Joe Biden winning the US Presidential election in a tightly fought race is being celebrated by the liberal world. The hope is that the change of the administration in the world’s most powerful country will help to restrain the populist-nationalist leaders in other countries and there will be possible revival of the liberal world order, a new global commitment towards promoting democracy and respecting human rights.
Four years of Donald Trump presidency has been plagued with numerous scandals, accused of damaging science, destroying public discourse, and committing diplomatic hara-kiri with many of America’s long-standing allies. Trump has not only destroyed the preferential trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, by pulling out the US from it, but he has been also regularly threatening to quit the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and has crippled it by blocking the appointment of its judges.
Trump has taken the US out of several arms control treaties with Russia, and has ruined America’s prized leadership of Nato by regularly insulting its European partners and publicly denying to adhere to the collective defence commitment of this military alliance.
However, the whimsical decisions of Trump under ‘Make America Great Again’ have not only brought serious challenges for his country’s trade and defence, but his four years of rule have also done immense harm to global institutions and multilateralism.
Multilateralism, a collective choice the world had made in the post-2nd World War period to secure peace and development for humankind. The United Nations is the centre of the international system and ambition has been to work towards global responsibility, multilateral cooperation, and collective security.
US and multilateralism
Trump administration has done everything in its power to undermine the United Nations and its significance in the global power structure. Instead of working with the US allies, his so-called ‘America First’ policies have alienated them and he has put the US against the very system of multilateralism, which the US had taken lead to create. The UN has lost most of its relevance, particularly when the world is facing a pandemic and new wars are threatening peace and stability in various regions.
Trump administration’s policies against refugees and undermining of International Criminal Court have defied international law and institutions. He has completely stopped or substantially reduced the funding of several UN bodies. Just last week, the Trump administration has proposed a 29% cut of the UN peacekeeping budget for 2021 compared to this year.
In 2017, Trump decided to withdraw the US from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco). US also withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The same year, Trump declared to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the first country to do so out of 196 signatory-countries. Because of the rules stipulated as per the Paris Agreement, the US has finally managed to exit it only the day after the US election last week and it has become a major setback for the global collective effort to confront a survival crisis like climate change.
Not only there is increasing global warming, but a large number of people are also migrating from one country to another. The migration crisis has become further acute due to climate change. In December 2018, the UN General Assembly has affirmed the ‘Global Compact on Refugees’, which provides an outline for international organisations and other key stakeholders to support refugee receiving countries and communities.
Reversal of Trump's policies
The Global Compact is a major milestone in getting a broad global consensus for collective action on migration-related challenges. However, the Trump administration has decided to oppose it. Over and above, while the world is struggling to survive from an unpreceded pandemic, Trump, instead of leading a multilateral global effort decided in May this year to stop the US funding the World Health Organisation and to withdraw from it. The complete US withdrawal from the WHO will, fortunately, wait till July 2021.
President-elect Joe Biden has already declared that he will bring the US back to the Paris Agreement. Considering his record as a senator and as the Vice President in the Obama administration, there is a strong likelihood that the US under Biden will soon take back the centre stage in leading multilateralism, improving ties with old and reliable allies, and rejoining the UN-led international institutions.
The interdependent world needs multilateralism and no country, not even the US, can make itself great in isolation. Hopefully, the Biden administration will soon bring the US back to leading the liberal world order.
The world at present faces massive challenges, the global economy is in serious crisis, wars and violent conflicts are becoming more common and dangerous, the planet is warming much faster than ever before, there is no realistic hope of the pandemic to end soon. The revitalisation of the global partnership is the key for the world to come out of the crises and achieve the sustainable development goals it has set for itself.
Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden