Biden's Foreign Policy Aims
Updated: Jan 31
Wednesday 20th January 2021 will mark the end of the Trump era with the inauguration of former Vice-President Joe Biden. The Trump administration has seen a shake-up of foreign policy and this piece will look at the major foreign policy aims the Biden administration will implement.
Generally speaking, the common theme will be to break from President Trump’s isolationist approach and work towards International cooperation. In all policy proposals, it is clear Biden aims to re-establish and create alliances across the globe to tackle some of the greatest issues facing citizens today.
More specifically, major policy areas will be...
The New Start Treaty between Russia and the US will expire in February 2021 unless there is agreement to renew the treaty for another term. Russia is willing to renew the agreement without further conditions, and Biden has made clear that he will also make its extension a top priority if Trump fails to reach an agreement by the end of his term (which is becoming more likely). There will be a specific emphasis on arms control in any new arrangements, as Biden has made clear he aims to constrain the threat of Russia’s weaponry.
The Trump administration has had a fluctuating relationship with Russia. Whilst Trump has a clear ‘bromance’ with Putin, the administration has placed tough sanctions on the country. It is likely that Biden will continue these after declaring the country a major threat to America, with clear aims to counter Russian disinformation, aggression and violations of international norms.
Much like his relationship with Russia, Trump has had an erratic partnership with China, from bonding over chocolate cake to some arguing he used racist terminology when accusing the country of spreading the ‘Chinese virus’. Whilst Biden may seek more engagement from China, it is clear the current administration sees the country as a growing threat and a rapidly rising power. The moves to slow or even stop the progress of China, especially through boycott of communications systems, has brought relations to the lowest level in decades. Biden will likely take a similar route of countering what some have called China’s ‘abusive economic practices’ but with starkly different practices. Unlike the Trump administration, who took an ‘America Alone’ route, Biden will focus on working with key allies to ensure China adheres to international rules.
Although Biden aims for closer ties to the EU, a recent trade deal with China (one which Biden requested be postponed to allow for consultation) evidently undermines his hope to form a global team. With Germany and France’s decision to impose taxes on US technology giants, and Germanys decision to not ban Huawei, Biden’s efforts have arguably been undermined and brings into question whether the US will be able to effectively challenge China.
Biden has also pledged a ‘series of new executive orders’ which surpass those under the Obama era for climate control. The new administration aims to pressurise China to stop outsourcing carbon pollution and coal usage, specifically through the Belt and Road initiative (a massive infrastructure programme aiming to connect Asia to Africa and Europe through land and sea, with an aim of improving regional integration, however this project has seen very high usage of fossil-fuels). Again, effectiveness will be dependent upon global support.
In 2018, the Trump Administration left the Iran Nuclear Deal (from the Obama era) arguing that the agreement could not cope with the threat imposed by Iran’s nuclear activity. The deal had originally provided sanctions relief in exchange for a scaling down of its nuclear programme to prevent the risk of war. However, re-imposition of tougher sanctions via Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy and continued economic pressure led Iran to stop adhering to the deal’s restrictions, resulting in a restart of its nuclear weapons programme. Trump’s support for the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and alliance with Israel (who have hostile relations with Iran and who were accused of the assassination) has escalated tensions.
Whilst revival of the original deal currently seems near impossible, Biden has expressed a commitment to re-joining the deal if Iran comply to the previously agreed restrictions, with the aim of countering Iran’s destabilising activities. However, Iran has made it clear that it is not interested in limiting itself to the activities encompassed within the deal due, in part, to current hostilities. It is likely Iran will seek recompense for the actions of the last administration, meaning if and when a new deal is established, it will likely lack the substance required to prevent escalation of Iran’s nuclear production.
Although a strong and vocal supporter of Israel, Biden has assured that he will work to restore engagement with the Palestinians, specifically working to reopen the Palestinian Liberation Organization mission which was dropped by Trump, as well as aiming for a two-state solution by supporting peace-building efforts. Trump controversially moved the US embassy to Jerusalem declaring it the capital of Israel and Biden (despite his criticism of the move) will not look to return the embassy to Tel Aviv.
During Trump’s term, there was little to no focus on Palestinian issues, but a stronger focus on forming friendships and allies within the Israeli government. This has escalated within the previous year and there are growing concerns that the measures taken by Trump’s administration against Iran have been influenced by this friendship. Biden now faces the challenge of re-establishing the Iranian deal, whilst keeping ties with Israel amicable.
Biden is committed to the Abraham Accords (negotiated by the Trump administration) which normalised relations between Israel and Bahrain and the UAE however it is unlikely that Biden will pursue normalisation of relations between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries at the same level of urgency as the Trump administration.
Saudi Arabia (SA)
In contrast to the Trump Administration, Biden will end support for the SA led war in Yemen. The current administration recently labelled the Houthi rebels as a 'foreign terrorist organization', and has placed similar pressures and sanctions on the territory as it has done to Iran (especially because the rebel group are aligned with Tehran). However, this move does little to reduce the Houthi’s activities, and risks punishing millions of Yemeni people economically. There is hope that the end of US complicity and support for SA’s military campaign will improve the humanitarian crisis and will help towards reducing various human rights violations.
It has been reported that Israel will seek to limit the Biden administration’s criticism of human rights issues in SA, the UAE and Egypt. Whilst Biden has promised a greater focus on both human rights issues and democracy around the world, his criticism of the war in Yemen does not seem to have been well received by Israel, who sees its own relationship with SA, UAE and Egypt crucial to countering Iranian nuclear development. There is a fear that any step-back from support of the war and future deals with Iran may result in dismissal of immediate deals with these countries. Israel, SA, UAE and Egypt may see any US-Iran deals as jeopardising to their own relations with the US. There is an indication that this will impede a SA-Israeli agreement, something which Biden (in line with Trump) is keen on negotiating.
Biden’s focus for North Korea, with the aid of China and other allies, will be on starting a coordinated denuclearisation campaign. He has openly ridiculed the current President for his friendly relations with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (for reference, the two have exchanged what some would call ‘love letters’ during their short-lived friendship). This friendship gave North Korea legitimacy and credibility, arguably moving them closer to producing a nuclear weapon – something the Biden administration will work to prevent. Biden has made clear that any meetings with North Korea will only take place if Kim Jong Un commits to removing its nuclear capacity.
Given Trump’s actions, it is unlikely North Korea will commit to denuclearisation, making future engagement difficult. A partnership with China may also prove difficult depending subsequent talks.
Biden aims to launch a full review into Central American funding to consider how solid commitments can be obtained from the leaders of the region, combatting poverty, migration and corruption to name a few. He is critical of Trump’s failure in addressing human rights issues in the region, adopting ‘draconian’ immigration policies, and is committed to repealing these measures.
It has been argued that throughout his term, Trump has insulted and targeted immigrants: his Muslim ban effected many African countries; promoted racial hatred and white-supremacy via his contempt for BLM and support for the Proud Boys and the ‘patriots’ who stormed the capitol; and blamed the immigrant community for rape, criminal activity, and ‘stealing the jobs of Americans’. Biden will take a different route of engagement with Africa by supporting democratic institutions, advancing peace and security and promoting economic growth, trade, investment and sustainable development. One way to achieve this is to restore relations with African governments and regional institutions, one of which is the African Union.
Other key areas of policy change
Biden will end the ‘forever wars’ in Afghanistan and the Middle East bringing the vast majority of troops back from Afghanistan, only keeping a small detachment in the region for targeted operations against ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
Previous partnerships will be restored and reimagined, including strengthening of alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and other Asian democracies
Biden will re-join the Paris Climate Accord following the Trump administration’s withdrawal, whilst working with all nations to continue making progress tackling climate change and will ask countries to set even more ambitious targets. He is promoting a $2 trillion dollar plan to cut emissions by creating a clean energy economy (in turn creating and retaining millions of jobs in the energy sector).
Although Trump formally moved to withdraw the US from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Biden will look to return immediately.
A global Summit for Democracy will be hosted in order to form a common purpose in strengthening democratic institutions and address those nations who are falling behind. Human rights, corruption and fighting authoritarianism will be the major points of discussion.
Biden’s foreign policy will significantly deviate from his predecessor’s, with a greater emphasis on international collaboration and development, something we have rarely seen from the Trump administration. While some may argue this collaboration will undermine America’s power on the international stage, others will argue a return to diplomatic foreign policy is a welcome and necessary change from the last 4 years.
Either way, the effects of Trump’s foreign policy decisions will impact the incoming administration, adding complications to their agenda. Biden will no doubt face challenges in both the next year and next 4 years implementing his foreign policy aims whilst trying to repeal some of the controversial decisions made by outgoing administration.
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