Where Next for US Foreign Policy?

How the 2020 US Presidential Elections Will Shape Multilateralism, Transatlantic Relations, and the Future of the Special Relationship

This new research paper from the British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG) sets out the potential consequences of a Biden or Trump victory in the US 2020 Presidential elections next month, in terms of the future of multilateralism, the ‘special relationship’ and US-EU transatlantic relations. Led by the BFPG’s Director, Sophia Gaston, it finds that either outcome in the election is likely to increase pressure on the United Kingdom to take a more prominent role in global governance.

Key Findings:

  • Although the dramatic shifts in the American foreign policy doctrine under President Trump certainly represent a profound deviation in both tone and substance, it is also true that American foreign policy has been in a state of evolution since the Iraq War.
  • In many ways, President Trump’s approach to foreign policy represents an extreme evolution of a process that began under President Obama’s leadership, in which the status quo of American military interventionism came to favour caution over action. Unlike President Obama, however, President Trump has eroded America’s instinctive moral leadership on the world stage.
  • If President Trump wins a second term, we can expect that his scepticism towards multilateral institutions, his maverick interpersonal approach to diplomacy with authoritarian states, and the poor relations he has cultivated with the European Union, will continue to advance.
  • Each of these developments would place greater pressure on the United Kingdom to play an even more significant role in shepherding the governance of international institutions, and to solidify relations within the Western alliance.
  • A Biden victory would precipitate meaningful changes in US foreign policy – namely, the restoration of America’s global values agenda, and its commitment to multilateralism.
  • However, the domestic social landscape in the United States does not support a return to the pre-Obama economic and foreign policy dogma, but rather a more flexible approach to international engagement. There will be significant political constraints on America’s choices about its actions on the world stage, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, and a powerful force of momentum compelling attentions inward.
  • As such, rather than waiting for a ‘system-level correction’ to the norm, the United Kingdom and its allies must prepare themselves for a world in which America may no longer serve as the embedded centrifugal force of the Western alliance – regardless of the outcome of November 3rd’s elections.
  • A central question at the heart of the Global Britain project must be to consider the extent to which the United Kingdom is prepared to step into the void, and the consequences if we do not.



Sophia Gaston

Sophia is the Director of the British Foreign Policy Group.