Moderna, Massachusetts, and durable US foreign policy 

How to make all global politics local 

PRESIDENT TRUMP PULLED America from the global stage in pursuit of isolationist foreign policy. The fight against the pandemic provides an opening for President Biden to not only restore alliances but to establish durable US engagement in international organizations. What’s more, Moderna and Massachusetts are at the center of the fight against the pandemic, and they might provide an example for how he can achieve it. 

COVID-19 finally demonstrates for Massachusetts residents, and all of America, how our own safety is linked to the safety of the world. It displays how engagement in international organizations and global health security pays dividends at home. President Biden should use the moment to secure long-term domestic support for international engagement. He can do that by first focusing on foreign policy that is relevant for physical and economic security in our daily lives, and by breaking down silos separating foreign affairs and domestic development. Confronting COVID does all of the above. 

I worked for the United Nations for nearly 10 years before winning election to serve in the Massachusetts Senate. American diplomacy was clearly important wherever I was based; from Baghdad and Damascus to Jerusalem and UN headquarters in New York. But indifference among Americans toward foreign affairs was also clear. Polls during the 2020 national election showed only one-third of the US public gave top priority to working with allies and international institutions to confront global challenges such as disease or climate change. That political reality gives any president the ability to reduce our engagement abroad at little political cost, and often to our detriment. 

To change that dynamic the president needs to demonstrate global leadership on issues that visibly impact physical and economic security for US residents. Robust US investments at the state level should support international pandemic prevention and intervention while creating jobs. 

In Massachusetts its easy. Cambridge-based Moderna and the life science industry are already part of the current global response. The US spent nearly $1 billion on Moderna research, and the company that developed one of the first two coronavirus vaccines made available in the US now has deals worth $18.4 billion, with more discussions with governments ongoing. US investments in COVAX, the mechanism to distribute COVID vaccine equitably around the world, will result in more jobs in the state and expand the Commonwealth’s already robust life sciences ecosystem. 

Investments currently reach every corner of the Commonwealth. In a small town in Berkshire County, government assistance allowed Boyd Technologies to transition from sourcing a range of life science materials to focusing on producing PPE locally. The US could protect PPE access in each state by investing in regions throughout the country to bring them into the fight. Jobs created because of our involvement in a global fight translate into local support for engagement. 

Improving the World Health Organization (WHO) is another starting point. To start, the WHO budget is a mere $2.5 billion. Compare that with the $23 billion that Massachusetts spends on all health and human services departments. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health alone has a budget that equals 40 percent of the WHO budget doing similar work for the entire globe. Expanded public and private contributions are clearly needed if the WHO is going to be up to the task of preventing another global pandemic. 

But strengthening international health security requires more than money. President Biden should work with WHO members to create strong monitoring systems sufficient to prevent another outbreak, including monitoring the animal trade. Scientists at Princeton and Duke recently determined that $30 billion annually would be sufficient to create a global monitoring system. It is time for a UN Summit on Global Health Security to strengthen the international framework for health emergency preparedness and response. 

Those who oppose robust engagement overseas often point to the fear of losing control over our own fate. But when a virus can travel the globe on an airplane flight we need to move beyond the era when we felt safe because two oceans and friendly neighbors provided a buffer. Now pandemics, climate change, digital attacks, and more require robust international coordination. 

Meet the Author

Adam Hinds

Senator, Massachusetts State Senate
To avoid another retreat into US isolationism, our foreign policy must directly link to the backyards of Americans. The current fight against COVID demonstrates how, starting right here in Massachusetts. 

Adam Hinds is state senator representing the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District. Previously he worked for nearly 10 years in the United Nations.