The White House and the World: Practical Proposals for Resetting US Engagement in Developing Countries

December 03, 2020


When President-Elect Biden takes office in January, he will face a daunting set of challenges in the US wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. His administration’s core agenda will necessarily be shaped by the twin imperatives of containing the virus itself and supporting Americans as they weather the economic effects of the crisis. Both tasks will be considerably more difficult if US policy doesn’t also pivot toward constructive engagement with the rest of the world. This global pandemic is truly global, illustrated by the ease with which it has moved across national borders as well as the scale of the economic damage that is unfolding irrespective of those same borders.

The Center for Global Development was established nearly 20 years ago in recognition of the need for effective US engagement in the world. It was true then and it has never been more true than it is today: the United States cannot solve all the world’s problems any more than America and Americans can hide from those problems. The past four years have marked a rejection of broad-based global engagement, with the offer of false security through border walls and illusory economic gains through trade wars.

One aspect of the international agenda that particularly suffered is US engagement with developing countries. Policies that define the US approach to foreign aid, treatment of refugees, and support for key international institutions like the World Bank and World Health Organization rarely get the attention they deserve, even when US political leadership isn’t overtly hostile to them.

That’s why we put forward today a selection of policy briefs for the incoming Biden administration, focusing on ways in which the United States can seek to reengage constructively with developing countries—informed by rigorous research and analysis. The stakes for lower income countries and the United States alike couldn’t be higher. Even as we remain mired in the pandemic, the damaging effects of climate change are visible each day, as much in California as they are in Cameroon.

These initial policy briefs do not aim to be comprehensive. But they do leverage CGD’s expertise on key topics like migration, global health, and development finance, offering a new way of thinking about these issues that is grounded in evidence and practicality. The briefs include actionable recommendations for the incoming administration to:

  • Enhance the effectiveness of US global health programs and strengthen global health security by prioritizing investments that build resilience and capacity

  • Reset US policy toward China, adopting a more balanced agenda that involves confronting China in areas where there is clear harm to developing countries and cooperating with China on global challenges that require active collaboration, while competing with Chinese lending to offer more sustainable development

  • Promote an ambitious G20 agenda to avert a global debt crisis while pressing for deeper systemic reforms to the broader sovereign debt architecture

  • Build a more transparent financial system by implementing a series of domestic policy reforms that will makes concealing funds in the United States—and around the world—substantially more difficult

  • Bolster the US government’s reputation as a global leader on gender equality—and take it to the next level by adopting an intersectional lens

  • Complement aid programs in the Northern Triangle by expanding access to existing legal migration pathways for migrants seeking temporary employment in the US, and develop bold new bilateral agreements

  • Elevate evidence-based policy and programming at USAID by integrating evidence generation and use in agency programming, prioritizing appropriate forms of evaluation, and undertaking efforts to understand better the cost-effectiveness of US aid investments

As the Biden administration’s policies continue to take shape well beyond Inauguration Day, stay tuned for more from CGD on how the new administration can best pursue a policy reset across a complex array of issues that define the relationship between the United States and developing countries.

Read the full set of White House and the World briefs here.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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