By Kate Sullivan and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
President Joe Biden on Tuesday detailed his plans for leading the United States into a new era focused on diplomacy rather than American military power as he seeks to counter rising autocracies including China.
In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly since taking office, Biden called the next 10 years a “decisive decade for our world” that will determine the global community’s future. The President said the world stands at an “inflection point in history,” arguing that the way the global community responds to pressing challenges like the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic will “reverberate for generations yet to come.”
But, he said those challenges must be tackled with technological innovation and global cooperation, not war.
“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, and as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy, of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world, of renewing and defending democracy, of proving that no matter how challenging or how complex the problem we’re going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people,” Biden said.
The speech was a return to many of the themes that Biden has spoken about since entering the White House in January, framing the future of global relations as democracy versus autocracy and emphasizing the US’ plans to strengthen relationships with its allies. That commitment is something that many European nations are questioning in the wake of a diplomatic kerfuffle with the French over a new security partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia that cost the US’ longest ally billions in a deal for submarines and the mostly unilateral decision by the Biden administration to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of August after 20 years of war, leading to a chaotic withdrawal.
Without naming China, Biden said the US does not want a new Cold War with the most populous country in the world, instead looking to “compete vigorously” with the world’s autocracies. He said the US is turning its focus to the Indo-Pacific region and is “fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future.”
The President said those challenges include: “Ending this pandemic, addressing the climate crisis, managing the shifts in global power dynamics, shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber and emerging technologies, and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today.”
As a part of that shift in attention, the President made clear that he will be looking to use American diplomatic and scientific skills over military power as crises pop up around the globe.
“US military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first and should not be used as an answer to every problem we see around the world,” Biden said. “Indeed, today many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms. Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants.”
“I stand here today for the first time in 20 years with the United States not at war. We’ve turned the page,” Biden said.
The President said that, despite some apprehension from its allies, the US was committed to working with partners around the world to collectively tackle these challenges and stressed the importance of working within the framework of multilateral institutions like the United Nations.
“It is a fundamental truth of the 21st century that within each of our countries and as a global community that our own success is bound up in others succeeding as well. To deliver for our own people we must also engage deeply with the rest of the world,” Biden said.
The President added, “We will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time, from Covid to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights, but we will not go it alone.”
Biden on Tuesday focused heavily on the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed millions of lives around the globe. He touted the US shipping more than 160 million Covid-19 doses to countries around the world and putting more than $15 billion toward the global Covid response. He added that he would be announcing additional Covid-19 commitments on Wednesday at the US-hosted global Covid-19 summit.
“We’ve lost so much to this devastating pandemic that continues to claim lives around the world and impact so much on our existence. We’re mourning more than 4.5 million people, people of every nation, from every background. Each death is an individual heartbreak. But our shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity and to act together,” Biden said.
The President stressed the urgent need to act to combat the climate crisis and noted his administration had pledged to double the public international financing to help developing nations tackle the climate crisis. Biden said on Tuesday he would work with Congress to double that number again, which would “make the United States the leader in public climate finance.”
Biden urged countries around the world to “bring their highest possible ambitions to the table” when world leaders gather in Glasgow later this year for the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference.
He pointed to the goal he set out earlier this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about half from 2005 levels in 2030. Last week, Biden announced the US and European Union had launched a global pledge to reduce emissions of methane by nearly 30% by the end of the decade.
The President said the US would continue to uphold the “long-standing rules and norms that have formed the guardrails of international engagement for decades that have been essential to the development of nations around the world.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.