Most parts of the world sighed in relief when the outcome of the US presidential election was announced—not only because the wait had been long, but also because the victory of Joe Biden signalled 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 re-engage 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 US 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.
This write-up forms part of a longer compilation of global perspectives on the US election. Read it here.
Research by Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, SAIIA