Veteran diplomats from Europe and Australia who are currently Fisher Family Fellows at Harvard Kennedy School say they expect a Biden administration to restore U.S. collaboration with international systems that had flourished for nearly a century under American leadership.

During an online seminar on Tuesday hosted by the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she expected President-elect Joseph Biden’s administration “to be far more predictable and orthodox, with a particular focus on support for the international rules-based order.”

That sentiment was echoed by Federica Mogherini, the former Italian foreign minister who spent five years as the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and Peter Wittig, who served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations. 

Nicholas Burns.In a conversation moderated by Nicholas Burns, the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations and faculty chair of the Future of Diplomacy Project, the diplomats all said they expected Biden to focus much attention on the growing challenge of managing the U.S.-China relationship, which they said had grown strained during President Donald Trump’s four years in office.

Bishop said she hoped Biden would be more supportive of the World Trade Organization and would reconsider the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement that President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2017 soon after his inauguration. She said China was exerting pressure on Australia to make it choose between Washington and Beijing. “We’ll need deft diplomacy from the United States and a clear understanding of some complex policy areas to ensure that our national interest is promoted and protected,” Bishop said.

For the Indo-Pacific region, Bishop expected “a return to the U.S. defending, upholding, guaranteeing the international rules-based order and a United States that doesn’t view the world as a zero-sum calculus … where America only wins if other nations lose. For the past 75 years, the U.S. has been the primary sponsor of the rules-based order that rests on the premise that a rising tide has the potential to lift all boats.”

Mogherini said that among most Europeans, “the general feeling was that we would have hardly managed to make the Trans-Atlantic partnership survive with another four years of the Trump administration. It would have been extremely difficult to manage to safeguard the strong ties and alliance that we cherish.”

“We expect Biden to pivot back to alliances and multilateral cooperation, and we expect...a new friendly spirit to prevail in the day-to-day contact with each other. And so a civilized dialogue is once again possible, and that’s almost half the battle."

Peter Wittig, former German ambassador

“The United States has always been at the center of gravity of a cooperative world-wide approach, an international approach, the pillar of multilateralism, with the principle that if my partners in the world are not in a good place, this is also bad for me,” Mogherini added. “That was the basic principle that made the United States so relevant, and a key player throughout recent global history and two world wars.”

She said the one upside for Europe of the Trump years was the realization “that we couldn’t automatically always rely on our American friends and brothers and sisters, and we had had to take responsibility for ourselves.” She said Europeans had strengthened their own NATO pillar and had preserved the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord despite U.S. withdrawal.

“We are very pleased to see that we might go back to partnership and collaboration on a systemic basis with an American Administration,” Mogherini said. “The first national partner for us is always the United States of America.”

Wittig said “there was a collective sigh of relief in Germany when it was clear that Biden had won the day—with the exception of our populist right-wing party.” He said U.S.-German relations had plummeted to their lowest level since World War II. “What had irritated and shocked Germans most was Trump’s rejection of multilateralism and alliances, and this maybe runs deeper in the mindset of Germans than in other European countries,” Wittig said.

“We expect Biden to pivot back to alliances and multilateral cooperation, and we expect sort of a new friendly spirit to prevail in the day-to-day contact with each other,” he said. “And so a civilized dialogue is once again possible, and that’s almost half the battle.”

Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO before becoming under secretary of state for political affairs during the Obama administration, said polls have shown a high degree of American bipartisanship on some foreign policy issues, including 75% support for NATO: “That’s an extraordinarily high number in a badly divided country where on some days you couldn’t get 75% of the American people to say the sky is blue.”

The group also took the occasion to mourn the passing of Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. Erekat, who died of complications from COVID-19 on Tuesday, was the fourth Fisher Family Fellow for the current academic year.

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