize advancing this partnership. Such an effort includes the need to push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to pressure Iran to commit to ending its missile program and its military interventionism and expansionism in the region. If Biden chooses to reenter negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program, the ultimate aim should be the military denuclearization of the region.

Further, Biden’s foreign policy in the region should promote law and order by working only with internationally recognized legitimate governments in the region, such as President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government in Yemen. Giving a platform to violent nonstate actors—especially in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Yemen—would undermine sovereign governments. Finally, Biden’s foreign policy should continue to cooperate on counterterrorism and energy and to deepen trade and investment with countries in the region. Many accomplishments have already been made in these areas. By strengthening and expanding them, Joe Biden has the opportunity to further the economic prosperity and stability of the Gulf and the wider Middle East.

Rebuilding Trust, Reliability, and Predictability


Most parts of the world sighed in relief when the outcome of the U.S. presidential election was announced—not only because the wait had been long, but also because the victory of Joe Biden signaled a return to a more civil, less shrill America. The unpredictability and chaos of the previous four years, though, will not easily be rolled back. America’s reputation suffered serious damage, trust was destroyed, and some of the worst perceptions of the United States were vindicated. Thankfully, the world did not sleepwalk into a conflagration.

President-elect Biden has an enormous task ahead of him to restore America’s reputational capital, rebuild alliances and partnerships, and, arguably, reinstate the United States as one of the guarantors of the multilateral system. Simultaneous action on parallel tracks will be necessary.

First, domestically, Biden will need to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, reaffirm the integrity of American institutions, and tackle racism, because internal order, cohesion and prosperity are critical to its influence and soft power abroad. Second, on the international front, a Biden administration should reengage with multilateral bodies such as the World Health Organization and rejoin the Paris Agreement. Further, the Biden administration should in its first hundred days undertake diplomatic outreach at a senior political level not just to allies in Europe and East Asia, but also to other important regional partners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. None of these countries is naïve enough to believe that the global governance challenges of the last four years will be overcome simply because a more multilaterally minded U.S. administration will soon be in place, or that the United States will forego its previous ambivalence in adhering to multilateralism. But rebuilding trust, reliability and predictability will be essential for greater international cooperation, even with global institutions themselves in need of reform. At this juncture, the world needs a stable, predictable United States, just as the United States needs a more predictable, stable world if it is to prosper.

Multilateralism Is Hard Work


Most of the German public and Germany’s leaders reacted with a sigh of relief to the news of Joe Biden’s victory in the recent U.S. presidential election. Most in Europe support President-elect Biden’s plans to reengage with allies and to return to multilateral forums, such as the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization.

America’s image as a reliable actor, however, has suffered from the wild swings in its foreign policy under different administrations. For twelve of the last twenty years, presidents deeply skeptical of multilateral cooperation occupied the White House. Even now, a Biden administration will deal with a Congress that does not share his internationalist impulses. The American electorate is less supportive of international engagement than it used to be. Further, Washington’s casual use of sanctions against allies and international organization officials have eroded trust among important partners.

U.S. leadership is more contested than it was. China has continued to gain influence internationally. Illiberal regimes such as Russia and Turkey increasingly meddle in the affairs of other countries, often militarily. Still, dealing with the world’s most pressing issues, from controlling pandemics to fighting climate change, requires working with governments that may have different principles.

Quick fixes are a myth. It is one thing for a new president to engage in a flurry of multilateral activity through executive action that can be easily undone by the next administration. This may be required initially on issues such as fighting climate change simply because the world is running out of time. However, executive action cannot be the only strategy. It is just as important to take on the hard work required to convince the American public that international cooperation is needed, especially in a time of declining American power; that the United Nations and its specialized agencies, despite their many problems, have not outlived their purpose; and that UN reform cannot mean turning the organization into an extension of the State Department that exists only to serve U.S. interests. Just like America’s system of checks and balances, multilateral cooperation requires compromise. International organizations survive only if they benefit most of their member states.

Expect a Rebalanced U.S. Middle East Policy


In the wake of the recent U.S. election, it is worth considering what steps President-elect Joe Biden might take to advance international cooperation in the Middle East. Three major elements of his expected Middle East policy are actually subject to bipartisan agreement in a deeply divided Washington. First is the desire to reduce the U.S. military footprint in the region by ending the so-called endless wars and avoiding new conflicts. Second is the conviction that the dangerous regime in Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Third is the belief that ensuring the flow of energy from the Gulf is no longer a vital U.S. interest. The by-product of these principles is the conclusion that U.S. policy in the region should be reworked to include more diplomacy and greater burden-sharing.

The United States need not remain indefinitely bogged down in costly conflicts, however. At the same time, it should avoid hastily abandoning the region altogether and leaving a power vacuum behind it.

A middle ground is possible in which Washington doubles down on efforts to reinforce pro-American regional security architecture by seeking to build new relationships with its partners, such as expanding the 2020 Abraham Accords to include states such as Saudi Arabia; mediate ongoing rows between allies, particularly the rift between Qatar and the Arab Quartet (Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates); and limit the damage from ongoing conflicts involving allies when immediate and comprehensive resolutions are not forthcoming, including but not limited to that between Israel and the Palestinians. In some instances, Washington may find that efforts to achieve these goals are mutually reinforcing, such as continuing to promote normalization between Israel and Arab states in exchange for Israeli steps that preserve the two-state solution for the future and prevent the slide into an even more hazardous one-state reality.

The World Is Worn Out and Needs a Reset


The world is tired. The COVID-19 pandemic and President Donald J. Trump have exhausted the world and even more so the United States.

To be fair, despite all the rhetoric, U.S. foreign policy has not seen dramatic changes in the last four years. President Trump only augmented what had already begun, his primary contributions being his unique style, frustrating allies, and courting strongmen.

The global order set out seventy-five years ago, despite its seemingly altruistic outlook, in fact perpetuated U.S. predominance. Nevertheless, as decades passed, the United States became increasingly frustrated with international organizations, withheld financial contributions, or decided to withdraw from these institutions that failed to follow the U.S. or Western lead. These institutions soon became irrelevant.

U.S. leadership was already slowly diminishing as the threat of communism ended. The world is now coming to terms with a lack of leadership. The pandemic made sure of it.

A Biden administration may initially make efforts to retrace the traditional role of the United States. Immediate changes could involve rebuilding a rules-based multilateral system. Biden will no doubt prioritize healing a polarized society. His foreign policy will also need to restore confidence in a United States that will provide predictable policies.

Nonetheless, the international system needs a reset. Not only nations but also dedicated private institutions and nongovernmental organizations need to be involved. The world has changed, creating regional fiefdoms in which many countries refrain from following the international order. This leads some regional powers to continue their aggressive policies with impunity. A new system would require a more equitable and sustainable consensus. Most important is to believe once again in a need for cooperation and collaboration. This will be the ultimate test for the Biden administration.

Keeping U.S.-China Strategic Competition Under Control


On the west side of the Pacific, many Chinese closely followed the extended, exciting, and exhausting election process that brought Biden to the stage. Under the Trump administration, U.S.-China relations plummeted in an unprecedented way. After Trump leaves office, what will Biden bring to the U.S.-China relationship? 

Because domestic issues—such as fighting the pandemic, revitalizing the economy, and mending social, ethnic, and political divisions—are so urgent, an international agenda may not be Biden’s immediate policy priority. Further, in light of the recent bipartisan U.S. consensus on China as a strategic competitor, both the motivation and potential for a change in China policy seem limited. 

Nevertheless, Biden has the opportunity to improve, if he chooses, the deteriorating U.S.-China relationship, which is essential not only to the two countries, but also to the world. Without U.S.-China cooperation, international institutions such as the United Nations, the WTO, and the WHO cannot function. Transnational challenges such as climate change, COVID-19, financial-system stability, and nuclear proliferation cannot be managed. It is also more difficult to coordinate regional security issues in Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.

Even in these arenas where interests overlap, it is not easy for the United States and China to cooperate. A seemingly accelerating power shift, an exaggerated ideological competition, a securitization of economic interdependence and technological innovation, a downward spiral of public opinion, and an increasing psychological anxiety all contribute to the strategic rivalry. Biden is regarded as more predictable and rational, and his national security team will likely be more professional, which could be good news for bilateral relations. But his inveterate policy preference for exporting liberal ideology, human rights, and democratic peace theory could well add to the volatility of bilateral relations. The traditional statecraft of prudence, reassurance, and self-restraint are still essential. If U.S-China strategic competition is inevitable, both sides need to keep it under control and on the right track, and cooperate whenever possible.