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Nagaraju Kollu asked: How the shift in US presidency will likely impact the position of liberal international institutions which the current presidency completely ignored?

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  • Rajeesh Kumar replies: Donald Trump’s presidency and his ‘America First’ policy have done irreversible damage to the liberal international order, particularly international institutions. From the initial days of his presidency itself, Trump has attacked several multilateral institutions and agreements and reduced the US funding. Later, he drafted executive orders that pulled the US out of many international institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Paris Climate Agreement. Also, Trump administration's protectionist policies exhausted the World Trade Organization (WTO), particularly its ability to resolve trade disputes.

    Contrary to Trump, President-elect Joseph Biden is a well-known enthusiast of a liberal international order. On multiple occasions, as vice-president earlier, he urged world leaders to preserve the liberal international order in response to the growing pressures. He also has extensive foreign policy experience as former US vice-president and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After being elected as the 46th President of the US, Biden pledged to reverse many of Trump’s controversial foreign policy decisions. Foreign policy experts believe that Biden’s passionate approach to a liberal international order would end the US administration's indifference towards multilateral institutions. In the words of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s intended nominee for ambassador to the UN, “Multilateralism is back, Diplomacy is back”. Biden also promises to adopt a positive approach to international institutions, including re-joining the WHO and the Paris Climate Agreement.

    However, for the Biden administration, shoring up the international institutions would not be as easy as expected. First, there is a burgeoning apathy in the US, especially among the Republicans, towards the multilateral institutions. Many believe that such institutions are helping China more than the US. Second, the prevailing crisis of multilateralism is severe, and Trump was never the cause, but a symptom or consequence of that crisis. From Brexit to burgeoning populist-nationalism across the globe, a range of issues threatens the very existence of multilateral institutions. COVID-19 has intensified this crisis, and many institutions have lost their credibility. Similarly, during Trump years, China has expanded its influence in most of the multilateral platforms. Any attempt to bring America back in multilateral institutions may further worsen the US-China relationship. For these reasons, even if the Biden administration fully embraces the international institutions, their revival is conditional.

    Posted on January 13, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.