US Foreign Policy Priorities

The authors of this collection consider the most pressing foreign policy challenges for the next US president, and examine how the outcome of the 2020 election will affect these.

The president will determine how the US’s diplomatic, economic and military resources are invested, and what value the administration will attach to existing alliances and multilateral institutions.

Whoever sits in the White House will shape the trajectory of the US–China relationship and the global economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as international cooperation on climate action, international trade and technology policy, and health.


  • The last four years have confirmed that the choices the US makes are highly consequential for international politics. Even as geopolitical competition and globalization limit the range of available foreign policy options, the next president will determine how America’s diplomatic, economic and military resources are invested, and, especially, what value the US will attach to existing alliances and multilateral institutions. Whoever sits in the White House will shape the trajectory of the US–China relationship and the global economy, with significant implications for America’s partners.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored, at often shocking scale, the urgent need for competent state interventions and capable leadership. The priority for the next president will be to lead the US out of a public health crisis that by mid-October had caused the deaths of more than 213,000 Americans, and to assure the economic recovery. Pressure to tackle the deep-rooted racial and economic inequalities that have been thrown into sharp relief over the past months will not dissipate.
  • The choices made by the next US president will have a crucial impact on climate action, international trade and technology policy, and global cooperation on health. These global challenges raise fundamental questions about the balance between national sovereignty, liberal values and multilateralism.
  • President Trump’s disregard for the value of science and expertise has risked permanent damage to research and innovation in the US, and the effects of this will be felt globally. The willingness of the next US president to push the reset button and ensure that these elements are once again fostered and respected within decision-making processes will be essential in restoring America’s global image and soft power.
  • European leaders are waiting to see whether the US will renew its commitment to the transatlantic partnership, and to critical multilateral institutions like NATO. This is all the more important in light of Russian adventurism, and as tensions between the US and China accelerate.
  • Values are gaining increased prominence in US foreign policy, driven not least by the China challenge. Ensuring consistency in the administration’s approach to democracy and human rights will be essential. Success on this dimension will depend, vitally, on upholding democratic norms and addressing social fractures at home. The US will also need to work closely with its democratic partners to create and enable viable and sustainable policy innovations that help meet the economic and security needs of people and states across the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

See the research paper.

Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, Director, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs; Professor Tim Benton, Research Director, Emerging Risks; Director, Energy, Environment and Resources Programme; Dr Sam Geall, Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources Programme; Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow, Europe Programme; Amy Pope, Associate Fellow, US and the Americas Programme; Dr Christopher Sabatini, Senior Research Fellow for Latin America, US and the Americas Programme; Marianne Schneider-Petsinger, Senior Research Fellow, US and the Americas Programme; Dr Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme; Dr Heather Williams, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, MIT and Sir Peter Westmacott, Senior Adviser, US and the Americas Programme.

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