By William Mauldin
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden has repeatedly vowed
to recommit the U.S. to global alliances and international accords
that President Trump has quit or criticized, highlighting a major
difference in the two rivals' approaches to foreign policy.
Mr. Trump, citing an unfair burden on the U.S., has withdrawn or
moved to exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement,
the Paris climate accord, the World Health Organization, the
international Open Skies Treaty and the leading world powers'
nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of
Mr. Trump also has criticized and questioned organizations such
as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Group of Seven
leading nations, citing the need for an "America First"
"Multilateralism just for the sake of hanging out with each
other is a wholly insufficient justification for us to continue to
remain in organizations," said Mr. Trump's chief diplomat,
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a recent virtual chat with
members of the Liberty University debate team.
Mr. Biden sees working with traditional U.S. allies and
international organizations as a source of strength and a way to
show U.S. leadership, even if the pacts and alliances sometimes
"If we're not in the game, then it's likely that it's going to
get even more problematic," said Tony Blinken, former deputy
secretary of state and foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Biden, in an
interview. "You're much more likely to be effective if you're
actually inside -- you don't have much standing if you're outside,
and you've ceded your influence."
U.N. Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council is a case in point. Mr.
Trump quit the panel in 2018, denouncing it as hypocritical and a
forum for other countries to attack the U.S. and its allies,
Eleanor Roosevelt led the first human-rights efforts at the
U.N., but successive U.S. administrations have had difficulties
with shifting iterations of the panel.
Authoritarian regimes with questionable human-rights records
work hard to secure seats on the council to insulate themselves
from international criticism, according to Hillel C. Neuer,
executive director at U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based agency that
monitors the world body. This year at the council, more countries
voted in support of China's move to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy
with a new security law -- a step that the U.S. and its partners in
the G-7 sharply criticized -- than voted against China's move in
Last week, China, Russia and Cuba were among countries chosen by
the General Assembly as new members of the council. Mr. Pompeo said
their selection "only further validate the U.S. decision to
Other members of the council include France and the U.K., which
were voted in last week, along with Japan, South Korea,
Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Saudi Arabia was narrowly defeated
last week in its bid for a seat on the panel.
Under former President Obama, the U.S. sought and won a seat on
the council, saying the move was part of its new era of engagement
that would advance American national-security interests.
World Health Organization
Mr. Biden, should he win, could move to reverse Mr. Trump's
plans to leave the World Health Organization by next summer. Key
U.S. allies have expressed interest in changes in the
U.N.-affiliated group sought by the U.S., which is at the forefront
of global coronavirus pandemic response.
The Trump administration has blamed China for allowing the
coronavirus to spread and said the WHO is under the influence of
A Biden administration likely would remain in the WHO regardless
of the reform process.
"If you think that the Chinese are getting too strong, compete
with them inside the WHO," said Nicholas Burns, a Harvard Kennedy
School professor and adviser to the Biden campaign. "The United
States has a lot more friends around the world than China
Mr. Biden, if elected, may find it difficult to return to the
same status the U.S. had in some of the international organizations
and pacts curbed or left behind by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP,
on his first working day in office, jettisoning a deal completed --
but not congressionally ratified -- under Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump called it a horrible deal and said bilateral agreements
would better serve the U.S.
The Obama administration saw the TPP as the economic glue for a
coalition of Asia-Pacific partners that would put pressure on
China, which wasn't included.
The TPP entered into force in slightly modified form without the
U.S. Mr. Biden has said he would seek a renegotiation of the deal
-- a task that would require concessions to the other partners
including Japan, as well as overcoming entrenched opposition among
Paris Climate Accord
Compared with the TPP, the Paris climate accord, negotiated
during the Obama administration, would be relatively easy for the
U.S. to re-enter. Mr. Trump set the U.S. exit into motion in 2017,
a process that will lead to withdrawal just after the November
election. He said the accord didn't demand enough from large
emitters such as China and India.
Mr. Biden could rejoin the accord in 30 days as president,
according to the World Resources Institute. More difficult would be
the task of persuading other countries to improve their commitments
under the agreement, an effort Mr. Biden has pledged to pursue.
Iran Nuclear Deal
When Mr. Trump withdrew from the 2015 international Iran nuclear
deal, he said it was ineffective and vowed to pursue a tougher
agreement, although no talks have begun and Washington's main
allies -- the U.K., France and Germany -- have remained committed
to the deal, which eased sanctions in exchange for limits on
Mr. Biden has said he would seek to return to a deal to curb
Iran's nuclear ambitions, but much now will depend on Tehran's
attitude after the U.S. election and its willingness to return to
commitments made in the original deal.
"If they're not, if they think they want to go off and build up
their nuclear program, that is not a place to start," Mr. Burns
Mr. Obama's support for the nuclear deal strained U.S. relations
with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said it failed
to curb Iran's malign influence in the region and would allow
Tehran to return to its prior nuclear work. Any move by Mr. Biden
to return to an international agreement with Iran likely would
affect U.S. ties with Israel, as well as with Saudi Arabia and
other countries in the region at odds with Tehran.
Write to William Mauldin at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 19, 2020 09:43 ET (13:43 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.