First 100 Days: Navigating U.S. President Joe Biden's Washington

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Credit: U.s. national park service.

Credit: U.s. national park service.

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Ana C. Rold Publisher & CEO

When Donald J. Trump was elected the 44th President of the United States in 2016 much of America believed that Washington is not working—or working for them. Much has been written and opined about Trump’s election and his part of a broader global trend for change in reaction to globalization. Much like his predecessor, President Joe Biden, takes the helm after a historical election. He, too, takes office with no shortage of conflicts— internal and global. But the question remains: will his arrival at the White House dramatically change the course of major U.S. and regional alliances? What will global trade and resource security look like in the coming months and years? And will he be able to repair America’s reputation in the world amidst multiple converging crises and nearly half a million Americans perished by the COVID-19 pandemic? As is our tradition every four year, we asked our network of global geopolitical and subject matter experts to weigh in with their predictions. As a result, a new editorial channel was launched at Diplomatic Courier, looking at the critical trends and policy shifts that will occur the first 100 days of the Biden administration and which tone they will set for the next four years and beyond. From critical diplomatic relations with China, India, the European Union, and Africa to major issues such as vaccine nationalism, cybersecurity, and energy security, the most polemic issues of the day are distilled by the foremost experts in the world. The essays in this collection have been penned before and during the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration. As always, we hope you will send us your thoughts and questions through letters to the editors. ●

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06 I Charting a New Path for Cybersecurity After SolarWinds By Sean Costigan 10 I How a Biden White House Can Be a Champion for Freedom and Democracy Around the World

By Neil Decenteceo

12 I The Future of U.S.-EU Relations

By Claire Boussagol

14 I The Next Stage of U.S.-India Relations

By Ambassador Tim Roemer

18 I The Upended U.S.-China Trade Landscape

By James McGregor

30 I A Western Sahara Human Rights Agenda for the Biden Administration

22 I U.S.-Africa Foreign Policy: Three Priorities for the Biden Administration

By Betsy G. Henderson

24 I U.S.-Gulf Relations

By Liam Clarke

32 I What Joe Biden’s Election Means for Voting Rights

By Carolyn Nash

By Katie Workman

34 I The Struggle to Rehabilitate America’s Reputation

26 I Biden’s COVID-19 Plan Must Be Global

By Colleen Scribner

By Whitney DeVries

36 I The American Recommitment to the Paris Accords

By Allyson Berri

28 I Syria Needs a Reconstruction Plan, Not Sanctions

By Pierrepont Johnson

Masthead Publishing house Medauras Global

EDITOR-at-large Molly McCluskey

publisher & ceo Ana C. Rold

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Becky Graham Paul Nash Adam Ratzlaff Dominic Regester Winona Roylance Shane Szarkowski Shalini Trefzer Mercedes Yanora

Editorial Advisors Asmaa Al-Fadala Andrew M. Beato Fumbi Chima Kerstin Ewelt Ghida Fakhry Sir Ian Forbes Lisa Gable Mary D. Kane Greg Lebedev Anita McBride Clare Shine

CONTRIBUTORS Allyson Berri Claire Boussagol Liam Clarke Sean Costigan Neil Decenteceo Whitney DeVries Betsy G. Henderson Pierrepont Johnson James McGregor Carolyn Nash Ambassador Tim Roemer Colleen Scribner Katie Workman

Creative Director Marc Garfield

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n a remarkable cyber espionage campaign, which many fear goes much further than initially reported, a recently discovered hack allowed a foreign adversary to monitor the internal email traffic of the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments. The hack also affected the U.S. National Security Council as well as the Department of Homeland Security, among many notable others. FireEye, the U.S.-based cybersecurity company, first noted the existence of the hack after delving into a breach of its own systems. FireEye’s extensive source code analysis came to the conclusion that a backdoor existed—and had been exploited—in a product made by SolarWinds, a major U.S.-based provider of cybersecurity tools. The hack was conducted in what is called a supply chain attack and worked by hijacking a software update that purported to be from SolarWinds to its customers, pushing malicious code that would eventually compromise Microsoft’s authentication controls and allow further installation of malware the scope and scale of which is presently unknown. To put it plainly: it is a catastrophe. Since the SolarWinds attack affected so many Fortune 500 companies, including critical infrastructure entities, J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 06

once noticed it was bound to become public. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether the perpetrators cared about what collateral damage they caused to industry and government entities that were less likely to be targets of interest. According to SolarWinds, at present count over 18,000 of its 300,000 customers installed the malware. It is hard to understate the scale since SolarWinds counts the Office of the President of the United States, the Department of Defense, the NSA, Visa, Mastercard, Harvard, Subaru, Volvo, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, The New York Times and thousands more major organizations among their customers. While FireEye stopped short of attributing the hack to Russian intelligence, the attack has since been widely credited to a unit of the SVR (Russia’s external intelligence agency), known by the nickname Cozy Bear, or more directly in the U.S. as Advanced Persistent Threat 29—or APT29 for short. All Your Base Are Belong to Us! Russia was quick to deny the allegations, calling them “baseless.” Yet, if this were indeed a campaign done by Russian intelligence, it was a considerable coup. Nothing of this magnitude has been previously


reported. The only publicly known hack that comes anywhere close in its audacity is the 2015 Office of Personnel Management breach, attributed to China, that exfiltrated the detailed personal data contained in the SF-86 forms of millions of Americans with, or seeking, security clearances. The damage from the OPM breach may pale in comparison to what will eventually come to be understood about SolarWinds. Denial is the norm in state against state cyber operations, but the allegations and news pointing to Russia as the source play to their public advantage: while the US can assert that Russia did it, Russia can say they didn’t but then also accrue the international reputation as unstoppable hackers that humbled the United States. Public denials aside, the SolarWinds attack was not espionage as usual but was instead a grossly indiscriminate act, reckless and done with disregard for the global system as a whole. “Somebody set up us the bomb.” Industry and government leaders need to break with the persistent myth that the cyberscape is lawless space where actions occur without the prospect for attribution and—ultimately—

“the allegations pointing to Russia play to their public advantage: while the U.S. can assert that Russia did it, Russia can say they didn’t but then accrue the reputation as unstoppable hackers that humbled the United States.” accountability. States and companies, have it within their power to attribute actions. That said, understanding the political and economic costs of attribution and the means to alter state behavior are not cut and dry activities. Cyberspace is not some alternative notional nerd space but is instead wholly bound up in political and economic challenges. When attacks are noticed, it becomes necessary to categorize what occurred and very often such categorization is largely related to effects. Categorization is an attempt to gain control over events. Was the attack economic? Political? Physically damaging? Such questions are necessary, even if the answers revealed are often very ambiguous. From there it is possible to imagine responses. Very often foreign policy experts will


suggest that naming and shaming is the first stop in deterring bad behavior. “Name and shame” is indeed one of the preferred approaches and yet, the present attack notwithstanding, the past several years have not shown it to be successful. After all, when has a state been deterred? If such naming occurs only in camera, then there isn’t much shaming. Furthermore, as unattractive as it may sound, there will also be states that cannot be shamed. Deterrence is also inextricably tied to the concept of escalation. Consider that where country X is undeterred and country Y has more to lose (think the U.S. and Europe and the vast economies dependent on information technologies), there are bound to be further problems if shaming does not have the desired effect. Clearly, creative thinking is needed here to make a breakthrough on what is allowable and what is not. Microsoft and other companies have started this conversation in the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, but to date a basic question remains unanswered: to what extent will countries agree to such voluntary, normative standards or will states simply continue espionage as usual (or, in the case of the SolarWinds attack, unusual) and cyber offensive operations? If the U.S.


has a comparative advantage in offensive cybersecurity as a method of deterrence, the public is not going to hear about it. Classified operations rarely make the news unless something goes wrong. The balance of investments in offensive to defensive cybersecurity should also be examined. Nuke the site from orbit? Bruce Schneier, Fellow at the BerkmanKlein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, quipped that the only way now to know that the network is clean is “to burn it down to the ground and rebuild it.” The logic behind this assertion is that the scale of the SolarWinds attack is so grand, and the teams of trained cyber analysts so few, that there is no practical way to get back to a clean network, if ever there was one. However, we need to consider a basic question that would concern any senior or fledgling technologist: do we have a clean restore point? If you are the CFO, and are concerned primarily about profitability and cost to operations, “burn it down” is also a thoroughly unattractive, expensive option. The situation today in the corporate boardroom with technologists and executives is likely to be reminiscent of the scene in the sci-fi classic “Aliens” where our hero, Ripley,

“the SolarWinds attack was not espionage as usual but was instead a grossly indiscriminate act, reckless and done with disregard for the global system as a whole.” rides roughshod over corporate cost-based arguments, asserting instead that nuking the site from orbit “is the only way to be sure.” Yet the terms of that analysis do not capture the full picture. Many of the cybersecurity problems we have seen to date are tied to fraught concepts of trust in systems and our own conceptions of technological progress, not to mention the prevalence of human error, problems that are only becoming more common and consequential. To get to a higher level of trust there are experts who would argue for more technology to improve security and more analysts and engineers in the service of technological fixes; in short more to ostensibly produce better. Yet in the rush to buy security and install more products, complexity has increased manifold, leading to what the late Yale sociologist Charles Perrow would likely have accepted as fitting under his J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 08

rubric of “normal accidents”—where systems are so complex, tightly coupled, with catastrophic potential, that a massive accident is in effect inescapable. In many cases today we see that the basics that are needed to normalize cybersecurity in understandings of risk get pushed to the sideline in favor of new technology. It happens so often that executive technologists recognize the problem and have given it a name: Shiny New Technology. Where such a shiny new fix is preferred or seen as a way out of other problems, risks may balloon while the basics remain undone. For the U.S. Federal government, which is itself a highly complex system of systems, consider that today there is no central inventory of which agencies use what software in which offices. Not to mention that many companies, SolarWinds among them with their “SolarWinds123” password, have shown a particularly cavalier attitude when it comes to the security of their own products. On the heels of the SolarWinds hack announcement, the Government Accountability Office released the findings of its extensive Federal agency audit that predated the present troubles, noting that none of the 23 agencies they audited fully implemented all of the recommended


“The only publicly known hack that comes anywhere close in its audacity is the 2015 Office of Personnel Management breach, attributed to China, that exfiltrated the detailed personal data contained in the SF-86 forms of millions of Americans with, or seeking, security clearances.”

supply chain risk management (SCRM) practices and 14 of the 23 agencies had not implemented any of the practices. Clearly there is much work to be done inside the government. Normalization of cybersecurity in a risk framework is another route that must be earnestly explored in all serious ventures. The National Institute for Standards and Technology has done the world a favor by developing frameworks to help organizations of all sizes come to terms with cybersecurity risks. Risk and threat are often used interchangeably but they are not to be confused: threats are sources of danger, whereas risk is a determination based on a threat’s perceived consequences and likelihood. Where cybersecurity risks and threats can come to be understood, trust remains important but all activities are understood to involve some level of risk. With that knowledge, priorities and decisions can be made. Such work needs to start with the basics. Many multinational corporations are moving to a new security model called “Zero Trust” that turns assumptions about trust on their head by explicitly assuming breach and requiring the verification of all requests as though they originate from outside the network. Such an approach might well have allowed SolarWinds customers to

avoid the worst by limiting communications only to known and authenticated entities. Moving beyond surprise at “sophistication” to the mainstreaming of cybersecurity. Very often we call hacks sophisticated largely because we are embarrassed by them. After all, who would want to accept that basic mistakes may have been made and, perhaps worse, tolerated? From what is publicly known about the SolarWinds hack, there appears to be blame enough to go around and certainly more facts will be revealed in the coming months. Most immediately, at the federal level, the attack has led to renewed calls for a central authority for cybersecurity in the United States, a challenge which the incoming Biden administration will encounter as it prioritizes gaps in cybersecurity. Critically, the Biden administration has a chance to finally mainstream cybersecurity, placing it alongside other foreign policy priorities. Such mainstreaming has advantages that have traditionally played to the strengths of the United States: the building of alliances and publicprivate partnerships to help secure growth, predictability, and fair outcomes.


This work cannot be done in a vacuum: government is no longer “in charge.” There is vast dependency on industry to make the business of government secure and, ultimately, useful for all. Recognizing the challenges for the defense industrial base, the Department of Defense worked with University Affiliated Research Centers, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, and industry to develop the new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification with the goal of improving cybersecurity. Other sectors of the economy could benefit from similar models. To bring the global system to a higher plane of security, governments will have to pursue all available routes, which should include allying, convening, partnering, regulating, fining, and ultimately not tolerating poorly secured products or reckless state behavior. With so much uncertainty and the growing need for security against determined adversaries, much is at stake. ● ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sean Costigan is a professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the George C. Marshall Center, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.




espite the valiant work by career public servants dedicated to democracy promotion during the Trump administration, democracy around the globe has been on a significant decline for the past 14 years. In 2019 alone, 64 countries experienced backsliding in their political rights and civil liberties, ranging from media suppression to social media disinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these troubling developments, as democracy promotion has been overshadowed as a priority by anti-pandemic measures. As if the pandemic was not daunting enough, the recent storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election may shake the faith of more nascent democracies in the idea of America as a democratic beacon of hope. Still, Joe Biden, who will became the next president of the United States, represents an opportunity for change. A President Biden will not heal American democracy—let alone global democracy—overnight. However, since he became the holder of the most powerful office in the world, he can undoubtedly begin to help hold the line and turn the tide for liberal J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 10

democracy around the globe. He can do this by: 1.



Delivering steadfast messaging that stands for freedom of the press; Playing a more active role in tamping down viral misinformation on social media platforms; and Doubling down on assistance for struggling democracies abroad.

Speaking up for Freedom of the Press Around the world, journalists have been punished for their critical work. Perhaps the most notable case is that of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi government agents in 2018. In both illiberal regimes and in backsliding democracies, the persecution of journalists—from the detainment of a Nigerian journalist for his COVID-19 coverage to the arrest and execution of an Iranian journalist charged with “corruption on earth”— exercises a chilling effect on the work of media professionals worldwide who play a crucial role in holding governments accountable for their actions. This is especially true as leaders in both democratic and non-democratic countries continue to label the media as an enemy of the public.


“Joe Biden has a unique opportunity to oversee the healing of American democracy, to reinvigorate the interest of both American and its allies in championing the cause of democracy, to foster sustainable development, and to create lasting peace.”

Words are not sufficient to defend freedom of the press. However, in a time during which governments are more likely to resort to media suppression in the hopes of decreasing negative coverage on their coronavirus responses, a steadfast verbal commitment to freedom of the press from the American president is critical. It would signal to democratic and non-democratic governments alike that such actions will be condemned; and will prevent countries from feeling emboldened to engage in such reprehensible behavior. President Biden has already demonstrated his willingness to use such rhetoric. Biden’s next test is to remain an outspoken supporter of freedom of the press while in the Oval Office. Reigning in Harmful Disinformation on Social Media Social media posts trafficking in conspiracy theories and other disinformation have been a boon for the recent rise of a number of nationalist leaders. In some countries, often with less-robust democratic institutions, political leaders have blocked internet access for marginalized groups, as in Burma, or used social media to scapegoat

minority groups as intentional spreaders of COVID-19, as in India. Such control over the narrative in the online public sphere only further serves to endanger lives and erode government accountability. The Biden administration must meet the challenge of combating harmful disinformation online. It is not enough to leave it to American social media companies to label posts as potentially misleading or to delete conspiracy theory groups without publicly-available content standards. To this end, the Biden administration could play a significant role in creating a regulatory agency that would enforce rules mandating that social media companies create and abide by publicly-disclosed standards that would remove harmful content. Given the fact that the Democrats are in control of the House, Senate, and presidency for at least the next two years, the Biden administration will have a greater chance of producing legislative exemplar by which other concerned leaders could rein in the social media companies that create the digital public square in their own countries. Doubling Down on Democracy Assistance This year, the Biden Administration will have an opportunity to be bold in its budget proposal to Congress and go beyond the status quo for democracy assistance. The White House should propose significant budget increases for the National Endowment for Democracy, the Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development. As Freedom House’s survey of democracy defenders around the globe reveals, the pandemic is exacerbating the need for assistance in online technical training, election administration with public health safeguards, and emergency stop-gap funding for civil society institutions to continue day-to-day work. Increased funding would provide better support to programs that help ensure free and fair elections, provide training for journalists in hostile


political environments, and support media literacy education for voters. Of course, the United States does not have to do this alone. Biden’s proposed Summit for Democracy will be a crucial forum at which he can urge and inspire democratic allies, civil society organizations, and private companies to renew and reinvigorate their commitment to democratic values. What’s more, this would be an opportunity for Biden to highlight the stark contrast between the U.S. development model, which promotes democratic ideals and institutions, and an increasingly prominent Chinese model, which seeks to train leaders from other countries how to exert authoritarian control over civil society. The challenge is clear. Biden must be ready to rise to it. A Champion for Democracy As the insurrection on January 6th demonstrated, democratic institutions and norms cannot be taken for granted. As the next leader of the free world, Joe Biden has a unique opportunity to oversee the healing of American democracy, to reinvigorate the interest of both American and its allies in championing the cause of democracy, to foster sustainable development, and to create lasting peace. Passing up on this opportunity in the first year of his presidency could prove detrimental for global democracy long after a Biden administration. ●

EDITOR’s note The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and not necessarily the views and opinions of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Neil Decenteceo is the International Development Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. He is currently an institutional contractor at USAID serving as a communications coordinator.

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n his first public statement following his victory, Presidentelect Joe Biden declared: “I pledge to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States… Let us be the nation that we know we can be. A nation united. A nation strengthened. A nation healed”. As if it were necessary, this statement sets the tone for the priorities of the upcoming Biden administration: to reunite a deeply fractured nation. Taking back control of the pandemic is also an understandable, significant priority. While this may mean there is little attention given to overall foreign policy, including relations with the European Union (EU), it does give tremendous hope to the future of these relations which, as a result, will be grounded in a more pacified democracy. Also, with the risk of stating the obvious as well as understating the truth, much hope has been invested into the vision of a renewed, trustworthy, and appeased diplomacy; something which has been dearly missed over the last four years. And, in addition to the now confirmed President, some J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 12

“The future of U.S.-EU relations will also hinge on the way both regions want to deal with the elephant in the (global) room, China.” familiar and reassuring faces in key posts, such as francophone Tony Blinken, are present to validate these hopes for Europe. So, what will or should be done in the first 100 days of this longawaited administration vis-à-vis relations with the European Union? And what can we expect to see as a result taking place in the EU in 2021? First and foremost, a renewed interest in multilateralism should frame future relations at the outset; signs of this are already to be found in the Biden-Harris pledge to: “re-join the Paris Climate Accord on day one and lead a major diplomatic push to raise the ambitions of countries’ climate targets”. This also puts climate change as a key priority for the new administration, as it is for the EU. Re-joining the Paris Climate Accord also tells America’s allies that responsible officials with a respect

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“Will the 15+ years of trade war between Boeing and Airbus finally find a resolution? Will tariffs on EU steel and aluminium be lifted in the early part of the presidency, as the EU is expecting?”

for science are in charge, and ready to cooperate with them to address this common threat to the planet. Further, withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) might also be quickly re-considered. The same may apply to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the hope that more U.S.-EU coordination applies, and with the view of accelerating towards the resolution of this major crisis. In this regard, the EU made initial proposals to the U.S. in December 2020, such as teaming up to fund the development and equitable global distribution of vaccines, tests, and treatments. This began with the collaboration and contribution to ACT-A and COVAX initiatives; developing a “pandemic playbook for preparedness and response and step up cooperation and data sharing between our respective agencies”. Another major sign of geopolitical convergence was seen when President-elect Biden also said he would re-enter the historic Iran nuclear deal—negotiated by the Obama-Biden administration alongside European allies and other world nations—if Tehran returns to compliance with the deal.

In line with these upcoming and potential changes, it is fair to say the recent success in Georgia on January 5th also gives Biden more leeway to implement these promises. The way the new administration deals with NATO related matters, while not strictly U.S.-EU related (21 out of 27 Member States of the European Union are also members of NATO), will also have a major impact on the relationship between them; whereas the Europeans count on the reaffirmation of America’s commitment to the key mutual defence guarantee, the somewhat modest military spending by European countries—especially by Germany as a key member of the EU when it comes to relations with the U.S.—will remain a concern. A date will be soon set for the next NATO summit, to be held in Brussels in early 2021. The future of U.S.-EU relations will also hinge on the way both regions want to deal with the elephant in the (global) room, i.e. China. Both desire to have a unified front when it comes to tackling what the EU described in its December 2020 Communication “A new EU-U.S. agenda for global change” in response to “the strategic challenge presented by China’s growing international assertiveness.” Economic, trade, and policy issues will matter too. Will the 15+ years of trade war between Boeing and Airbus finally find a resolution? Will tariffs on EU steel and aluminium be lifted in the early part of the presidency, as the EU is expecting? Will the dormant World Trade


Organization (WTO) be reformed? These issues may not be resolved during Biden’s first 100 days, but we will surely begin to see a more structured and constructive dialogue about them than we have seen previously. When talking about Big Tech, questions have arisen on if EU and U.S. regulators will agree on the way to tackle the challenges posed. While similar concerns exist on the two sides of the Atlantic, some divergence remains. This is particularly true on the taxation front, which is seeing some additional traction since the COVID-19 crisis. At the time of the publication of its December Communication, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called on Washington to allow for the taxing of large digital companies (mostly American), which “came out of the crisis more profitable and with a larger market share than ever.” She, and most European leaders, resent the fact that tech giants benefit from the single market but do not pay taxes where they should. Biden was also very clear about his desire to “pursue a foreign policy for the middle class”. Anything not falling within this grid will come outside of his first 100 days, and perhaps his longer-term priorities as well. As several experts point out, it may be an opportunity for the EU to pursue its “strategic independence”; a reflection it started some time ago and which saw an acceleration under Donald Trump’s presidency. Here, it started to become real, with the adoption of the first, massive EU recovery plan, embraced in the midst of the pandemic. ●

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Claire Boussagol is president of APCO Worldwide’s Europe region. She previously served as managing director of APCO’s Brussels and Paris offices and is a member of the firm’s Global Leadership Team.

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n the aftermath of World War II, President Harry Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall devised a new paradigm for foreign policy resulting in several decades of creative and successful international relations. Utilizing innovative diplomacy and building renowned world institutions, this produced a period of peace, prosperity, and democratic priorities. While China and Russia are attracting overwhelming attention these days, the Biden Administration needs to replicate the innovation and forward thinking of Truman to achieve renewed international leadership, structure ambitious coalitions of democratic partners on security issues, and design a workable level of strategic competition with China. India is a key player for all three geopolitical objectives. This is the moment for the Biden-Harris Administration to move the bilateral relationship to the logical next stage of converting strategic overlap into global power outcomes. Leveraging the Role of International Relations Identifying common objectives and consequently leveraging J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 14

“The U.S. and India now coordinate numerous advanced military exercises together, facilitate $20 billion in military equipment sales, and are exploring advanced AI and cybersecurity cooperation.” increased power to achieve your desired outcome is the key to international relations. Over the past two decades, a bipartisan foreign policy from Washington, DC has helped to fashion deep defense, national security, and counterterrorism ties between America and India. This has led to enhancing mutual trust, overcoming years of India fearing a U.S.-Pakistan alliance, questioning whether they can rely on the U.S., and elevating new possibilities of U.S. and India cooperating on the world stage. The United States has strongly supported India’s ascension as a global power, as President Obama announced his intention for India to be a member of the United Nations Security Council when he visited the Indian Parliament in 2010. America

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has encouraged India to be active in international peace-keeping operations, regional disaster relief efforts and anti-piracy programs. India is now presiding over the World Health Organization, beginning its role as a nonpermanent member on the United Nations Security Council, and continuing its important role in the Paris Climate Agreement. India’s growing influence and position in international organizations highlight these important policy issues and increase the likelihood of working successfully with other countries to advocate and achieve tangible goals. U.S. and India Health Partnerships The pressing COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to expand health partnerships between the United States and India, paving the way for vaccine distribution and medical research. Working with several countries to integrate the pandemic response measures, the United States Agency for International Development has announced $13.1 million in funding to combat COVID-19 in India. With COVID-19 products included in the economic aid recommendations, the

United States and India can provide the global leadership needed to get the vaccine to poor and developing countries. This requires both sufficient manufacturing volumes and insisting on affordable prices, which could be facilitated by India’s leadership in the WHO and underscored by the United States’ intention to reinstate its international influence, reestablish alliances and project worldwide soft power. Ensuring Essential Security Agreements Regional partnerships and nimble coalitions will serve as essential security agreements for the ensuing decade. India and the United States have deepened their bilateral defense partnership and expanded their global cooperation through the formation of the Quadrennial Security Dialogue, an organization comprised of four countries, including Australia and Japan. The Quad consults on collective initiatives to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, including semiregular summits, conducts military drills between member countries, and facilitates sensitive information exchanges, which should expand into the cybersecurity realm. The


Biden Administration should embrace the challenge of maturing and deepening the Quad to achieve more substantive national security objectives and deliver on specific goals. India’s role is ripe with potential, not only in this multilateral defense organization but also as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council, where they should expand their agenda from UN reform to nuclear non-proliferation and climate change policies. While some foreign policy experts have criticized India as lacking a grand strategy or not confidently projecting their foreign policy into the region, Prime Minister Modi and his team have been working assiduously to counter these criticisms. Consequently, establishing viable security agreements should be a priority for the Biden Administration’s foreign policy team and a defining opportunity for rebuilding alliances worldwide. Advancing Climate Efforts and the Global Economy Climate change is producing more extreme weather and impacting food and water security issues around the globe. As India refines

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its influence on the Paris Climate Agreement, Biden has robustly committed the United States to this agreement while advocating for every major country to prioritize their domestic climate targets. The opportunities for larger climate policy success depend on reopening the dialogue with India on green technology, energy and agricultural issues. Like the ‘green revolution’ of the 1960s initiated by American agronomist Dr. Norman Borlaug, there can be a renewed investment in hydro and solar partnerships between the United States and India that utilize advanced and clean technologies for environmentally friendly agricultural production. The effort not only bolsters economic ties between the United States and India, but it also presents an innovative opportunity for ecofriendly practices that aid in developing solutions to climate change. Facing the Challenge of China The challenge of an aggressive China is common to all of Asia, not just to the United States. The European Union has worked on their policy paper for the United States, to be presented soon to Presidentelect Biden, to possibly coordinate responses to the China threat. China is perched on the Indian border at Doklam where in a border skirmish 21 Indian soldiers were killed. Both India and the U.S. are increasingly concerned about President Xi Jinping’s external aggression and internal oppression. We see China’s popularity in the world decreasing, as Australia is targeted by China with blunt economic bullying, and many ASEAN nations are pushing back against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Ominously, the Chinese Communist Party has been spreading its influence through the One Belt, One Road initiative and expanding their interference in 5G technology. India has acted quickly to numerous Chinese threats by banning 59 Chinese apps and more strictly limiting their foreign investment. With questions on confronting China, the United States and India have advanced their defense agreements and security partnerships. The third annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue

held in October 2020 advocated for further cooperation on maritime interoperability and security, sharing sensitive geospatial information, and endorsing an ongoing dialogue for defense capabilities in the region. The U.S. and India rarely talked to one another 30 years ago about defense issues, yet now coordinate numerous advanced military exercises together, facilitate $20 billion in military equipment sales, and are exploring advanced AI and cybersecurity cooperation. Considering the high stakes of security issues in the region, the United States should explore more opportunities to partner with Indonesia, restore closer relations with the Philippines, and further improve security partnerships with Japan and South Korea. ASEAN will be an even more important coalition for economic and business deals for the U.S., as 50 percent of trade in the world now flows through the Indo-Pacific region. Over the next four years, President Biden, Vice President Harris and Air Force 1 and 2 will be ever-present in Asia. There are several other issues that will continue to bring India and America closer. Both countries share a diverse population and devotion to the democratic ideals of human rights, law and order, and liberty. They are cooperating on reforms to higher education, developing community college best practices and faculty exchanges, and improving teacher training programs. From exploring the stars in space to searching the deepest ocean depths for life, virtually every J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 16

idea is open to greater cooperation. Reflecting back to a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh in New Delhi, Obama asked him: “What issues should we be talking about that will impact us 10 to 20 years from now?” The answer to his question today is that the relationship between our two countries has unlimited and infinite potential. But it also means we should be able to discuss sensitive issues, including human rights policy and trade barriers, with mutual respect and without animosity. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will spill into the next decade, as it has exacerbated existing problems of more middleclass people falling into poverty and has accelerated the pernicious trends of inequality and excessive nationalism. Challenges persist, yet opportunities for addressing these issues demand new ideas and bold leadership. The Biden-Harris Administration confronts a disrupted world order, but one which is ready for change and one that features India stepping into and delivering on its global roles. ●

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tim Roemer, former U.S. Member of Congress, 9/11 Commissioner, and Ambassador to India, is Executive Director and Strategic Counselor at APCO Worldwide. He works with clients on government relations and provides strategic advice. With his background in international trade, education policy, and national security, Ambassador Roemer is a trusted consensus-builder, problem solver, and international expert.

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hen President Joe Biden settles into the Oval Office and his attention eventually turns to China, the most immediate issues on his desk will be a jumbled and confusing pile of Trump administration executive actions. In just a few months, the Trump administration announced restrictions on business with some of China’s biggest technology companies: telecom equipment maker Huawei, major semiconductor manufacturer Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), leading commercial drone maker DJI, powerhouse payment apps Alipay and WeChat Pay, and social media stalwarts TikTok and WeChat. Then there’s the delisting and pending divestment in certain Chinese securities and the blacklisting of hundreds of Chinese entities believed to have connections to the Chinese military, the internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, island building in the South China Sea, or the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. The best thing for President Biden to do with all this, at least for a while, is nothing. The same approach should apply to whether he should continue tariffs on $370 billion in Chinese exports. In doing so, his team gains J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 18

vital time to determine not just what should be maintained and what should be scrapped, but in finding where the leverage lies. Biden must consider Trump’s actions against China as a toolbox to employ once serious talks with Beijing begin. China already knows how to employ every sliver of leverage it possesses; the U.S. can no longer let goodwill or good intentions cloud relations with Beijing, whose talk of win-win collaboration is forged in a zero-sum mindset. Once President Biden focuses his attention to the wider international system, he should ponder how the American position vis-a-vis China in global trade has dramatically eroded in just four years. In its last year, the Obama administration reached agreement with 11 countries to conclude the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). This 12-nation bloc was to be the world’s largest free trade deal, covering 40 percent of global GDP. TPP was also viewed as an important step in global trade reform, incorporating modern trade language regarding crossborder investment, intellectual property protection, global supply chains and, most importantly for China, the separate treatment of private enterprise and state-owned

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enterprises. China was not privy to the agreement; the hope was that being on the outside of TPP would incentivize China’s willingness to reform. That certainly was the view of reformers in Beijing who quietly monitored every detail of the TPP negotiations. This all came to nothing when President Trump pulled the U.S. out of TPP on his first day in office. An even larger deal with the European Union sought by Obama, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), was dormant once his administration left office. Discussions withered as countries and industries focused on their self-interest instead of the bigger picture. Nonetheless, with TPP and TTIP, the Obama-Biden administration focused on creating gargantuan trade blocs which excluded China, but left the door open should Beijing prove willing to reform and adhere to modern trade standards. The larger endgame was to update the WTO’s antiquated trade rules on the model of TPP and TTIP. TTIP, however, was declared dead after President Trump initiated trade conflicts with the EU. In April 2019, the European Commission declared TTIP negotiations were “obsolete and no longer relevant.”

“Administration officials, and Biden himself, must first reach out to U.S. allies in Europe and Asia to understand their views of China and seek their input in shaping future U.S.-China policy.” While the U.S. receded from its position as a global trade architect under Trump, China built new trading blocs to exclude the U.S. in Asia and Europe. After a vigorous push from China, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Pact (RCEP) was finalized in November 2020. Parties to the agreement include China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and 10 ASEAN nations, accounting for some 30 percent of global population and GDP. While much less ambitious than TPP in addressing structural trade issues, RCEP will eliminate some 90 percent of tariffs over 20 years. RCEP will also increase trade between China, Japan and South Korea, strengthen regional integration and bolster trans-Asia supply chains. Six weeks later, China countered Obama’s lifeless TTIP with the


China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). After seven years of negotiations, the CAI came after a full court press from Chinese negotiators and personal phone calls from President Xi Jinping to European leaders. Xi was determined to sign the CAI to ward off a U.S. and EU rapprochement against China under President Biden. Closing the CAI negotiations was also a key objective of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s final policy achievements before stepping down. The CAI will require ratification by the EU Council and the European Parliament. There will be enormous pressure from the business community to do so, as the agreement goes significantly beyond the market openings and protections outlined in the U.S.China Phase One trade pact. While the deal is being finalized, what is available indicates that manufacturers of automobiles, chemicals, and other basic materials—which make up 50% of total EU investment in China—may be the biggest winners. It also points to openings for cloud services, private hospitals, financial and construction services, making

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it easier for EU companies to acquire Chinese firms and establish whollyowned companies in new sectors. The CAI also outlines systemic changes by Beijing that American negotiators sought in Phase One talks, but failed to obtain. This includes pledges on subsidy transparency, SOE adherence to market principles and inching toward adopting International Labor Organization standards, which would allow collective bargaining and ban forced labor. There is deep skepticism on any of this happening: critics of the CAI say the language is a political fig leaf for EU negotiators who needed it to finalize the agreement. Faced with having to play catch up to Beijing on trade, there are three steps President Biden can take to level set. Step one: listen. Administration officials, and Biden himself, must first reach out to U.S. allies in Europe and Asia to understand their views of China and seek their input in shaping future U.S.-China policy. As President Biden himself told New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: “The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our—or at least what used to be our—allies on the same page.”

The second step would be to engage Beijing in rejigging the Phase One deal to align with Biden’s goal of shaping U.S. foreign policy to support American jobs and business opportunities at home. Armed with the leverage toolbox created by Trump’s tariffs and executive orders, Biden can focus especially on Beijing’s promise to increase Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services by $200 billion compared to 2017 levels, a commitment China is significantly behind on achieving. If increased mercantilism is an unsustainable long-term approach, leveraging the mercantilism at hand would be smart policy. A thorough study of what China consumes and what America produces, to revamp Chinese purchase lists in favor of American jobs, would be a step in the right direction. In the words of Larry Summers, American financial services access in foreign countries doesn’t create U.S. jobs. Finally, the U.S. must invest in competing with China. Trump’s focus on confrontation and containment shifted the conversation to highlight the real threats posed by China, but the only appropriate policy action is to invest in ourselves and compete. J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 20

During the campaign, Biden proposed spending $300 billion to expand S&T education, R&D and working with universities and companies to invest in the same technologies China is pursuing through Made in China 2025 and its web of industrial policies. Biden is in alignment with senior Republicans and Democrats who introduced a variety of ambitious bills in the last Congress to invest billions in leading technologies and shape new U.S. industrial policies. In the wake of the Trump-inspired insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, political alignment may be matched by a greater willingness to cooperate and compromise with Biden, at the very least when dealing with China. ●

ABOUT THE AUTHOR James McGregor is chairman of APCO Worldwide’s greater China region and author of two highly regarded books: No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism, and One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China. He also wrote the noted APCO monograph China’s Drive for Indigenous Innovation—A Web of Industrial Policies.

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“African countries currently represent the largest unified bloc in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, and hold three non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Working with African partners is not a matter of choice, but a matter of necessity.”



hen President-elect Biden discussed bipartisan unity in his November 7th speech in Wilmington, Delaware, he missed the opportunity to highlight one policy area where Democrats and Republicans are already united: Africa. Despite the political complexities and cultural differences across the 54 countries on the African continent, U.S. foreign policy towards Africa has received consistent bipartisan congressional support, particularly in areas such as trade, security, and development. Presidential administrations also have established precedence of continuing Africa-focused programs created by their predecessors, as has been the case with President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), Feed the Future, Power Africa, and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Even with a legacy of bipartisan policymaking towards Africa, each Presidential administration undoubtedly contributes its own approach to U.S.-Africa relations. The Trump Administration, for example, may be negatively remembered for less than diplomatic references to Africa and policy frameworks J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 22

predominantly driven by competition with China. However, it should also be positively remembered for creating the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) via the BUILD Act and increasing support for U.S. private sector investment in Africa through Prosper Africa. Given each presidential administration has prioritized Africa policies differently, bipartisan support has been crucial to advancing U.S.-Africa relations. With his victory now official, President-elect Biden should consider including these three critical elements in his administration’s African policy. Focus on African youth Africa’s youth population is expected to increase by 500 million over the next 30 years, meaning Africa will have one of the youngest populations in the world by 2050, and therefore require more food, jobs, and educational opportunities. Currently, 60 percent of the continent’s 1.25 billion residents are already below the age of 25, and this growing young population can serve as an asset or destabilizing force. U.S.-funded programs like the YALI network and Mandela Washington Fellowship provide valuable platforms for

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engaging African youth to be future leaders for good governance, social change, and innovation, and must continue and expand. The African Airlift of the 1960s demonstrated the positive long-term impact of African students studying in the United States, and it is essential to remove policy barriers (e.g. visa bans) that prevent African students from attending four-year American universities. Focusing on African youth also means that U.S. aid initiatives should prioritize skills training, education, and employment opportunities in programming across Africa. Overall Africa policies should continue to leverage U.S. competitiveness and empower American companies to invest in industries that create jobs and hire African talent through doing business in Africa. This is an important way the United States can distinguish itself from other international competitors looking to gain leverage in the region. Provide Alternatives to China Critics of U.S. diplomacy often note that American policymakers discredit China’s influence in Africa without providing concrete alternatives to Chinese investment. Current U.S. diplomatic rhetoric characterizes

Chinese engagement in Africa as manipulative and one that creates dependency, contrasted to America’s approach that promotes transparency and self-reliance. Instead, the message should be that the United States offers initiatives that respect international norms and provide stability, environmental impact, and inclusive economic growth in Africa. For example, China excels at conducting large-scale projects such infrastructure, telecoms, or arms deals. From an economic standpoint, China holds the most “Africa Summits” and provides billions of dollars in loan financing for projects related to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), making it the largest bilateral creditor in Africa. Where China does not excel in Africa – unlike the U.S. – is using quality materials in projects, respecting human rights, addressing the environmental or socio-economic impacts of investments, or monitoring how its goods are used against African Citizens. Despite its investments, China still ranks below the United States in African popular opinion surveys regarding the best models for development. This suggests many African countries would welcome broader U.S. engagement, and the quality partnerships it can offer. American companies, for example, are bound by regulations such as the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and use higher production standards that provide quality outputs and focus on sustainability. The United States also has a strategic advantage in providing partnerships that rapidly scaling economies across Africa require, particularly in technology, financial services, and energy sectors. While China may win the battle of scale in Africa, through sustained investment and engagement, the U.S. can provide long-term impact for African partners. Emphasize America and Africa’s shared future Despite differences in culture, geography, and economies, the U.S. and countries across Africa share common values from democracy to religious freedom. Both American and African citizens value their democratic rights, as evidenced by the “Black Lives Matter” movement in America and “EndSARS”


demonstrations in Nigeria, which protested inequality and corruption. In addition, Americans and Africans share the desire for a future free of terrorism, for their children to receive an education, and to pursue economic prosperity. The United States and most of the African countries also share a unique historic identity as states that gained independence from former European colonial powers. African countries currently represent the largest unified bloc in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, and hold three non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Working with African partners is not a matter of choice, but a matter of necessity. As such, U.S. Africa policies should acknowledge the interdependency of American and African interests, and build on those linkages at both a policy and community level. Specifically, this requires assigning greater priority to African policy issues, diversifying narratives around U.S. engagement in Africa, expanding the representation of Africa in American media, and even increasing the amount of African contemporary history taught in public schools. At a policy level, this means ensuring that African diplomatic representatives routinely meet with their equal policy counterparts in the U.S., and focusing on African countries as trade partners rather than aid recipients. Harnessing resources like the $60 billion financing capacity of the DFC or lesser-known US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), and supporting the Millennium Impact for Infrastructure Accelerator (MIIA) Development Partnership are some of the many ways America can directly boost African businesses and institutions. Beyond the Next Four Years President-elect Biden’s administration faces a watershed moment for U.S.-Africa policy. Where America has been a partial partner in the past, it can solidify future relationships through deepening business, diplomatic, and community engagements in Africa. By implementing policies that prioritize African youth, provide alternatives to Chinese investment, and emphasize a shared future, the United States can write a new chapter of long-lasting and mutually beneficial relations with African partners. ●

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uch is set to change when President Joe Biden takes begins his first 100 days in office. Among government and business leaders in the Middle East, there is much discussion, and some concern, about what to expect. Most likely, though, the Biden administration will seek to avoid sudden moves in foreign policy, the kind that shake markets and create damaging uncertainty. More probable, the new U.S. administration will instead seek to create stability and predictability in American leadership, the inverse of the trademarks of President Trump’s seemingly spontaneous deal-making from the executive office. Equally likely, the Biden administration will seek incremental changes in U.S. foreign policy rather than revolutionize stances overnight, restoring some of the balance to pre-Trump days. Many in the region, unlike their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere, are lukewarm about the new U.S. administration. Popular opinion and government elites from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and beyond found support for the Trump administration, at least as it related to their own J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 24

self-interests at home. The region includes many U.S. allies, some hosting U.S. bases, troops, and strategic operations. The rise and fall of the Arab Spring and Obama Administration’s policies vis-à-vis the region during his tenure, were not always welcomed among many leaders of the region. However, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Biden administration will simply copy and paste Obama era foreign policies now. During Biden’s morethan 35-year Senate career, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including as ranking member and chairman. As such, he has decades of experience in shaping U.S. foreign policy, both legislatively, and in his eight years as vice president. Biden and his senior advisers will have their own views and own policy goals. He has taken countless trips around the world and met leaders in most corners of the globe, a very different presidential preparation than President Trump’s. Importantly, Biden has signaled that he wants to extend again U.S. leadership around on the global stage. Of course, that creates nervousness as we wait to see

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where he will start exerting that leadership first. President Biden clearly has things he wants to prove to the world and to world leaders. Based on his campaign rhetoric, the senior staff he has nominated and other signals he has sent, we can expect a number of changes from the Biden Administration. First, institutional bilateral engagements between diplomats will replace personal, one to one relationships developed during the Trump administration. Foreign relations will be driven by U.S. State Department leadership and senior White House foreign policy and national security advisers with deep institutional experience. This will be a radical change for many regional leaders. Expect less foreign policy to come out of the Oval Office directly, and more from the new State Department leaders in Foggy Bottom. Relationships, as a result, will become more institutional and less personal than they were over the past four years. Remember, though, it’s not just the White House: Gulf governments are already signing up new lobbyists to reach out to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as the power dynamics shift on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

Next, for some, particularly the Saudi leadership, they know there will be a radical departure from the direct line they had to the White House via son-in-law adviser Jared Kushner. Concerns and commitments over Yemen, human rights, and women’s rights will continue to be the focus of at least publicly articulated foreign policy priorities. Old friends will likely be missed in the short-term, and new relationships may come with more expectations or strings. How hard a line the White House will take—and now both Democratically controlled houses of Congress—is yet to be seen. Governments in the region will likely need to find ways to indicate their willingness to engage with the Biden Administration, aware of the new expectations and a new tone to the conversation. Finally, stability will always be at the forefront of any U.S. administration’s minds. President Trump presided over a mixed period with regard to the Middle East. Tensions with Iran were heightened and still threaten to escalate. Relations with Israel have been normalized among several nations in the region via the Abraham Accords. Qatar has been brought back into the fold— perhaps an intentional signal to the


Biden administration that Gulf leaders want to move forward positively and productively—and further unite with the U.S. against a common foe: Iran. China’s rise on the global stage, the influence of Russia, and many other factors will continue to influence the region’s relationship with the U.S. and highlight their interdependence. Indeed, the world is still grappling with the ongoing pandemic and the hope of vaccines to turn the page. Much has been said about collaboration among world leaders during this time—rather than confrontation. Gulf nations should expect a more serious, if not chillier, tone from the Biden White House. However, the desire to ensure peace, economic prosperity, and the stability of a new normalcy will likely prevail in the next chapter of U.S.-Gulf relations. ●

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Liam Clarke is managing director of APCO Worldwide in Saudi Arabia, where he has lived and worked since 2017 following more than 15 years in Washington, DC.

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n January 21, his first full day in office, President Biden released a strategy to combat COVID-19 in the United States. Now the administration must move with the same urgency to lead the coronavirus fight globally. President Biden assumes office amid widespread concern that the U.S. can no longer offer competent and consistent leadership. Spearheading the international effort to stem the pandemic and ease the damaging impacts of lockdowns will demonstrate that the new administration is prepared to assume the mantle of global leadership. The U.S. is well-positioned to deliver on three critical areas in the global response to COVID-19.

otherwise receive adequate vaccine coverage until as late as 2023. Importantly, this outreach should include not only the COVID-19 vaccine, but also delivery of vaccines many families were forced to skip during lockdowns. In the first four months of 2020, the number of children completing a three-dose vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) fell precipitously, marking what could be the first reduction in DTP3 coverage in 28 years. According to the Gates Foundation, vaccine coverage has been set back “25 years in about 25 weeks.” If this lapse is not corrected, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will do little to reduce the health vulnerabilities of high-risk communities.

Vaccine rollout: The U.S. enjoys historic, wide-reaching diplomatic ties that will allow the Biden administration breadth of access few countries enjoy—including access to many of the low- and middle-income countries where vaccine rollout is expected to face the longest delays. The U.S. stands to have the most significant impact in achieving global control of the virus by providing funding and logistics to countries that will not

Education: According to the World Bank, the pandemic threatens to push 72 million children into learning poverty, meaning they will be unable to write or read a simple text by age ten. During the height of the pandemic, 1.6 billion children were out of school. While that number has fallen to roughly a quarter of a billion, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore warns that many of those children do not have access to online learning, effectively ending their education, and many—

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particularly girls—will never return to school. School closings have left behind the world’s most vulnerable students, exposing them to increased risk of child labor, trafficking, and violence at home. Drops in education access will destabilize communities and increase the risk of violence, unemployment, and economic strife. The U.S. can support governments struggling to reopen schools by providing PPE for teachers and students and by providing technical support in devising socially distant in-person learning strategies. Fast-tracking vaccine access to U.S.-based teachers who would like to work abroad and funding teach abroad opportunities would scale up human resources and support greater capacity in countries where education systems have been most weakened by lockdowns. Violence against women: Lockdowns led to global spikes in calls to domestic abuse help lines and increases in violence against women and girls. UN Women warns that the pandemic is exacerbating challenges women and girls faced before COVID-19, including limited political participation, insecure access to income, and high burdens of care and domestic work.

This “shadow pandemic” of genderbased violence requires both technical support and diplomatic pressure. The Biden administration must ensure governments have the resources to provide gender-based violence response services and the political will to ensure such services are designated essential. The U.S. should also model and advocate for women’s inclusion in leadership of the pandemic response, in efforts to recover the civic and political participation gains that have been lost during the health crisis. While the new administration inherits a COVID-19 strategy tarnished by chaos and confusion, the U.S. has economic, technical, and diplomatic resources that can be brought to bear in the international fight to contain the virus worldwide. The Biden administration’s leadership on our domestic efforts to limit the spread must now extend with the same urgency to our global fight against COVID-19. ●

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Carolyn Nash has managed international human rights and governance programs for UNESCO, UNODC, and Trocaire. She has worked in Myanmar, Indonesia, East Timor, Kenya, and Uganda.


“According to the Gates Foundation, vaccine coverage has been set back ‘25 years in about 25 weeks.’ If this lapse is not corrected, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will do little to reduce the health vulnerabilities of highrisk communities.”

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n November 9, the U.S. Treasury Department implemented new sanctions against the Syrian government. The sanctions focus on punishing individuals and entities that provide support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime’s oil production network. But sanctions in Syria, as well as the broader Middle East have failed before, and are likely to cause more damage than good. Since sanctions started in 2011, President al-Assad has remained in power while maintaining the upper hand in a civil war that has taken over 400,000 lives. The objective of the sanctions was to apply pressure to the Assad regime but it has failed, leaving President al-Assad and his supporters in control. Moving forward, the United States must focus on a more effective strategy—diverting funds to aid humanitarian efforts to those suffering in Syria and its 12 million refugees. With Syria now approaching a decade of conflict, immediate aid as well as a long-term reconstruction plan should be a non-partisan human rights issue for the international community to prioritize. Sanctions Haven’t Worked. “The [al-]Assad regime has a choice: take J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 28

irreversible steps towards a peaceful resolution of this nearly decade-long conflict or face further crippling sanctions,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As the war approaches almost a decade, President al-Assad has consolidated his power and mostly won Syria’s War, as rebels only hold power in a few strongholds. While sanctions from both the United States and Europe have failed in pushing out Assad, they have further devastated an already fragile Syrian economy. When the United States announced the Caesar Act in mid-June, Syria devalued its currency by 44 percent. These sanctions hit the already impoverished population causing inflation and making essential goods like bread or fruit unaffordable. “The regime elites continue to flourish… (while) the people of the jurisdiction pay the ultimate penalty from the poverty that is inflicted on the government,” said John E. Smith, the former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Sanctions are not the cause of Syria’s economic woes—per capita income was among the lowest in the region before the start of the war. However, the restrictions placed on the Syrian government and its partners have devastated the


“Children are sleeping in flooded fields with no running water or proper protection from the elements. We’ve provided blankets, heaters, and cash, but people have no money to buy fuel and have told us that they are now burning clothes and trash to keep warm.”

economy. The regulations have depreciated the exchange rate, while increasing the difficulty of receiving foreign aid, particularly in government-controlled regions. A Path Forward. Working with UN agencies, like OCHA (Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and NGOs will be critical to providing humanitarian aid. Currently, over 11 million people in Syria are in need, including 6.2 million internally displaced people. A multi-sectoral response plan that focuses on nutrition, protection (particularly for children), gender-based violence, water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as livelihood needs is critical to prevent future loss of life. Delivering the necessary aid while rebuilding the country will be no small task. Reconstruction efforts will likely cost at least USD 250 billion dollars, greater than the GDP of roughly 80 percent of the world’s nations. With no less than 400,000 dead in the conflict, the necessity of stronger humanitarian intervention needs to be implemented immediately. Beyond the moral implications, a peaceful Syria is critical to the long-term stability of the Middle East. Non-partisan international organizations should facilitate the

reconstruction process, as Syria is unlikely to work with most western nations. In turn, NATO countries are unlikely to contribute to this project since they have been trying to push President Assad from power. With ISIS no longer playing a significant role in the conflict, international attention has been diverted. A post-war recovery plan ideally would find ways to create revenue to implement fiscal policy for rebuilding infrastructure, alongside prudent monetary policy to curb inflation. But it is difficult to imagine the Assad regime will fully cooperate with an international reconstruction plan for the Syrian economy. Supporting over 12 million refugees, half of whom are internally displaced—should be a non-partisan issue with a realistic chance to move forward. “Children are sleeping in flooded fields with no running water or proper protection from the elements. We’ve provided blankets, heaters, and cash, but people have no money to buy fuel and have told us that they are now burning clothes and trash to keep warm,” says World Vision International President Andrew Morley. Over 6 million internally displaced refugees, including 2.5 million children, are in the most critical need of humanitarian assistance. Keeping borders open while ensuring refugees’ safety has helped mitigate the refugee burden, and states must continue this practice to ensure the safety of those often traveling in miserable conditions. Providing financial and political support for countries with high Syrian refugee populations will help reduce


the strain of adding more internally displaced people. Lebanon has been a champion—taking in 1.5 million refugees, or nearly a quarter of its population. This has taken a considerable toll on the Lebanese economy. Supporting high refugee population countries, such as Lebanon, will help benefit the refugees while stabilizing the region. The Challenge of Aid vs. Reconstruction. Over the summer, the European Union and the United Nations gathered virtually in Brussels to raise 5.5 billion dollars for humanitarian aid efforts. These commitments put fundraising efforts roughly in pace with the previous year—a positive takeaway given financial constraints due to the global pandemic. However, the conference discussed humanitarian aid, not reconstruction, leaving Syria’s future hanging in the balance. At some point, a long-term development plan should begin—one that focuses on rebuilding infrastructure, improving education, while appeasing a diverse population in a conflicted region. If the war ended today, reconstruction efforts could still take decades. Prioritizing refugee security in neighboring countries and those internally displaced is an important step both from a human rights perspective and for regional stability. The challenge remains since international governments do not want to support the Assad regime—an understandable sentiment given the violence that it has perpetuated. ●

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Pierrepont Johnson is a New York City based freelance journalist. He is the Vice President of Business Development for an international education firm, 4Schoolers. He holds a dual masters from Fordham University: MA in International Political Economy and Development, and MA in Economics. As a recipient of a grant from Fordham, he studied emerging markets at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.




n 11 December, Morocco became the latest Arab League country to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, after the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan. The deal encourages cooperation between Israel and Morocco and upends thirty years of U.S. policy by granting U.S. recognition to Morocco’s sovereignty claim over the contested territory of Western Sahara. The decision was made shortly after the first official ceasefire violation in the territory by the Moroccan government in November 2020. Moving forward, the Biden administration has an opportunity to closely monitor Morocco’s administration of Western Sahara, with costs imposed for human rights violations. Western Sahara’s Colonial History In response to international pressure, Spain began moving to relinquish Western Sahara in the mid-1970s. In 1975, a UN fact-finding mission found Sahrawi consensus in favor of independence, while the International Court of Justice ruled that there was no proof of any “tie of territorial sovereignty” with either Morocco or Mauritania. On the day J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 30

of that ruling, Moroccan King Hassan II launched the Green March of 350,000 Moroccans to effectively annex Western Sahara. Soon after, 40,000 troops moved to occupy the territory, triggering armed conflict between Mauritania, Morocco, and the Sahrawi nationalist movement known as the Polisario Front. Mauritania ultimately relinquished its claim on the region in 1979; however, Morocco and Polisario Front’s conflict continued. During this period, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic became an African Union member and received recognition from 80 governments. A 1991 peace agreement was signed between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, installing a UN peacekeeping force called UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The idea behind the agreement was to uphold the status quo until an independence referendum is held, with both sides determining who would be an eligible voter. Despite the Moroccan government’s efforts to control that referendum’s outcome, including by incentivizing migration southward, it became increasingly clear that the vote would be for independence. As such, no referendum has been held. Morocco has maintained de facto


control of at least three-quarters of the territory. The Polisario Front continues to operate out of Algeria, while Sahrawis are effectively without government, represented only by a government-in-exile that does not hold regular elections in the territory. The first formal violation of this ceasefire occurred in November 2020 at the Guerguerat border crossing between Western Sahara and Mauritania. The Moroccan government cleared the road of peaceful protestors, opening fire on them to re-open the road. The Polisario Front announced the ceasefire was broken, and armed conflict resumed for the first time since 1991. Nonetheless, international outcry was minimal, and the normalization deal followed on the heels of this resumption of conflict. Grievous Human Rights Violations This conflict has transpired against a backdrop of egregious human rights abuses in Western Sahara. Freedom House ranks Western Sahara as “not free,” with one of the lowest political rights and civil liberties scores of any territory or country in the world. Since 1975, the Moroccan government has fostered an atmosphere of

intimidation, restricted Sahrawi demonstrations, beaten activists in custody and the streets, and imprisoned and sentenced activists in trials marred by due process violations such as torture. All dissent is treated as a political threat to suppress. For example, during the Gdeim Izik protests in October 2010, security forces repressed the demonstrations and dismantled the encampment, killing seven and injuring several hundred others. Surveillance is also a fact of daily life for Sahrawis, and residents have no freedom of movement. Morocco’s Press Code has criminalized any challenges to the kingdom’s “territorial integrity,” threatening press freedom on Western Saharan issues. Civil society actors who advocate for Western Saharan independence are often denied registration or expelled from the Moroccan-controlled areas. For its part, the Polisario Front also engages in the repression of dissent, including banning other parties and silencing free expression. A Future for Africa’s Last Colony This new policy change would be difficult for the Biden administration to reverse given the U.S.’s strong


economic and security ties with Morocco. Yet, even with this new status seemingly fait accompli, the Biden administration has an opportunity to ensure that the Moroccan government establishes terms of its control that respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Biden administration should make military aid, weapons sales, and other security assistance contingent upon respect for autonomy and human rights in Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, making this explicit in the administration’s budget request for FY2022. Funding should be released only when the administration can certify there has been progress towards an end to due process violations, expanded space for free expression, promotion of the voluntary return and reintegration of the region’s refugee population, and removal of landmines at the 1,700 mile berm wall. Such an approach will ensure a more stable peace in the region and prevent the continued marginalization of Sahrawis. ● ABOUT THE AUTHOR Colleen Scribner is program officer at the Lifeline Fund for Embattled CSOs at Freedom House and the 2020 human rights fellow at Young Professional in Foreign Policy.




usts of Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and sculpture by Native American artist Allan Houser adorn President Joe Biden’s newly-renovated version of the Oval Office. It is a fitting microcosm of segments of the Democratic base that led him to victory: Hispanic and African Americans, women, and indigenous voters, among others. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 extended African Americans the right to vote and ensured protections to groups facing ballot discrimination. The civil-rights era law staved off the worst of legislative voter suppression attempts before it was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. The controversial ruling has since emboldened voter-security advocates and led to the closure of over one thousand polling locations across the country. As Biden begins his term, he represents not only an American public ravaged by the coronavirus and political division, but the hopes and hardships of the voters who rallied behind him—many of whom were nearly kept from the ballot box by current voting laws. Democratic control of both houses of Congress was delivered to Biden by J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 32

twin victories in Georgia’s Senate races, which elected a Black Senator for the first time amid record-high turnout. The state’s runoff system has historical ties to Jim Crow voting laws and was the subject of fierce litigation from both sides. Similarly, Biden’s narrow victory of 16,000 votes in swing-state Arizona was in no small part carried on the backs of Native American voters, many of whom rode 10 miles on horseback to reach distant polling stations and face language and address barriers to casting ballots. Furthermore, cities with large non-white populations such as Detroit and Philadelphia also became central to unsubstantiated claims of electoral illegitimacy by the Trump campaign. While the United States’ elections have never suffered actual widespread voter fraud, a small group of US lawyers pushed election integrity concerns, bringing dozens of lawsuits over election rules since 2012 and helping make fears about election integrity mainstream. The popular politicization resulted in harsher voter ID laws and the purging of voter rolls. In the wake of Biden’s victory, harsher election laws are being


proposed and legislated in court by state parties, with the enfranchisement of millions of Americans—and countless electoral victories—hanging in the balance. The United Nations and World Economic Forum have long used universal suffrage—the eligibility and ease of ballot access for all citizens—as an indicator for the strength of democracies. While the United States is often considered one of the world’s strongest and oldest democratic regimes, it has never been a trailblazer in extending suffrage. At a time when the world is experiencing democratic backslide, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit global ranking has demoted the US from its position from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” primarily due to increasing distrust in government institutions. With claims of electoral fraud culminating in January 2021’s political violence, the US is poised to fall further. Amid such controversy, Biden’s promise of a new voting rights act is essential to America’s future definition of free and fair elections. A new voting rights act has notable support along party lines in

Congress. The For the People Act passed the House of Representatives in 2019 and may now be passed in the newlyDemocratic controlled Senate. Democrats have said the bill is top priority. Similarly, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act—which expired in the Republican-controlled Senate— may now be up for passage. However, Democrats face a right-leaning judiciary culminating in the most conservative Supreme Court in decades. While the 2013 ruling encouraged Congress to rewrite the law, the new provision will likely face tough scrutiny and possible defeat for years to come. ●


“At a time when the world is experiencing democratic backslide, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit global ranking has demoted the U.S. from its position from a ‘full democracy’ to a ‘flawed democracy’ primarily due to increasing distrust in government institutions.”




esearch reveals that America’s reputation in the world diminished significantly under the Trump administration. We can expect the January 6 storming of the US Capitol to erode that standing further. America’s reputation may improve with the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. President Biden has vowed to restore previous international alliances, stating, “I’m letting them know that America is back.” However, Biden will struggle to resurrect traditional foreign policy roles in an altered world following the Trump presidential era. The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol harms the global reputation of America’s democratic institutions. America’s closest allies condemned the insurrection, expressing grave concern over the seeming erosion of American democracy. European Council President Charles Michel went so far as to call it a sacking by vandals of “a temple of democracy.” Biden will be unable to reassure America’s allies that “America is back” while the country remains wracked by domestic division. Biden must rebuild unity in America to reassert the standing of America’s democratic institutions. J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 34

Ailing global alliances and national disunity injure America’s ability to promote democracy overseas. Democracy promotion has been a core objective for US foreign policy since the end of World War II. Democracy promotion often entails sanctions, aid, or security promises to incentivize democratic institutions and conduct in other countries. The January 6 insurrection makes the US vulnerable to allegations of hypocrisy the next time America promotes democracy. Countries can object to US democracy promotion rebutting that America does not practice at home what they promote for others. Biden must determine the importance of promoting democracy overseas as an objective of his presidency. Trumpism and Trump’s presence in the political sphere deter support Biden needs to rebuild democratic example and unity. A pro-Trump mindset prevails in the Republican Party. Trump loyalists such as senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) remain presidential hopefuls for the 2024 election. Another presidential run for Trump could also occur. America’s allies may fear that Biden’s presidency will only serve as a limited respite from another Trump-like leader. Biden can


assuage worries by repairing unity and moral influence in America to carry on past his presidency. America’s global reputation suffered further amid widespread criticism of the US’s poor handling of COVID-19. Biden inherited the country with the most COVID-19 cases in the world. He faces the issue of gaining control of a deadly disease that transcends international borders. Additionally, Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) brought global backlash. The former head of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, stated “we’re turning our back on the world” if the US withdrew from the WHO. America’s withdrawal from the WHO under the Trump administration demonstrated an “America First” sentiment that impairs responses to global issues. Biden must focus on international cooperation rather than “America First” to not turn his back on the world. The US’s withdrawal in 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) poses threats to global security that Biden must work to mitigate. Iran has breached the JCPOA further by enriching uranium to 20% and building nuclear weapons

capacity. Former Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom stated the US withdrawal from the JCPOA “has critically decreased the trust in international peace and security deals.” Biden can help demonstrate America’s commitment to resuming its leadership role in global security by leading negotiations to persuade Iran to recommit to the JCPOA. The January 6 insurrection revealed troubling division in these United States. People around the world see that 74.2 million American citizens support a leader who has now been impeached for inciting an insurrection. Biden inherited issues of domestic divisions, damaged democracy promotion, foreboding Trumpism, COVID-19, and threats to global security. Biden claims that with his presidency America is resuming its role of global leadership, but there are reasons for our allies to remain wary of this assertion. ●


“America’s allies may fear that Biden’s presidency will only serve as a limited respite from another Trumplike leader. Biden can assuage worries by repairing unity and moral influence in America to carry on past his presidency.”




n less than a month, the United States will return to the Paris climate accord, the international climate agreement designed to avert global warming. American President Joe Biden began the 30-day process for bringing the country back into the agreement on the first day of his presidency, illustrating what many hope is a renewed American commitment to climate issues. Even without the U.S., the Paris climate accord has already paved the way for progress in the fight against climate change. Under the Paris Accord, countries must meet every five years to set increasingly ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement has been credited with making a 1.5 degree Celsius limit on global warming a feasible goal. Prior to the Paris Accord, it was vulnerable island nations pleading with larger states who saw a 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures as a more reasonable target for international action. Additionally, the agreement normalized net zero emissions as a national goal. By the end of 2020, Japan, China, and South Korea had joined the EU and the UK in setting carbon neutrality goals. However, just because the Paris J A N U A RY 2 0 2 1 36

Accord has set some trends in terms of moving away from a future forever marred by global warming doesn’t mean that countries are anywhere close to successfully combatting climate change. Despite the 2015 agreement, billions of tons of CO2 were added to the atmosphere between 2015 and 2018, with emissions decreases in advanced economies not nearly substantial enough to offset the increases in emissions produced by developing economies in Asia. This past year did bring a historic decrease in emissions due to the ongoing pandemic, but one 2020 study found that the crisis had not “altered the worldwide energy system in a fundamental way.” Additionally, experts wonder if countries will be able to cut emissions enough to meet the goals of the 2015 agreement. By 2030, to keep global warming below 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50%. In 2019, a report entitled “The Truth Behind the Paris Climate Agreement Pledges,” scientists found that almost 75% of climate pledges made during the agreement weren’t enough to adequately reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; further, the


scientists found that some climate pledges were unlikely to be achieved. Of course, some states boast progress on their Paris climate pledges. Japan, for example, is ahead of schedule to make its near-term Paris commitment, though critics say its targets were too lenient. The European Union upped its target emissions reduction from 40% below its 1990 level by 2030 to 55% below that level last fall. And China is also on track to achieve its Paris agreement goals, having added 72 gigawatts of wind power to its economy in 2020 (triple the amount it added to the grid in 2019). However, critics note that Beijing still relies on coal for 57.7% of its power and its Paris targets still include increasing emissions through 2030. Some observers also note that countries are struggling to meet their climate commitments, despite optimistic news in a few states. A Climate Change Performance report released in December 2020 by the research firm Germanwatch found that five years after the Paris agreement, no country was on track to meet their 2015 goals. Earlier reports have echoed similar sentiments. In January 2020, for example, the think tank Climate

Analytics reported that most countries were not on track to meet their Paris agreement targets. Countries will have a chance to revisit their goals on the international stage in November of this year, when world leaders will gather at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in Glasgow, Scotland. European Union officials are hopeful that an American return to the Paris agreement in Glasgow will mark “a crucial moment to increase global ambition.” The world will have to wait until November to see if Glasgow indeed offers American an opportunity to take the lead is setting more ambitious goals for the next five years of the Paris agreement. ●


“European Union officials are hopeful that an American return to the Paris agreement in Glasgow will mark ‘a crucial moment to increase global ambition.’ The world will have to wait until November to see if Glasgow indeed offers American an opportunity to take the lead is setting more ambitious goals for the next five years of the Paris agreement.”






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