At UN, Biden should champion a new people-centered world order
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The author is a collaborating editor of FT and author of ‘Renewal: from the crisis to the transformation of our lives, our work and politics ”
This is the speech I want President Joe Biden to deliver to the United Nations General Assembly this year. He’s the one that’s honest about the uses and abuses of American power over the past 20 years, or perhaps the last 200, and points to a future that is more about people and global problem-solving than about the politics of the great powers.
“A strong and confident nation,” he might begin, “should not shy away from its past. By reviewing its foreign policy decisions through the prism of its values and applying them equally to all people. Let us measure the success of foreign policy by the same parameters we apply to domestic policy: have we increased freedom, autonomy, prosperity, equality and justice for as many people as possible at home? and abroad ? “
Looking at the wars waged by the United States, one can answer yes for WWI and WWII, the Korean War, the Gulf War, the NATO intervention in Kosovo, and probably for the cold war as a whole. In assessing the Cold War, however, we must weigh the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe against the proxy conflicts the United States and the Soviet Union waged, killing millions of civilians and supporting strongmen who often looted their countries. Many others fail the test: Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and other smaller interventions to topple or support governments in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
In the early years of the war in Afghanistan, when the United States and its allies acted in self-defense to destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban government that hosted it, an international alliance helped form a new Afghan government. The majority of Afghans were probably better off; certainly many girls and women were.
But in 2009, the US government knew that corruption fueled by US dollars was poisoning Afghanistan. More girls were educated and women employed, but they were increasingly confined to cities. The Afghan economy had been stagnant for a decade as constant violence emptied the land and the people.
The United States never got into this cost / benefit calculation because it uses very different metrics to determine the success of domestic and foreign policy. Home politics has taken care of the people; foreign policy with states. When the main threat to the population came from the governments of other states, this division made sense. This is no longer the case. When more Americans died from a global pandemic that all wars The United States has fought since World War II, when the livability of the planet itself is called into question, and when economic and racial inequalities mar the prospects of billions more, it is time to rethink the national security and foreign policy objective.
The United States must maintain the military capacity to deter and defend against attacks. He must also strengthen his diplomatic capacities, as Biden seeks to do. The most important tool in the US foreign policy kit, however, is the third “d”: development – as defined by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and philosopher Martha Nussbaum. It is the development of human capacities and the resulting autonomy and freedom. As such, development knows no boundaries and does not treat the development of children in Newark any differently than in Nairobi.
“The measures to measure development goals in every country in the world were created right here at the UN,” Biden could continue in his speech. “The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, should become the basis of global competition, in which power and influence are measured against which state can produce the best results for its people. The United States should move from the politics of power to the politics of the people. ”
In conclusion, the President reminded his audience that “the United States was founded on the proposition that all white men everywhere were created equal”, a credo which has been updated to “all white men everywhere. humans are created equal ”. As the United States approaches its 250th anniversary in 2026, it becomes a pluralistic nation, reflecting the ancestors of all continents in different proportions. It is time to work to ensure that people of all nations enjoy their rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
Biden will not be making this speech. He is much more likely to warn of the growing threat from China. But as the president of a country that needs an honest calculation and a renewed commitment to making true the “obvious truths” of his founding, he should do it.