This year, the United States faced the double challenge of battling the coronavirus pandemic and dealing with public anger over a history of structural racism. In particular, the tragic death of George Floyd sparked a national outcry over the brutality of the police force: a multitude of citizens put their own health concerns aside to take to the streets and have their voices heard.
In recent times, the disproportionate harm that COVID-19 does to marginalized communities around the world has demonstrated the importance of inclusion policies for global development and national security. Economies and societies waste valuable human wealth when women, minorities, and marginalized populations (including those disadvantaged by legacies of colonization or slavery) are denied access to education, health care, or capital.
The Trump administration has repeatedly turned down the opportunity to denounce white supremacist groups and has expressed its utter disdain for women and minorities. Inaugurated in January 2021, the government will have an important opportunity to promote social inclusion and stop a relapse into a society where tribalism and oppression can increase.
Social inclusion is a phrase that is tossed around quite often and used in different ways. In foreign policy, inclusion should not be a simple numbers game, but a fundamentally new approach that influences both personnel and political decisions. While attempts have been made to prioritize involvement with previous administrations, the United States now needs to go further. It is naive to assume that merely recognizing or articulating the existence of a problem represents progress. It's just the first step. While America's front-runner image – imperfect but better – has been tarnished over the past four years, the next administration may usher in an era of true inclusion. But how?
Change can start with having the right people in the room where it takes place. National security authorities should not only reflect the diversity in their ranks, but also include different voices in their decision-making. This requires the creation of incentive structures that change the culture of the US agencies. Performance reviews and promotions must reward personnel who prioritize international social inclusion policies.
Minority groups and people of color should be represented in US foreign policy leadership, and Washington must work to incorporate the voices and needs of the global South into its policies. This would spur international cooperation to address urgent problems such as peace, climate, common prosperity and justice with one voice for the affected population groups and thus serve the interests of the USA. The next government should use its clout at the United Nations and multilateral banks to raise the voices of marginalized groups in high-level decision-making processes. This would include the structural integration of civil society into multilateral institutions. Including a role for citizens and affected populations would drive broader breakthroughs and solutions. For example, strong civil society involvement has driven the Ottawa Landmine Treaty, the significant reduction in HIV mortality since 2004, and the Paris Agreement.
The strength of the United States rests in part on its extraordinary diversity and pluralism: the inclusion of social inclusion in its workforce and policies can and should become a defining feature. Hence, the content of Washington’s international policy should now focus on social inclusion. To improve its national and global security, the United States must develop strategies that meet the needs of all people.
Countries in which minorities, tribesmen or religious groups are exposed to violence often become unstable for decades: Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are vivid examples. Long-term security threats from repressive or unaccountable states include the risks of mass migration, violent extremism and ongoing conflict, to name a few. An integral part of addressing these outcomes should be a US foreign policy that defends and supports those whose freedoms and views are disregarded.
For example, if a particular group targets oppression, violence and death – like China's suppression of the practice of Islam and their submission to forced labor and extrajudicial killing of Uyghurs – Washington could respond with more than condemnative rhetoric. It could make China's access to American technology conditional on its atrocities being undone. In addition, the United States should return to the United States Human Rights Council and lead the formation of a commission of inquiry (similar to the one that sheds such light on the atrocities of North Korea). The US leadership can and should use more concerted and targeted geopolitical action (by both historical allies and Muslim majority countries) to condemn atrocities against Muslims.
The next White House should also be determined to ensure that women occupy at least half of its top foreign policy positions and work with UN Secretary-General António Guterres to go beyond his worthy achievements in increasing the number of women in the top leadership of UN Culture most multilateral organizations remain male-dominated and chauvinistic, creating profound political loopholes. The United Nations continues to grapple with allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power at its headquarters, while allegations of sexual misconduct by United States peacekeeping forces have become all too well known in places like Haiti and the Central African Republic. Rather than just threatening to withhold funds, the United States should form political coalitions in multilateral fora to hold its leaders or field workers accountable.
The United States must also prioritize gender in the content of its policies. The abuse of women and girls is not just a formidable and largely neglected human rights violation. It is also a threat to global economic growth and prosperity by neglecting half of the human wealth of the world economy. By not proactively addressing global gender inequality, the United States is missing out on the opportunity to fuel global growth – and prevent violence and insecurity in the long term.
Globally, the COVID-19 crisis has led to alarming spikes in gender-based violence and the loss of critical economic opportunities and health services for women. This is exactly the right time for the United States to create a bold new agenda to advance gender equality worldwide. The next US administration should set up a new National Security Council Task Force on Gender Equality in the first 100 days. A robust cross-sectoral fund should also be created dedicated to reversing the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on women and girls, including targeted funding to address gender-based violence.
A US-led global strategy to promote gender equality should aim to improve gender equality in multilateral programs and address structural inequalities and the ubiquitous culture of harassment in multilateral institutions. In a US presidential election, this new strategy could capitalize on Democratic candidate Joe Biden's longstanding commitment to advancing women's rights and combating gender-based violence to restore America's moral standing on the global stage.
The inclusion in the staff and in the political content is inextricably linked – each reinforces the other. Promoting social inclusion to address a variety of the world's most serious problems is a focused and appropriate way for the United States to regain leadership in the global community after a period of aggressive unilateralism.