Woman's National Democratic Club

Leading in the 21st American Century

By Cynthia Efird, Member, Foreign Policy & National Security Task Force

Three events at the beginning of September demonstrated that the United States is again practicing skillful statecraft under President Biden and his team. Foreign policy advances are, by their nature, incremental and easily overlooked. They are, however, important for the security of our nation and our reputation in the world. Let me point out what seems clear proof that the United States is again playing a leading, positive role in the international community.

First, the United States is working to counter Russia’s dangerous attempts to weaponize energy supplies to gain advantage in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is forcing governments to spend billions to keep their factories working and citizens from freezing as winter looms. Russia is trying to stop European countries from aiding Ukraine by cutting off supplies of oil and gas. Since June, Gazprom has drastically curtailed the flow of gas to Western Europe to only 20% of total capacity. The European Union countries have reacted heroically, filling storage tanks, providing billions in relief to hard-hit citizens, and agreeing to voluntary reductions in gas use by 15%. The United States has concluded an important deal with the EU to sell 15 billion cubic meters more liquified natural gas this year to help make up for the loss of Russian energy resources.

Just as important, the United States is leading the effort to find new approaches. On September 2, the G-7 nations agreed to an innovative plan, proposed by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, to impose a maximum price on Russian oil, below the world price. This cap would decrease the flow of hard currency into Russian accounts that then pay out for the war in Ukraine. Showing its fear at losing its ability to coerce others, Russia is already threatening countries that participate in the price cap. But US diplomats are currently in talks throughout the world to shore up support for the price cap and stop Russia from trying to subvert the effort. On September 7, The European Commission said it will follow the United States and work toward a gas cap: “We will propose a price cap on Russian gas…. We must cut Russia’s revenues, which Putin uses to finance this atrocious war in Ukraine,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The United States is also in talks with China and India: Indian Petroleum Minister Shri Hardeep S Puri promised to look at the proposal “very carefully.” A Washington Post editorial called the price cap “a promising plan to staunch Russia’s gusher of oil money.” US efforts are thoughtful, innovative, and clever. We are leading against desperate odds, but not losing our moral compass and helping our friends to resist Russian blackmail.

Meanwhile, Biden-led measures, including opening the US oil reserves, are now bringing down oil prices in this country. The Inflation Reduction Act (the big Climate Bill) is increasing green energy investments massively, which will bring down prices even more in the future.

Second, on September 2, the United States released a four-part strategy to implement the CHIPS for America Fund, announcing its plan to disperse $50 billion dollars to build up the domestic semiconductor industry, correct worldwide supply-line problems, and counter Chinese influence in this vital strategic sector. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 was signed by President Biden on August 9. This rapid progress toward implementation is a clear signal to the world that the United States is serious about retaking its lead in semi-conductor manufacturing. As President Biden said in Milwaukee on Labor Day, the United States invented the semi-conductor, and we will again be central players in manufacturing it. According to the White House fact sheet: “US leadership in new technologies—from artificial intelligence to biotechnology to computing—is critical to both our future economic competitiveness and our national security.” 

Third, the United States is working to aid those suffering under severe weather caused by global warming, as well as other natural and man-made disasters. Global leadership is not just stopping aggression or securing a lead in technology; it also consists of using our strength to save lives when other nations face disaster. On September 2, The US Agency for International Development (USAID) deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to lead the US response in Pakistan, after catastrophic flooding that has destroyed 1 million homes and affected 33 million people. One-third of the country is under water. This team will work closely with Pakistan and humanitarian partners to effectively deliver an additional $30 million in assistance. USAID is also responding to a crisis in northern Ethiopia, as well as a historic drought in the Horn of Africa. All of these actions are additional to continuing aid to Ukraine. Wherever there is need, the United States is present, not just with funding but also with experts skilled in delivering assistance. The United States is a leader because it has the skill and capacity to assist and a proud history of humanitarian action.

On September 1, in Philadelphia, President Biden said, “We’re going to make the 21st century another American century because the world needs us to.” The ongoing international efforts detailed above—to confront coercion, to lead in technology, and to assist those confronted with disasters—are examples of the kind of actions the United States will take to lead in this 21st American century.