Joe Biden’s big speech at the UN on Tuesday is sure to be a disappointment
President Joe Biden frequently uses the phrase “America is Back” to contrast its foreign policy with that of its predecessor and has followed through by reversing key decisions and policies adopted under the Trump administration. But what is Biden’s vision? What are its objectives ?
Sadly, we still don’t know much beyond the platitudes, the slogans, and a belief that if Trump was all for it, it must be bad. Hopefully we’ll get some clarification on his vision for America’s relationship with the United Nations when he delivers his first address to the world organization on September 21.
Not being Trump is a poor substitute for a guiding goal and a strategy to achieve it. Yet this appears to be the sum of Biden’s approach to international organizations. Some of Biden’s early actions included: restoring US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Health Organization (WHO ); reverse Trump’s decisions to withdraw from the WHO and disengage from the Human Rights Council (HRC); re-commit to the Paris Agreement on climate change; seek to restore the Iran nuclear deal; and commit to paying US arrears to the UN
Biden is sure to highlight these decisions in his speech. These are guaranteed lines of applause among the “world elite”. Why wouldn’t the assembled nations appreciate a windfall of nearly $ 2 billion and the promise of American support? They also serve to pit Biden against Trump, who has often spoken with contempt of the UN
This will serve Biden’s short-term interests, but it won’t address broader American concerns.
Specifically, even though Biden disagreed with Trump’s actions, he largely agrees with the critics behind those decisions.
When announcing that the United States would not be pulling out of the WHO, the Biden administration stressed the need to step up the pandemic response and reform the WHO. Also, a high priority was a more solid follow-up investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Regarding the HRC, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made it clear that “the Human Rights Council is an imperfect body, which needs to reform its program, membership and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel. “.
In announcing the restoration of US funding to UNRWA, Blinken said, “The United States is deeply committed to ensuring that our partnership with UNRWA promotes neutrality, accountability and transparency. This is, of course, an implicit recognition of UNRWA’s past lack of neutrality, which has made it possible to teach hate speech, extremism and anti-Semitism in its schools.
Even on the Paris climate agreement, the administration knows that the emission cuts from the United States and other developed countries are insufficient. In 2019, China emitted more greenhouse gas emissions than all developed countries combined.
Iran has slowed down negotiations to the point that even Blinken admitted that “we are getting closer to the point where a strict return to abiding by the JCPOA does not replicate the benefits obtained by this agreement.”
Despite the knowledge of these flaws and the recognition of the need for reform, the Biden administration has deliberately chosen not to tie the re-engagement or restoration of funds to specific changes or improvements, believing that the United States can do better. advance reforms through diplomacy and engagement.
It is willful ignorance.
Other governments have their own priorities at the UN Sometimes they coincide with US priorities, but often they don’t. Even like-minded European nations generally act in their own interest rather than in the interest of the international community at large. Certainly, they do not subvert their interests to those of the United States without a greater motivation or need. As Walter Russell Mead noted:
The Biden administration sees a renewed U.S. commitment to multilateralism as a way to sign allies to an ambitious U.S.-led agenda. But many allies, even close and deeply democratic ones, are embracing multilateralism as a means of limiting America’s ability to impose on them policies they dislike.
Unsurprisingly, Biden’s re-engagement and financial backing drew statements of appreciation from other governments, but little tangible progress on reform.
Countries are not lining up to eliminate anti-Israel prejudices or set stricter standards for membership in the Human Rights Council. China has suffered no discernible consequences for refusing to cooperate with a follow-up investigation into the origins of COVID-19. UN Watch released a report last month providing evidence that dozens of UNRWA teachers condone violence against Jews or Israel. China’s “commitments” on climate change remain promises of future actions that may never materialize. Tehran drags negotiations away as the centrifuges spin, certain that the United States and the other parties to the deal are so eager for a deal that Iran will pay no price for it.
Trump leaned too much on the stick in his approach to UN agencies, and his diplomatic engagement was often inconsistent. In truth, he has only made a few half-hearted attempts to pressure other members to tackle the most egregious abuses.
Biden, however, seems to only value the carrot. If seven decades of experience with the UN teaches anything, it’s that diplomacy and engagement alone are insufficient to achieve efficiency or effectiveness, reform organizations that have faltered, or refocus those that do not. more to their mandates.
This is particularly the case now that other governments are questioning the competence of the Administration. In February, Biden announced: “Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.” Yet the allies are angered by the debacle in Afghanistan and offended by Biden’s failure to consult them. In August, Biden said, “I have made it clear that human rights will be at the center of our foreign policy,” but he abandoned American citizens, Afghan allies and millions of Afghan women and children. to the tender thanks of the Taliban.
Diplomacy and engagement are crippled when American partners lack confidence in us.
The temptation for Biden will be to try to cover up these issues in his speech at the UN with conciliatory words and / or admissions of America’s flaws. But other nations need to know where the United States is at, what it wants to accomplish, and why other governments should support our efforts.
Biden should take this opportunity to reset the political hiccups and the global perception through specificity, resolve, and frankness.
It begins by recalling the original purposes and principles of the United Nations and affirming that the United States expects the organization and its member states to uphold them. Specifically, the United States will defend the rules-based international order and oppose efforts by China or other countries to overthrow it.
This expectation extends to greater transparency, accountability and efficiency within the UN and its affiliated organizations, and a willingness to allow participation of non-member governments like Taiwan. Leverage is not a panacea in this regard, but it can be effective. More fundamentally, an organization that rejects basic good governance or undermines American interests does not deserve the unconditional support of the United States.
Biden is expected to condemn China’s refusal to cooperate with a full follow-up investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and state that US support for the WHO will focus primarily on changes to better prepare for the next pandemic, including the consequences for countries that are not frank, transparent and cooperative.
Inevitably, Biden will discuss America’s problems. Indeed, his administration is mistakenly convinced that self-flagellation is a virtue that benefits the nation. Instead, he should proudly and shamelessly defend America’s progress and achievements, which far surpass that of most other UN members. Statements like that of US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Green, who said she saw for herself “how the original sin of slavery woven white supremacy into our founding documents and principles” , have little value at the UN where some members practice slavery or genocide. nowadays. Biden should frankly address the failures of the Human Rights Council, including its anti-Israel bias and inability to deal with the terrible human rights violations committed by powerful countries like China, and present a specific reform program to be resolved.
He should back up his claims that human rights are central to US foreign policy by announcing that the US will not recognize a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan. A scorpion cannot change its nature, and the Taliban will not respect human rights and, again, partner with terrorist groups.
He should unequivocally announce that the United States will not tolerate a nuclear Iran and is ready to take steps to ensure it. Restoring the Iran nuclear deal is a bad course of action. As Blinken initially insisted, a “longer and stronger deal” is needed.
He should get over his allergy to Trump and recognize the historic success of the Abrahamic Accords and not condone Palestinian intransigence in efforts to negotiate a peace deal.
He must reassure his allies that the United States will support and defend them, whether in Europe, Asia or elsewhere. The world is changing and the United States must sustain and expand its ties with nations threatened by our common adversaries.
Finally, Biden should make it clear that while climate change is a concern for the United States, it does not trump other American priorities and the United States will not compromise its prosperity, national security, human rights. humans or their allies in pursuing emissions commitments.
No nation leader should oppose unnecessarily, but leadership is not primarily about getting along. It is about shamelessly defending the interests of the nation, bringing the allies to common action to defend common interests and confronting governments that threaten them. Sadly, Biden doesn’t seem so interested in leadership as he is in endorsing the international community.
So don’t look for Biden to defend America at Turtle Bay, it’s too Trumpian. Much easier to regurgitate what the audience wants to hear. This can be applauded, but at the cost of American influence. When an administration doesn’t believe America is exceptional, with a special role in the world, we shouldn’t be surprised when other nations see the United States as, in the words of President George HW Bush, just “Another nice country on the UN roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.