Unfortunately, even Mr. Biden’s advisers — who are multilateralists by American standards — have trouble imagining cooperation without dominance. “Whether we like it or not, the world simply does not organize itself,” Mr. Blinken has said. But the United States has discovered what happens “when some other country tries to take our place or, maybe even worse, no one does, and you end up with a vacuum that is filled by bad events.”
But it’s not true that international cooperation collapses without America calling the shots. After the United States announced that it was leaving the Paris climate agreement, not a single other signatory followed it out the door. To the contrary, the European Union, China, Japan and South Korea have recently pledged to make their economies carbon-neutral by at least 2060. This summer, after the Trump administration threatened to leave the World Health Organization, France and Germany promised to increase their contributions.
The point isn’t that American participation in common global efforts is unnecessary. To the contrary — it’s vital. But most of the time, America best serves these efforts less by dictating the rules than by agreeing to them.