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US Elections: Alliances vs Isolationism


In his four-sentence response to a question asking whether the United States could still "play the role of the world power that it played in World War II and the Cold War," Biden drew a key distinction from his rival: "I have a fundamental a different view on a number of issues than Mr. Trump. Number one: I truly believe that we have alliances around the world that are both values-based and practice-based. And he, Trump, just wanted to give them up. He says he deals with practical matters one on one.”

Biden returned repeatedly during the interview to the importance of alliances and his efforts to deepen and expand them since taking office. Biden has taken credit for making NATO "significantly stronger than when he took office," putting together an "incredibly broad Indo-Pacific strategy," persuading Japan to devote "3 percent of its GDP to defense" and promoting closer relations between Japan and South Korea: “I managed to put together four or five major initiatives in Europe. I put together the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), which had never existed before. I put together - I mean personally, put together - while working on this, I put together AUCUS with the UK and Australia. I have drawn up an agreement between Japan and the Philippines regarding international air and sea routes and territorial integrity."

The details of Biden's claims may be disputed. Japan's defense spending as a percentage of GDP will be only 1.6 percent in 2024 (Japanese government has promised to reach 2 percent of GDP by 2027), he did not create the Quad from scratch, etc. But the general thrust of Biden's claims rings true—alliances are critical to his policies, and they are stronger than they were four years ago.

The question is, who is listening to Biden's calls to invest in alliances? With fears that a second Trump presidency is not out of the question, this has many wondering about the global future. As Biden noted at the end of his speech: “There is not a single major international meeting that I have attended that, before it ends (and I have attended many, more than most presidents in three and a half years), some world leader didn't take me aside and say, “He [Trump] can't win. You can't let him win."

What's less clear, however, is that American voters think the same way as these leaders. It's not that they are hostile to alliances. On the contrary, most polls show that Americans like having friends and partners and believe the United States should live up to its commitments. Rather, alliances—and foreign policy in general—rank low on the list of concerns Americans go to the polls with.


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