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Crafting a Diplomacy-First US Foreign Policy

US President-elect Joe Biden's pledge to make diplomacy "the first instrument of American power” represents a welcome departure from President Donald Trump’s transactional approach to the world. But crafting a diplomacy-first US foreign policy will require revamping America's foreign-policy institutions.

WASHINGTON, DC – US President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear that diplomacy will be at the center of his administration’s foreign policy. Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of his administration, recommit to NATO allies, return the United States to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and convene a “Summit for Democracy” to “renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world.” As he wrote in Foreign Affairs in March, “diplomacy should be the first instrument of American power.”

Rebuilding America’s treaties and alliances will be a welcome development after four years of President Donald Trump’s transactional approach to the world. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has eroded the country’s relationships with its allies and impeded its ability to confront increasingly complex global challenges such as pandemics, climate change, nuclear proliferation, democratic backsliding, and inequitable trade practices.

But crafting a diplomacy-first foreign policy to address issues like these depends on more than the new administration’s policy choices in its first year, as important as they will be. It requires fundamentally revamping the relevant US institutions to make diplomacy and development the permanent center of foreign and national-security policy.