As we enter 2021, the world faces many challenges, such as warding off a rise in extremism and radical nationalism, adapting our economies and consumption patterns to reverse climate change, combatting pandemics, ensuring racial and social justice, and slowing the rapid loss of biodiversity on the planet. For decades, conflict resolution scholars at Columbia University and around the world have advocated cooperation as a fundamental strategy for advancing social progress, promoting global peace, and overcoming major collective action problems of the sort we now confront.
Since the middle of the last century, many international bodies and multilateral agreements have been established to advance the goal of regional and global cooperation. However, many of those have been stress-tested over the past four years, in Europe, Asia, and around the world. In the United States foreign policy, the Trump administration willingly opted out of cooperative agreements, taking an ‘America First’ approach that, intentionally or not, equated to a nation isolated and alienated from many of its former allies, and polarized internally to a breaking point.
At Earth Institute, scholars at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) have been researching ways to reverse the trends of isolationism, factionalism, and polarization. This work takes many forms, from research into collaborative natural resource governance, to work on de-polarizing American society and advancing peace, to youth-led peacebuilding in post-conflict societies, and learning from women peacebuilders around the world. In addition, AC4 affiliates around the university and at other research institutions work to advance peace and cooperation in international relations, industry relations, public health, law, anthropology and many other disciplines.
One of AC4’s affiliates — Jenik Radon, adjunct professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs — recently advanced a vision for how the incoming Biden administration might work to restore cooperation and trust between the United States and its allies in Europe. Radon is an internationally recognized legal scholar, attorney, and negotiator who has worked in over 70 countries to structure energy and industry regulations, contribute to constitutional reform and writing, and broker trade bi- and multilateral agreements.
During a talk at William and Mary Law School last October, later expanded in a written interview on the AC4 site, Professor Radon discussed a vision for revitalizing U.S. foreign policy through deliberate reengagement with European partners. Rather than a siloed approach of simply renovating and reinforcing NATO commitments and support, Radon proposes a more transversal re-engagement strategy that integrates the historical foundations of many shared U.S. and European ideals, such as civic engagement, liberal arts educational traditions, true (or at least aspirational) democracy, with current and forward-looking institutions that adapt seek to adapt those principles to modern global realities. For instance, Radon suggests that the Biden administration’s re-engagement strategy begin with state visits to symbolic, but little-known geographies around Europe that can re-invigorate the American imagination and likewise signal to the international community that the U.S. is once again willing to act toward common purpose, based on shared principles. Such symbolism is crucial for activating and reinforcing a shared psychology or identity.
Radon goes on to suggest that such symbolism should be complemented by re-envisioning trade and investment agreements to espouse principles that are forward-looking. For instance, he suggests that the recently signed European Union – Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement that was negotiated with the notable absence of the U.S. as a trade partner, could provide a template that can leverage the combined weight of more than 60% of the global economy to create trade and investment conditions that are pro-social, climate- and environment-conscious, and grounded in best scientific practices. He advocates for adapting this sort of template to negotiate new trans-Atlantic trade agreements that could be extended to be more inclusive and ensure a both a level playing field as well as common rules and regulations. He cites important recent collaborations like the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership on COVID-19 vaccine development as examples where U.S.-European partnerships have the potential to influence and affect positive change in transatlantic relations that can build trust, reestablish credibility and enhance global efforts to confront pressing challenges.
Radon also recommends that the U.S. learn from and work with partners to establish educational exchanges like E.U.’s Erasmus program. The Erasmus program enables students and researchers to study and work in partner countries at no cost. Radon describes the multiplier effect that Erasmus has on building trust, cultural intelligence and cross-cultural knowledge, deepening interdependency and social connectivity, and enhancing human capital for participating countries. Adapting the program to a bi-continental model, particularly one that recognizes historic disparities across nationalities and vulnerable or marginalized identity groups, could be a potent and important avenue for rapidly enhancing social equity, cross-continental knowledge partnerships, and knowledge and skill bases needed to inform future work efforts.
While Radon’s recommendations for the Biden administration’s re-engagement policy are initially targeted explicitly at European partners, the approach he advocates holds important implications for wider global engagement. Three important lessons come out of his recommendations:
- U.S. reengagement needs to involve deep investigation of the shared values and histories with a specific culture, nation, or region and include symbolic acts that reinforce those norms for the U.S. populace as well as signal to allies and partners that the U.S. is still (or again) committed to those principles.
- Rather than re-establishing old precedents, Radon’s recommendations suggest that the U.S. should learn from new models and norms that have developed during the past four years of inward-focused U.S. attention. Much of the world has continued to build cooperative and collaborative institutions, and the U.S. administration has a steep learning curve to climb in order to understand where and how it can fit into new international relations dynamics.
- Finally, Radon’s recommendations suggest that U.S. reengagement should seek to build social capital with partners. While this would entail minor capital costs in the short-term, it would generate long-term economic and human capital dividends that position partnerships to more equitably and effectively address the pressing dilemmas the world is confronted with.
The full transcript of Professor Radon’s interview can be found here.