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President Biden faces many hurdles to constructing an effective international legal order on migration, not least of which is the absence of any such structure even prior to the dual challenges of the nationalist fallout of the Trump administration's rhetoric and policies and the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the excesses of cruelty under Trump and the social instability resulting from the pandemic may have created political space for the Biden administration to lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive international structure that governs migration of all kinds. To that end, President Biden should cultivate normative authority in the migration arena by shifting the national discourse, shoring up international agreements and institutions, and building regional cooperation.
Trade policy decisions have direct, and almost immediate, effects on American jobs and wages. As result, historically, commercial policy has been highly partisan and closely associated with constituent demands. From this perspective, the post-World War II years were anomalous: trade policy was bipartisan and de-politicized. Due to rapid growth in the U.S. economy, those hurt by imports were easily re-employed, dampening the growth of a pro-protection coalition in either party. This facilitated a U.S.-led expansion of trade under the umbrella of commonly accepted international rules. In the last decades of the twentieth century, however, this pro-trade consensus began to unravel. While U.S. exports continued to thrive, the growth of regional and global value chains and the emergence of East Asian manufacturing giants caused job dislocation and a bifurcation of the U.S. economy around a skill premium. The Trump administration's response was to externalize these problems onto U.S. trading partners. The Biden administration needs a different strategy. Even though the Democratic party has been critical of aspects of the multilateral regime, Biden must re-connect with the international community. The United States should strive to be a better partner in the World Trade Organization (WTO), resist the capricious use of trade law, and rebuild a competitive domestic economy.
The Biden administration has much to do to restore the United States’ credibility as a human rights leader and to strengthen the human rights system in an era of rising right-wing nationalism, authoritarianism, and competition for global power. In doing so, it needs to lead by example by putting its own house in order, and act with both courage and humility in the face of deep global skepticism and distrust. Specifically, the administration should pursue five stages of engagement on human rights: reverse and revoke measures taken by the Trump administration, reaffirm the United States’ traditional commitments to human rights at home and abroad, rebuild the State Department and diplomatic corps, reengage with international and regional mechanisms through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, and reconceptualize the United States’ twenty-first century relationship to human rights. All of the other topics addressed in this symposium—climate, health, elections, migration, structural racism, and trade—implicate human rights. None can be adequately addressed without a robust U.S. human rights agenda.
On November 7, 2020, President Joe Biden proclaimed that his administration would “restore the soul of America.” He declared that U.S. voters had given him a mandate “to achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country,” and that he plans to use the nation's restored moral leadership to create international consensus around U.S. values and urge foreign nations and intergovernmental institutions to adopt anti-racist agendas. To be sure, Biden's commitment to ending systemic racism is rooted in troubling notions of U.S. exceptionalism and invokes an unfounded anti-racist nostalgia. We should never “restore” America's racial past. Nevertheless, Biden's commitment is, in many ways, refreshing and raises a crucial and productive question: how might the United States recalibrate the international legal order and address systemic racism within Biden's framework? One straightforward and pragmatic answer emerges: the Biden administration should live up to the standards of those who inspired his campaign's mission. In other words, truly improving the racial order at home might be a viable way to advance anti-racism abroad, including through existing international institutions.
If we have learned anything since the 2016 election, it is that foreign election interference is not just a strategic tool used by Russia. Many countries are now using social media disinformation as statecraft to attack democracies. With a relatively small investment of personnel and financial resources, a foreign power can use social media and other online tools to heighten divisions in the electorate, spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, and undermine confidence in the electoral system specifically and democratic institutions generally. The Biden administration should use the moral, political, and legal authorities of the Executive Branch to protect the United States from foreign election interference. In parallel, it should work cooperatively with allies to combat election interference using multilateral initiatives.
Joseph R. Biden was elected President of the United States during a period of compound crises for global health and security: the worst pandemic in a century, as well as steep reverses in progress toward reducing poverty, hunger, and disease. The United States has been in full retreat from global health leadership, fraying relationships with allies, weakening global institutions, and engaging in nationalist populism that threatens global cooperation to address worldwide challenges. Yet these tragic circumstances are also fertile soil for deep structural reforms. President Biden can both bolster the immediate responses to COVID-19 and its vast ramifications, and spearhead lasting changes to create a healthier and safer world, from which the United States would richly benefit. His immediate task will be to bring U.S. economic and scientific strength to the COVID-19 response in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO). The Biden administration should also assume financial and strategic leadership in bolstering world efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including its singular pledge to leave no one behind. Finally, President Biden should empower the WHO and lead on reforms to the global health architecture to advance the right to health.
After four years of not simply inaction but significant retrogression in U.S. climate change policy, the Biden administration has its work cut out. As a start, it needs to undo what Trump did. The Biden administration took a step in that direction on Day 1 by rejoining the Paris Agreement. But simply restoring the pre-Trump status quo ante is not enough. The United States also needs to push for more ambitious global action. In part, this will require strengthening parties’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement; but it will also require actions by what Sue Biniaz, the former State Department climate change lawyer, likes to call the Greater Metropolitan Paris Agreement—that is, the array of other international actors that help advance the Paris Agreement's goals, including global institutions such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Montreal Protocol, and the World Bank, as well as regional organizations and non-state actors. Although the Biden administration can pursue some of these international initiatives directly through executive action, new regulatory initiatives will face an uncertain fate in the Supreme Court. So how much the Biden Administration is able to achieve will likely depend significantly on how much a nearly evenly-divided Congress is willing to support.