Barack Obama must start looking south, not just east and west. Like it or not, the U.S. economic recovery, success in the war on terrorism, and meeting the climate-change challenge all depend on successful partnerships with the developing world — partnerships we just don’t have. To get there, we need to dramatically restructure the leadership of our global institutions — from the World Bank to the U.N. Security Council — to better represent Brazil, Nigeria, India, South Africa, and the other countries that make up the world’s 4 billion poorest.
Take climate change, for instance. We can’t get a deal unless the developing world sees us as helping it adapt to the effects of global warming. This will require money, not just rhetoric: Obama, instead of simply vowing to end fossil-fuel subsidies, should redirect those funds specifically for the purpose of meeting the U.S. share of the global pledge to provide $100 billion through 2020 to help the developing world take on climate change.
But money alone isn’t the issue. We also lack the basic tools to meet these challenges. For too many years, the U.S. military has been Washington’s most visible outreach into the developing world. Diplomacy counts, and Obama needs to reinvest in the State Department. The president’s modest proposed increase of nearly $4 billion won’t cut it — and Congress even axed that. What is needed is a generous 10-year plan to develop adequate State Department resources; otherwise talk of 21st-century diplomacy is just that. For when America shows up in times of need — during this year’s Pakistan floods or in fighting AIDS in Africa — we not only reduce poverty, disease, and conflict, but also eliminate safe havens for terrorists. And that’s something we can all get behind.