The past two weeks have been replete with the political events unfolding in the United States. On November 3rd, Americans went to the polls to choose their political leaders including the president who will lead the superpower till 2024.
For obvious reasons the presidential contest was the one everyone who cares about the international system was concerned about most. Here is the rationale: the USA is not just any country. It is has the longest standing democracy dating back to 1789 when its Constitution came into effect. Notably, the American Constitution begins with the phrase, “We the People…” which affirms that citizens are the bedrock and service to them is the fundamental principle. What is not lost is the fact that the country has clung to the democratic ideals provided for in its constitution for all these 230 years.
In recent times especially in the post-Cold War era, the USA hegemony and leadership have been hands-on coming handy in handling most emerging global issues. Being the sole superpower, the US designs its foreign policy with potential impact both home and abroad in mind. A case in point is the leadership that the country has offered to the world on counter-terrorism since the reign of George W Bush after September 11 attacks on American soil. Though the US approach on the war on terror elicits different reactions, it has helped give direction on counter measures.
Many countries have built capacities to secure their borders and keep any potential harm at bay. Developing countries especially in Africa have benefited from the collaborations they have with the developed world led by the US in dealing with threats.
The past four years have redefined America’s position in the comity of nations. The traditional role the US has played in leading multilateralism has been abdicated with the current administration withdrawing the country’s membership from vital multilateral commitments. It started with withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in October 2017, followed by the Paris Agreement in December 2017 and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2018. There are numerous negative effects of these withdrawals more outstandingly being reduced or total lack of cooperation between nations and the US in addressing global issues. While the withdrawals have a direct impact on the financing and being a setback to the spirit of cooperation, there are more far-reaching implications. The Paris Agreement, for example, is seen as the panacea for the climate change menace and as such needs strong leadership in implementing its provisions.
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A withdrawal by a global power in the calibre of the US deals a blow to the framework in that first it undermines the universality of global climate change action which the Paris Agreement portends while at the same time marring other countries’ confidence in climate issues cooperation. The world was stunned when the US government announced in May this year that it was withdrawing from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nobody saw this coming at least not in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged the world and from a country with the most cases.
The reasons given notwithstanding, experts aver that the WHO has unmatched global reach and legitimacy and as such provides an invaluable platform for handling global health issues and this affect a member country’s security, diplomacy and influence globally. The US is credited as being the most generous provider of health and humanitarian assistance globally being the largest government contributor to WHO, currently assessed at 22 per cent of the organisation’s core budget, an estimated $122.6 million for FY2020. Moreover, it provides voluntary funding to WHO, with amounts varying per year depending on US priorities and global health needs. Hence it is frightening to imagine the long-term impact of the actual US withdrawal from the WHO come June 2021.
In the 21st Century, the world is facing never-seen before challenges that demand rising up to the occasion and as at now the superpower country is obligated to continue giving leadership even as other global players are ‘warming up’.
-The writer is a scholar of international relations and diplomacy. [email protected] @georgemaangi1