Friends of the U.S. Ought to Help Biden Succeed

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For America’s friends around the world, the election of Joe Biden comes as a relief. It should also be a call to action.

Washington’s once and future partners are right to celebrate. Biden’s national security team is competent and anchored by committed multilateralists. The president-elect has promised to revitalize U.S. alliances and lead coalitions to confront challenges such as climate change and the rise of China. After President Trump’s unremitting barrage of slights, insults, blackmail and threats, U.S. allies can expect a friendlier reception and much steadier leadership from a Biden White House.

At the same time, the U.S. stands weakened by the pandemic and political divisions at home. Biden will be harried by Republican opposition in the Senate and distracted by the pandemic and other pressing domestic issues. The past four years have emboldened illiberal regimes around the world, and the institutions that might once have reined them in — including NATO and the World Trade Organization — are reeling from Trump’s assaults. Restoring an international system that supports democratic values will take more than enlightened American leadership. U.S. allies will also need to do their part.

First and foremost, European and Asian democracies should be doing more to defend themselves. Two-thirds of NATO’s 30 members still aren’t spending 2% of GDP on defense, a benchmark they adopted in 2006. Japan and South Korea should agree to reasonable increases in what they pay to base U.S. troops in their countries. (By the way, they also need to finally resolve their own damaging trade spat.) U.S. partners should coordinate new efforts to strengthen their joint military capabilities, much as Japan has been doing with Australia, India and key Southeast Asian nations.

Next, governments given to praising multilateralism at every opportunity need to do more to sustain it. If they want a Biden administration to rejoin free-trade pacts such as the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership — as they certainly should — they’d be wise to avoid making difficult new demands of U.S. negotiators. They ought to lend their energy and ideas to reforming the World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund and WTO, rather than ignoring problems at those and other institutions, or expecting the U.S. to do it all.

Friendly nations should remember, too, that it’s in their interests to help Biden to notch a few successes. Every win will give the new administration leeway to compromise elsewhere. Some governments might not take the threat posed by China as seriously as most U.S. analysts do, but they’re battling a strong bipartisan consensus in Washington. They should work with the new administration to secure critical supply chains and communication networks from Chinese influence, refine export controls, preserve freedom of navigation, defend human rights and more.

The European Union seems to recognize the opportunity. It’s debating a plan to ease tensions over issues such as taxation of U.S. technology companies and build a new partnership. Eager to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Europe should work with Biden to strengthen it, using the leverage generated by Trump-imposed sanctions, rather than insisting on an unconditional return. Gulf nations that have established new relations with Israel — and want to buy advanced American weaponry — should partner with the U.S. to revive a real peace process in the Middle East. India could give a boost to Biden’s climate efforts by joining China and Japan in setting a firm date to be carbon neutral.

Many countries will be tempted to hedge their support. They’re all too aware that Trump’s departure might not be the end of Trumpism. Betting heavily on the Biden administration therefore involves some risk — but it’s nothing compared to the danger of letting Biden fail.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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