Reviews | What Biden must prove in his speech at the UN
Yet the Biden team has also shown that there are limits to its multilateral instincts. He sidelined the UN and ignored Allied views during the crises in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He made it clear that competition with China is a top priority, raising questions about whether and how the two powers can cooperate in international institutions.
None of this is necessarily surprising. While Trump was extremely rude to the UN, most presidents have been lukewarm towards the organization, a critical diplomatic venue that can also be notoriously frustrating. Biden and his entourage seem happy to work through the UN and other international institutions whenever possible. But when it comes to managing the big affairs of state, they don’t feel pressured to include these institutions and often want them to step aside. Multilateralism is nice to have, but not essential.
There has certainly been a dramatic shift in American diplomacy at the UN this year. In the later years of the Trump administration, the US mission on First Avenue often seemed adrift. The United States had become “invisible” in Turtle Bay, Estonian Ambassador to the UN Sven JÃ¼rgenson said earlier this year, but with Biden at the helm “it’s back, it’s visible and this is really good news for us “.
Members of the UN Security Council credit the new US team for handling some issues quite effectively, such as talks with Russia over continued UN aid to areas of Syria held by the US. rebels this summer. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s ambassador to the UN, is popular with her counterparts and has pushed the Security Council to engage in crises – like the coup in Myanmar and the war in the Tigray region in Ethiopia – despite Chinese and Russian objections.
But foreign officials say they don’t see a comprehensive US strategy to regain influence at the UN after Trump. In the final weeks of the Trump administration, Biden’s transition team reportedly developed proposals for a sweeping Security Council resolution on tackling Covid that would have highlighted the new president’s re-engagement with the UN. once in power, the administration abandoned them. The White House has also appeared reluctant to work through the UN during the most serious foreign policy crises it has faced so far.
The limits of the administration’s interest in the UN became clear when violence between Israelis and Palestinians escalated in May. Other members of the Security Council have argued for some sort of ceasefire call, and Thomas-Greenfield would have personally been in favor of the proposal. But the White House has repeatedly blocked a statement calling for a ceasefire, saying it could complicate quiet US diplomacy with the Israelis. As one European diplomat regretfully noted, the Biden administration’s calculations might be different from Trump’s, but the result – dismissing the UN – seemed terribly similar.
While the United States often goes it alone at the UN against Israel, the collapse of Afghanistan presented Team Biden with an unprecedented headache. As French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of creating a UN safe zone around Kabul airport, Security Council diplomats said Washington appeared reluctant to take action that could upset the Taliban. during the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the Afghan capital. This compounded the wider feeling among many U.S. allies that Washington simply did not want to consult on the pullout. After the deadly bombing of Kabul airport, the United States was more willing to work through the UN and passed a resolution calling on the Taliban to allow aid in the country and respect the rights of women. He is now looking to United Nations agencies to play a role in delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. But when it comes to dealing with first-rate crises, the administration seems to prefer to bypass the UN
Biden’s audience on Tuesday will perhaps listen most attentively to how he frames relations with China. While Biden has made the fight against China the centerpiece of his foreign policy, US officials fear China will gain inordinate influence at the UN, winning high-level positions in multilateral agencies and pushing for it. organization to advance its own economic interests. They also recognize that the Trump administration’s mercurial approach to diplomacy has given the Chinese a chance to position themselves as a leader at the UN.
Biden will likely use his speech to outline the need to defend a US-led “rules-based order”, a theme Secretary of State Antony Blinken hammered out in a Security Council address in May. The president can temper his remarks as he still needs Beijing’s cooperation to deal with some of the global issues he would like to address through the UN, such as climate change.
Despite the overall friction between Beijing and Washington, Chinese and US officials have been leading a cautious diplomatic dance at the UN since Biden took office. The United States has refrained from publicly shaming China for its ties to the post-coup regime in Myanmar. The Chinese have also deliberately limited their criticism of the Americans’ position in this spring’s Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Most presidents and prime ministers gathered in New York will be relieved if Biden takes such an equally conciliatory approach, as few want to see a complete Sino-US split.
The administration – unlike Trump’s team – is aware that it is more likely to regain momentum at the UN if it actually delivers on big international challenges, rather than simply bashing China. Washington may be less inclined to include the UN in US foreign policy crises, but it cannot do without international cooperation on global warming and Covid-19. And by delving into these topics – and trying to minimize divisions with China – Biden might be able to reaffirm American leadership despite his struggles in Afghanistan.
As the UN prepares for a major climate change summit in Scotland in November, the United States has the opportunity this week to underscore its commitment to a multilateral approach to tackling the pandemic. Many leaders in developing countries will point out that the United States and other wealthy countries have cornered vaccine supplies. If the Biden administration is to restore confidence in the United States as an international leader in dealing with global crises, it must have a substantial response.
The White House is working on it. On Wednesday, a day after Biden’s speech, the United States will host an online summit for world leaders to pledge to provide COVID vaccines and funds. The stated goal is to have 70% of the world’s population vaccinated by September 2022, in addition to improving care for Covid patients and strengthening global health systems to meet future challenges. The sums involved are considerable, including some 10 billion dollars for vaccinations, and 2 billion dollars for the supply of oxygen. It is not clear that the United States can convince other states to disburse such sums, especially since some are already funding similar international programs.
The administration is keen to be seen as leading an international burden on vaccinations – but it wants to do so on its own terms. The US summit sums up the mix of support and mistrust of UN diplomacy. This is ostensibly a nod to the importance of the General Assembly and international cooperation. Yet in practical terms, Washington wants to run the show. If Biden and his team can concoct a decent outcome from the Covid summit, they can make the case that the United States is setting the multilateral agenda again.
That won’t settle the fight for influence with China, and even if Biden scores a few points on the pandemic response, he’s unlikely to pay much attention to the Security Council the next time a crisis will erupt. But the General Assembly is an opportunity for the president to make it clear that while the United States is and will remain skeptical about the usefulness of the United Nations in international security affairs, it takes cooperation on issues seriously. long-term threats that require truly multilateral solutions. For many leaders grappling with the aftermath of Covid and the worsening effects of climate change, hearing this message alone will be worth a trip to New York.