Courtesy of YIRA

On Monday, the Yale International Relations Association invited six panelists to reflect on the upcoming election and its potential effects on the next four years of American foreign policy.

The event was held virtually and began by introducing the panel of experts with various experiences in foreign policy: professor and former U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, professor of International Relations at Brown University Rose McDermott, Yale World Fellow Hamish Falconer, Yale professor of economics Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, former DNC Chairman Howard Dean and Jackson Institute for Global Affairs Senior Fellow Colin Coleman. 

Each shared aspects of foreign policy they felt would be most impacted by the election. Then, the group broke up into three topic-based breakout rooms, each with two experts and the attendees who opted to join that particular room. Each breakout room discussed their respective topics before the group reconvened to ask a final question: What effects would the election have on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

“We don’t do elections on foreign policy,” said Dean, who has also served as the governor of Vermont. “America is an enormous country and they just don’t think about foreign powers very much, which is kind of too bad, it makes us sort of an isolationist country.”

While the election may not be decided by the candidates’ foreign policy plans, its results will have consequences for the future. To begin, each panelist shared which foreign policy elements they felt would be most impacted by the next administration. Responses varied from relations with specific countries or regions to broader policy elements. Some panelists discussed Russia, China, Europe and Iran, while others highlighted fiscal spending, immigration and climate change. Together, the panelists conveyed an image of what they thought the nation would look like in the next four years under either a Biden or a Trump administration.

Then, the organizers made use of Zoom’s breakout room feature to create three smaller groups to explore three different fields: African & Asian Affairs; Latin American, European & Middle Eastern Affairs; and Climate Change, Nuclear Proliferation, Human Rights & More. 

“We wanted to have students have the ability to discuss with our speakers and panelists,” said Emily Mayo ’23, executive director of events for YIRA. Mayo hoped to “talk about actual solutions … doable solutions that each and every one of us can do.”

The African & Asian Affairs group discussed the consequences of what Mobarak called a “vacuum” in global leadership, in addition to immigration policy changes for students with F1 visas.

The Latin American, European & Middle Eastern Affairs group discussed how the landscape of foreign affairs has changed and how any administration will have to face challenges associated with an evolving political climate. 

The Climate Change, Nuclear Proliferation, Human Rights & More group discussed which solutions may be needed to curb the effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions, weighing an incentive-based approach against a more forceful approach.

As the United States has moved away from collaborative foreign policy, there are opportunities for other nations such as India and China to take more leadership positions, according to Mobarak, which he said is not good for the world. At the same time, he pointed out that the U.S. let in 70 percent fewer students with F1 visas this past year.

The talk closed with a discussion of how the strategy of the next administration to combat COVID-19 would impact global relations. On one hand, Dean pointed out that in many ways, businesses are leading the charge, especially in response to consumer pressure. Still, he underscored the role of the government, highlighting that President Obama’s work towards “multimodal” foreign policy, where many actors working together, may be useful in the wake of the current global pandemic. 

Thomas pointed out that there will be many challenges along the way. According to Thomas, these include having adequate supplies of syringes and testing kits, which he noted can be acquired through multilateralism or perhaps use of the military through the national Defense Production Act. 

Several speakers noted that effective leadership from the Oval Office would help fix many of the issues discussed at the panel.

“We need clear and consistent leadership,” said McDermott while discussing climate change. “I think that’s the biggest difference and that certainly the reason that I think it is critically important that Biden gets elected.”

The U.S. presidential election will take place on Nov. 3.


Amre Proman | amre.proman@yale.edu