In an interview for Exame, CIC director Sarah Cliffe elaborates on President Biden’s participation in the UN General Assembly, the current role of the UN in global crisis such as COVID-19, and the recent US-France submarine crisis.
“The President’s rhetoric was not new, but he did announce two new actions – increasing US commitments to global vaccination (to be firmed up tomorrow at the vaccine summit that the US is hosting); and doubling climate finance… But the test will still be in follow up actions – will the Biden administration follow through on diplomatic efforts and real contributions to the better world he laid out?”
Read the full article at Exame here.
Sarah Cliffe’s original responses to Exame in English
Exame: RESULT OF THE SPEECH: President Biden said he wanted to have the US back at the table. How do you see his speech today overall and US participation at UNGA? Did the US image got out of it better than before?
Sarah Cliffe: The President’s rhetoric was not new, but he did announce two new actions – increasing US commitments to global vaccination (to be firmed up tomorrow at the vaccine summit that the US is hosting); and doubling climate finance. This was welcomed by other countries, along with the commitment to US engagement in diplomacy on the situations in Iran, the Korean Peninsula, and for a two state solution for Israel/Palestine. But the test will still be in follow up actions – will the Biden administration follow through on diplomatic efforts and real contributions to the better world he laid out? Other countries have been disappointed in past months both by what the US did (in Afghanistan, AUKUS) and what it did not do (lack of engagement in the Security Council or with the sustainable development goals). Overall, this was a good speech and will generally have helped the US image, but it is not enough without follow-through.
Exame: MILITARY: Although the president tried to reiterate that he won’t make military advances abroad as much as the US used to, this week we’re also having the submarine crisis and the focus shifting to Indo-Pacific relations. Can the US transition to this new role in the world? And will the US require more of its allies now, as president Trump sort of did when asking for Europe to spend more on NATO?
Sarah Cliffe: If the Biden Administration really wants to transition from military force to diplomacy, it needs to work with others more closely – AUKUS (the submarine deal) is a good example of an unnecessary alienation of France and the EU. The Biden Administration will also need to spend more money and effort on soft power, including overseas investments in development.
Exame: ROLE OF THE UN: At the same time president Biden made a few promises on crisis such as climate and covid, the UN kept reminding us all today how poor countries still do not have vaccines, for example. With a crisis such as the pandemic failing to being solved by multilateral organizations (such as WHO or the COVAX initiative), can such organizations be in doubt for this new era? Because although president Biden mentioned the world needs a collective action, it doesn’t seem like such action is happening as fast as it should, at least for those affected by the world’s crisis. So what is your take on the message that this UNGA brings to the world, overall?
Sarah Cliffe: The UN is still relevant – the pandemic and climate change show us how much we need collective international action, and if the UN was abolished tomorrow we would have to reinvent it to solve these problems. The UN Secretary General also laid out an ambitious vision at UNGA, called “our common agenda:” action on vaccines and global public health, on climate, on inequality, on tax, on corruption, on social protection and decent living standards for people, even on “fake news.” This is important, because these are things that people around the world care about, that are spurring divisions, anger and protests in many countries. But the UN cannot solve them on its own. First of all, it is an organization of governments and will need governments to take up the challenge. Second, many more actors are needed: cities and local government, private sector, trade unions, NGOs, community groups, and social movements.
Exame: BUILD BACK BETTER WORLD/INVESTMENTS: President Biden again mentioned the Build Back Better World, although without many details, as the G7 did. Many are saying that this plan is a way to fight the increasing relations between China and countries in Africa, Asia and Latam. How do you see this strategy? Can that succed? (please feel free to skip this if it’s too specific)
Sarah Cliffe: The strategy of governing better – delivering better to people – that President Biden laid out at the UNGA is important as a way to combat authoritarianism. It is one of the factors that determined the outcome of the Cold War, that people simply felt better governed and better off even in poor areas of the liberal democracies than in the Soviet Union. But to work both for people in their daily lives and for that larger geopolitical objective, it needs to be backed up by much more action than we have seen in the last 7 months.
Exame: CHINA: China wasn’t mentioned directly, but it seems like all of the speech somewhat tackled the country. Can the world move forward in crisis like climate and the pandemic though without a direct cooperation between US and China? Since Trump, can we say anything has changed on the US-China tensions or is it pretty much the same?
Sarah Cliffe: We cannot move forward on global issues like the pandemic and climate change without cooperation between the US and China. So far, neither side has put that realization into action.
Exame: BRAZIL-LATAM And one last question on Brazil-US relations, I’m not sure how much you followed Brazilian president Bolsonaro’s speech (and his highly controversial stay in NYC). But with the focus shifting to indo-pacific relations, what role will Latin America (and Brazil) play in the US foreign policy now? If that’s too specific, do not worry.
Sarah Cliffe: Have not yet been able to view speech, and look forward to doing so.