Burton: Don’t Ignore Foreign Policy This Election


Tom Denton

(Photo by Tom Denton | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Logan Burton, Opinion Writer


Foreign policy is a very important aspect of politics. It dictates how the United States trades with other countries, how we cooperate in organizations like the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and how we allocate foreign aid. Yet despite scope foreign policy’s world-encompassing scope, Americans don’t seem to care much for it. Since foreign policy isn’t as provocative as an issue as economic recovery or police brutality, our presidential candidates have understandably dedicated less time to it in this election cycle. But pressing domestic issues don’t excuse voters and candidates from paying attention to what happens beyond our borders. President Trump and former Vice President Biden need to address foreign policy during and after the election.

Team Player

The US has been the de facto leader of the international community since the end of World War II. A large portion of this leadership happens via participation in multi-lateral international organizations. The US played key roles in founding organizations like the UN — and its many agencies, like the World Health Organization — and NATO, which aim to foster stability throughout the world. Today, the US still foots the largest bill in funding these organizations, contributing around 25% of the UN’s total funds and spending 3.42% of GDP on defense according to NATO requirements. However, after a long history of providing resources to these organizations, the US has threatened multiple times during the Trump administration to withdraw its funds. The logic behind those threats seems to be that these organizations undermine US sovereignty. In reality, the US relies on these organizations to coordinate common goals for a very complicated global system. Without their leadership, Americans and people of other countries suffer. The current pandemic has proven this point. Defunding the WHO hurts international cohesion against the universal malaise of disease. Whatever global disasters will happen, and they will, Americans and foreigners will need to look to American leadership for their resolution. Otherwise, serious consequences may occur.

International Trade

Perhaps Americans will feel the impact of international trade more strongly. The US recently achieved the highest trade deficit in 12 years, meaning that the US is spending far more on foreign goods than domestic goods. To put this in context, simply take an inventory of the things you own. There is a very good chance all your hardware, like computers or phones, was made in Southeast Asia. Trade agreements and organizations like the European Union and World Trade Organization ensure these trades go as smoothly as possible for the countries involved. Unfortunately, Trump has made some considerable disruptions to trade balances over the last four years. The US-China trade war, the biggest of these disruptions, has hurt the US domestically. Some estimate that nearly 300,000 American jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost as a result of this tension.

Beyond the US and China, updated trade agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement are barely being installed. The North American Free Trade Agreement allowed trade between Canada and Mexico to be less restricted, which reduced the prices of goods, but it was not without some major flaws. Its replacement, the USMCA, shows promise, but it still needs support to come out of infancy. How the presidency carries on with this agreement will be important in determining whether it will be beneficial or detrimental to the US economy. The bottom line is that our jobs and goods depend on the jobs and goods of other countries. If agreements are disrupted, everyone gets hurt.

Diplomatic Fatigue

Foreign policy isn’t usually hashed out over lavish dinners with dignitaries or large press conferences announcing sweeping negotiations. Instead, a lot of it goes on unnoticed through the agencies of the State Department. Despite them having minimal public profiles, their actions significantly affect Americans and foreigners. However, under the current administration, the Foreign Service shows signs of retracting in a time where expansion is needed. The State Department has continued to operate with cut budgets and staff shortages, but that is not sustainable. Trump’s administration is alarmingly hostile towards the department — department members and federal employees have experienced very low levels of morale and recruiting are decreasing even more. Given the circumstances of the coronavirus and increasingly intertwined economies, the diplomatic arm of the United States needs as much support as possible. Trump and Biden should demonstrate established plans for institutional repair as they campaign for the position that oversees all of these issues.

We live in an increasingly globalized world. Merely tipping the balance of power between countries can cause domestic shockwaves. From domestic and cybersecurity to maintaining affordable prices of import goods, to making sure you can go on vacations safely, the president has a role in all of this as our nation’s “chief diplomat.” Trump or Biden cannot go into the next four years without focusing on foreign policy, and voters need to hold whoever wins accountable to that.


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