On December 10, 2020, the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) and the Clingendael Institute hosted a virtual discussion to analyze how the United States and Europe should cooperate on global public goods in the post-Trump era. Senior Fellow Constanze Stelzenmüller and Clingendael Institute Research Fellow Ties Dams moderated a conversation with Thomas Wright, CUSE director, and Louise van Schaik, head of the Clingendael Institute’s EU & Global Affairs Unit.
In introductory remarks, Deputy Mayor of the Hague Saskia Bruines said that at a time when “democracy is under pressure everywhere,” the United States and Europe must focus on strengthening trans-Atlantic ties, but not at the expense of focusing on democratic reforms at home. She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: “Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
Asked by Stelzenmüller about the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship, Wright said that the U.S. pivot to Asia over the last two decades and the global ideological divide between democratic and authoritarian governance has caused a rift in trans-Atlantic relations. However, he argued that Europe is the United States’ best partner to prove that democracies can tackle 21st-century challenges, including global public health crises, rising populism and nationalism, and emerging technologies. Van Schaik agreed, and added that strong economic, historical, and cultural ties make the United States and Europe obvious partners.
On the COVID-19 pandemic and global public health, Wright highlighted that “in an era of nationalist populism,” there was “virtually no international cooperation” at the beginning of the crisis, noting that although the international community believed that China had successfully reformed its public health practices after the 2003 SARS outbreak, the country actually reverted to more secretive and repressive practices. In the short term, Wright argued, then President-elect Biden should join COVAX and rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO). In the long term, however, this would not be sufficient. Wright said global public health reform would be most successful by entering into and working within coalitions of like-minded nations.
Stelzenmüller expressed concern that China has successfully inserted itself into key international organizations, like the WHO and the United Nations, and is “managing now to shape the rules to its liking.” She asked Wright: How does the West approach increasing Chinese influence in international organizations while also cooperating with China in other areas? In the area of global public health, one solution, according to Wright, is to implement intrusive inspection measures similar to those of the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to generate a “more transparent and cooperative response.” Van Schaik agreed and argued that China’s increasing influence is yet another reason why the United States and Europe must cooperate.
According to Wright, cooperating on global public goods will be difficult, but working on globalization and the global economy is a particularly good place to start. Focusing on the international tax regime, data and privacy issues, and industrial policy, the United States and Europe can begin to reduce economic anxieties that have fed, and continue to feed, populist movements. Van Schaik added that the United States and Europe should focus on small, pragmatic fixes in areas such as space governance, trade, and technology.
In response to an audience question on lessons learned from the Trump administration’s foreign policy, Wright argued Trump proved that if the United States wants to work with Europe on China, it has to work through the European Union — not NATO, and not bilaterally. Van Schaik emphasized the need for Western democracies to build deeper ties with democracies in the Indo-Pacific, specifically Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
Wright closed by emphasizing that competition in global public goods takes two forms: “country to country” and “society to society.” In order to protect against future political shocks, it is critical that international cooperation on global public goods extends past “country to country” to a societal level.