Diplocat discusses the implications of the US elections

Ambler Moss, the former US vice-consul in Barcelona, gives the fourth seminar in the MDAE Alumni series

Diplocat has today hosted the fourth seminar in the series on COVID-19 and its global and European impact. The event was organised in conjunction with the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI) under the auspices of the MDAE alumni network and entitled "The impact on the world of the US elections of 2020".

The seminar was kicked off by Jacint Jordana, Director of the IBEI, and Laura Foraster, Secretary General of Diplocat. Both of them noted the constructive partnership between the two organisations and underscored the significance of the seminar's theme in current international politics. Ambler Moss, former US ambassador to Panama (1978-1982), vice-consul in Barcelona (1964-1966) and a member of Diplocat's Advisory Council, was the guest speaker. Isidre Sala, a graduate from the second MDAE programme and head of the Catalan Government's Delegation to the United States of America and Canada, moderated the debate.

Ambler Moss began by pointing out that the final presidential debate in the United States will take place on Thursday 22nd at which COVID-19, American families, the racial problem, climate change, national security and leadership will be up for discussion. He said he hoped that this debate would be more civilised than its predecessor. Moss emphasised that there are two offshoots to be taken into account, the domestic American view and the international view, and went on to explore the various issues raised and other major topics which are germane to the American election.

Turning to the pandemic, Moss argued that Trump's vision is based on a simplification of the problem, and he does not put forward any solutions in the hope that it will fade away on its own since he has no real plan for addressing it. Furthermore, the incumbent president has already made it clear that if there is a vaccine, he will not share it with the world. By contrast, there is an international conversation about how the vaccine will be allocated fairly between countries and the world's population while the World Health Organisation has set up the COVAX Facility, a programme in which 170 countries including China are already committed to fair shares. Conversely, in the United States the debate is about which Americans will have access to the vaccine first. However, if Trump were to claim that they have the vaccine and it is safe, most Americans would not go to get a jab until scientists confirm its viability.

Moss was blunt in saying that Trump's foreign policy can be summed up in two words: America First. This is why the United States has cut funding for the WHO and turned away from the Paris Agreement. Trump has a one-sided vision of foreign policy and this is at odds with the United States' position as a leader of multilateralism since the end of the Second World War as a founding member of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan and the international nuclear control organisations. Meanwhile, Biden has said that he will go back to the Paris Agreement and in particular reinstate more peaceful relations with Iran by resuming the Iran Nuclear Deal under which Iran and the five states with a veto on the Security Council and Germany agree that Iran will not be subject to international sanctions if it proves it is not producing nuclear weapons. In contrast, Trump has imposed sanctions on Iran contrary to United Nations recommendations.

Another major discussion topic is ironically whether Trump will accept any potential electoral defeat. For the time being, the president has failed to answer questions on the subject and says he does not trust the postal vote, although he too has voted remotely as president of the United States. However, Moss pointed out that America has an indirect voting system in which the winner is not the candidate who gets the most votes in the election but rather the one who has the most in the Electoral College. Moss also referred to the appointment to the US Supreme Court and argued that although it is not common to appoint a judge just months before an election, the Republicans will do so because they have a majority in the Senate.

Once the talk was over, there was a Q&A session. One of the participants began the discussion by asking about whether Puerto Rico and Washington might become new states. The former ambassador replied that a new referendum would have to be held first in Puerto Rico and afterwards there would be an internal problem in the country because each state has two senators and this would impact the budget.

Going back to the issue of the Supreme Court appointment, Moss pointed out that the Constitution does not set the number of judges, which has varied between six and 10 throughout history. This would mean that if there were a Democratic majority in Congress, the Senate and the Presidency, they would be able to add and appoint new judges to the Court and override the current obvious Republican majority. This was an option with Obama who was very circumspect, but in the current situation Biden might be tempted to make these changes, especially as the Republican majority has already blocked some Democratic policies.

Another question concerned the likely electoral impact of cases of police brutality. Moss is sure that this issue will have an effect and in fact is one of the discussion topics in this election, with opinions differing between the candidates. Biden's approach is to have more police who are more courteous and more regulated. A Democratic majority in Congress might mean a new federal standard of police behaviour. As for the Black Lives Matter movement and racism, Moss said that it has come to the boil both in the US and in other countries, although he noted that racism is an intrinsic part of American society.

Whether the Supreme Court should end up deciding the outcome of the election was also raised, and Moss sees it as likely. He thinks the media will evidently influence voting intention but added that not all media outlets in the US are like The New York Times and fake news creators as Trump claims, but rather there are many local radio stations providing a very radical view of the news and which will also have a huge effect on how voters cast their ballots.

Finally, Moss spoke about the two candidates' divergent opinions on US-EU relations. He argued that Trump and some European countries do not agree on that many ideas or policies, but equally over the four years of his term of office it had not been apparent that Trump had a distinct political strategy for the EU either. He feels that Biden will shift back to a more traditional foreign policy with a stronger relationship with the EU and most of all with the UK and the power of NATO. As for China, he believes there will not be that many differences if there is a political swing since there will continue to be lively economic rivalry between the two powers. Finally, Moss said that what he does believe will change will be the US's attitude to international dictatorships such as Russia and North Korea with which Trump has a special relationship.

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