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Photo: Eduardo Munoz/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Addressing the UN General Assembly for the first time since taking office, President Biden laid out his vision for how the U.S. will confront what he characterized as a "decisive" next decade in human history.

Why it matters: In the face of unprecedented global challenges — the pandemic, climate change, rising authoritarianism — Biden made a case for multilateralism, democratic values, the rule of law and empathy for common struggles.

The big picture: Under the backdrop of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden heralded the end of an "era of relentless war" and promised that the next era would be defined by "relentless diplomacy."

  • "U.S. 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. "Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants."
  • He pledged to devote U.S. resources not to fighting "the wars of the past," but to the challenges "that hold the keys to our collective futures."

Those challenges include:

  • Ending the pandemic by vaccinating the world and developing new global mechanisms for stopping future pandemics. Biden hailed America's role in delivering more than 160 million vaccine doses to other countries — calling each one "a little dose of hope" — and said the U.S. would announce new commitments at Wednesday's global COVID-19 summit.
  • Addressing the "borderless" climate crisis with a new U.S. pledge to double public financial assistance to developing countries, including money to help them adapt to present-day climate impacts.
  • Managing great power competition by revitalizing alliances like NATO and developing new ones like the Quad. Without mentioning China or Russia, Biden said that the U.S. would always stand up for its allies, but stressed it is "not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs."
  • Shaping the rules of the world on 21st-century issues like "trade, cyber and emerging technologies."
  • Facing the threat of terrorism with an updated toolkit, by targeting support systems, countering propaganda and working with local partners "so that we need not be so reliant on large-scale military deployments."

Biden also focused a considerable portion of his speech on human rights and civil conflicts — urging the world to "never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress."

  • Biden reiterated his support for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, committed the U.S. to continue pushing for peace in Ethiopia and Yemen, and said the world would hold the Taliban accountable to its commitments to the people of Afghanistan.
  • He praised democratic and anti-corruption movements in countries like Belarus, Myanmar and Cuba, and in his only explicit reference to China, condemned the targeting of religious minorities in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

Between the lines: Biden's speech was a resounding rejection of the "America First" rhetoric that the UNGA hall had grown accustomed to after four years of President Trump.

  • But some allies have found themselves questioning the new president's credibility in the wake of the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan and a new diplomatic rift with France, which threatens to boil over into broader tensions with the European Union.
  • "We must again come together to affirm that the inherent humanity that unites us is much greater than any outward divisions or disagreements," Biden concluded. "We must choose to do more than we think we can do alone so that we accomplish what we must together."

Go deeper

The China whisperer

Nick Burns. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee for ambassador to China will face aggressive questioning Wednesday about the most important, and potentially perilous, bilateral relationship in the world.

Why it matters: While Nick Burns is an experienced diplomat with support on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers want to use his confirmation hearing to force the administration into some tough positions on China.

Oct 20, 2021 - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Study: More infectious diseases inevitable due to climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Climate change is creating ideal conditions for infectious diseases to spread more quickly, according to The Lancet Countdown's annual climate report out Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's just one of the increasingly urgent threats to human health emerging from global climate change.

The big picture: Climate studies show that extreme weather events — such as more powerful hurricanes, heavier rainstorms, larger wildfires and hotter and longer-lasting heat waves — are worsening worldwide due to the burning of fossil fuels for energy, Axios' Andrew Freeman reports.

  • These events have had serious impacts on the health of entire regions and the vulnerable causing preventable deaths, food and water insecurity and the spread of infectious diseases.