Restoring U.S. Global Leadership

C. Dixon Osburn
3 min readOct 26, 2020


How should the next Administration reassure allies of U.S. commitment to global cooperation and persuade the American public that international engagement is in our best interest? U.S. standing in the world has declined precipitously under Trump. It is no wonder why.

Trump has belittled the United Nations, NATO, the International Criminal Court, and the Inter-American Commission. Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, the Iran Nuclear Deal, nuclear treaties with Russia, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trump has weakened the bonds with our allies, attacking the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Mexico and Australia, among others, while coddling undemocratic strongmen like Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, and bin Salman.

Our nation depends on the good relations around the globe. We helped build the global order after World War II to minimize the chances of another World War and maximize economic opportunity. In four years, the U.S. has bankrupted that leadership. Here is a menu of options to restore American global leadership.

Launch a Bipartisan Global Leadership Coalition of leaders in security, intelligence democracy, development, and human rights with terms of six years that provide continuity in global leadership advice between Administrations. The purpose is to signal some level of continuity despite divisive elections.

Support UN Reforms proposed by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres that the current Administration also endorses that will improve peace and stability operations. The U.S. should pay its debts to the U.N. and reengage with the Human Rights Council. The U.S. should explore how the U.N. can call on action against nations engaged in mass atrocities without U.N. Security Council approval.

Implement the Strategic Prevention Project that aligns whole of government response to prevent conflict and violence in fragile states. Once large-scale violence takes hold, the human, financial, and geo-political consequences can be enormous and difficult to reverse, including deepening poverty and mass migration.

Develop, With Allies, Marshall Plans to Boost Economies. Prioritize investment in the Sustainable Development Goals to address poverty, hunger, health, education, equality, clean water, energy, etc. Increase investments in countries to compete with China but ensure that U.S. corporations employ local workers to build local skills and innovation.

Build a Global Net of Accountability For Corruption and Mass Atrocities. The answer to concerns about the ICC’s possible overreach is more legal architecture, not less. Invest in anti-corruption efforts like the CICIG in Guatemala. Through the Office of Global Criminal Justice, support ad hoc tribunals to prosecute international crimes, lead efforts to establish a human right court in Southeast Asia, and strengthen U.S. laws to hold war criminals to account.

Rebalance the security budget to reflect a security approach that prioritizes diplomacy, democracy and development, relying on a military response only as a last resort. Return the programs that were shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon in the Bush Administration. Double the international affairs budget.

Establish a 2-year national service requirement that includes options for military service, peace corps, and foreign service so that Americans not only get to work with each other, but with others from around the globe to promote better understanding of the world. The service requirement could also include domestic priorities including building infrastructure and teaching. Service also can be tied to industries that lack enough workers including health care and computer science. In exchange for service, enlistees will receive a GI-bill type stipend for continuing education.

Reinvigorate the State Department. The State Department should surge senior Foreign Service agents from the ranks of the quarter who have left since 2017. Build a foreign reserve corps. Reform civil service to require Ambassadors to meet specific qualifications to reduce politicization. Align State Department, Defense Department and USAID organizational structures so that there is operational synergy.

Recommit to Our International Obligations. Rejoin the Iran nuclear deal; renegotiate the nuclear treaties with Russia; stop proliferating arms. Rejoin the Paris Climate accords. Assure NATO, the United Nations, the World Health Organization that the U.S. is back and explore ways to ensure that our promises and obligations cannot be broken by neo-isolationists.

These are just some of the steps the United States can take heal the rifts. Not only is our democracy fragile, so is our planet. The thoughtful architecture developed over the past seventy years should continue to evolve, not be reduced to rubble.



C. Dixon Osburn

C. Dixon Osburn is a noted advocate for domestic and international human rights and security.