Updated: March 6, 2021
After US Secretary of State Blinken stated earlier this week that the US is returning to the U.N. Human Rights Council, it has become clear that President Biden is leading the charge to change the rhetoric around improving diplomatic relations.
Although re-entry into multilateral initiatives comes from good intentions, global actors such as Germany and France have taken on leadership roles during America’s absence, making it harder for the U.S. to get influence back on the global stage.
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“Although the US has stated interest in re-joining the U.N. Human Rights Council, there are four leading actors running for three seats”, Kai Sauer, the Undersecretary of State for Foreign and Security Policy, expressed his concern on Monday. “It is still a competition and it is not a guarantee that the U.S. can gain trust back so quickly.”
He suggested that the US Secretary of State be careful in their next steps as they proceed in multilateral efforts. The United States has been viewed as very inconsistent and challenging to predict, and therefore to trust, in recent years.
“To regain their stronghold, it’s imperative that the U.S. builds back trust with Western allies and partners, signal clarity and consistency with their foreign policy, and establish leadership on the global stage by keeping themselves and others accountable.” Some of these suggestions sound easy for the U.S. but they are far from simple.
For example, keeping the EU up to date with more private exchanges with countries like China and Russia improves transparency with the West but deteriorates trust with untrustworthy, but also powerful, countries. Under President Trump, multilateral efforts were kept at arm’s length, leaving the remaining partners to fend for themselves to address global grievances.
Now, maintaining these relationships is a delicate balance that could hinder President Biden’s reputation even after his term.
Still, those remaining partners, including the EU, might not be as successful as they’d like themselves to be.
“Those same imperatives, like building back trust, consistency in policy, and leadership, could apply to any EU nation,” says Constanze Stelzenmuller, a Senior Fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe. “Take the current Russian crisis with Alexei Navalny.”
Russian President Putin is under a bombardment of criticism after the attempted assassination and current arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Although a political crisis in the media, President Putin has been fairly successful in fending off a Western offensive. There has been no serious or official consequences from the West to condemn President Putin’s autocratic actions. The same Western leaders that demand that the U.S. take charge in being aggressive towards anti-democratic violations.
While trust building is necessary, there are other figures in the EU that also need to re-establish their credibility in multilateralism.
For President Biden and his new State Department leaders, reinstating diplomatic relations won’t be as simple as rejoining the U.N. Human Rights Council. If the U.S. wants to be elected and bolster Western influence, it is going to take the balance of regaining trust and keeping all players accountable to maintain consistency and clarity on multilateral causes.