Over the last four years, the foreign policy coming from the White House has been described by experts as uncoordinated at best, and outright dangerous at worst. While Trump and his cabinet favoured the nationalistic “America First” doctrine and challenged many accepted international norms, we can expect the new Biden administration to take a very different approach.
Joe Biden has had a long history of being involved in crafting American Foreign policy. Biden was the senator for Delaware from 1973 to 2009, when he was elected vice-president to the Obama administration. During Biden’s time in the senate he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was the chair for two terms (2001–03; 2007–09). Despite this record, Biden has often been on the wrong side of history in regard to American foreign wars and has a voting record that reflects this. Biden can generally be seen to be a believer in traditional ideas of American global supremacy. He is a strong believer in the idea that America must lead the world in global affairs, and this is what will drive his foreign policy.
Unlike his predecessor, Biden’s administration is likely to pursue a more multilateral approach to trade. This includes pursuing more multilateral and free trade deals, engaging in international frameworks and strengthening ties with allies.
Trump’s America first attitude was particularly evident in his approach to trade policy, where he initiated a trade war with China, renegotiated many key trade agreements and turned a back to many long standing U.S. allies. In short, Trump was a staunch critic of globalization and particularly of trade globalization.
Biden has long been an advocate for free trade and particularly of the U.S.’s involvement in the shaping of the global trade architecture, or in his words, America must, “write the rules of the road.” In the Senate, Biden was a strong supporter of NAFTA and China’s joining of the WTO. As Vice President he was a key force in the drafting of the TPP, showcasing Biden’s attitude towards international trade relations.
However, the President also has a record of voting against trade deals he believes to be counterproductive to American workers. He voted against a trade deal with Peru in 2006 as he believed it to be weak on workers rights and environmental protections. He also has been a strong advocate for challenging China’s unfair trade practises, something he and his predecessor can agree on.
The key difference between Biden and Trump’s trade strategy is likely to be this. While Trump’s worldview of trade was focused on America First and that all trade should benefit the United States, Biden is likely to pursue a more multilateral approach. Biden will look to secure the support of key American allies and construct frameworks that not only suit America but allow for the constraint of American adversaries. This is a key difference from the unilateral approach of Trump which is showcased in his strategy towards China.
Biden faces several key security challenges right from the start of taking office. These include but aren’t limited to: The containment of Iran’s nuclear and regional aspirations, the Afghani peace deal, tensions in East Asia and the South China Sea and many smaller key conflict zones.
Biden has been a staunch advocate for the JCPOA or better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. While the deal remains in tatters for now, Biden is likely to keep up the pressure on Iran that Donald Trump applied. This pressure of military action and sanctions affords the U.S. key bargaining power in renegotiating the deal. Make no mistake though, Biden would ideally like the JCPOA or a similar deal to be reimplemented.
In regards to Afghanistan, Biden’s priorities remain slightly more unclear. Trump was in the midst of fast tracking the drawdown of U.S. forces in the country, with an aim to have all coalition forces out of the country by April 2021. Although, Biden and some of the senior members of his cabinet have expressed skepticism about the strength of the draft peace deal and the Taliban’s commitments to reducing violence in the country. This is hardly surprising given the rise in attacks over recent months. The Biden administration is currently reviewing the deal and faces some hard decisions in the coming months ahead.
Biden is likely to maintain pressure on North Korea and has reiterated the long standing U.S. goal of a “denuclearized Korean peninsular.” However, many foreign policy experts are recommending expanding upon the limited diplomatic progress that Donald Trump managed to make and trying to engage in constructive diplomacy with Pyongyang. Such progress could look like options such as sanctions relief and formalizing an end to the Korean War. Time will tell which approach Biden will take.
Biden and his national security team also face multiple other security challenges such as a more assertive Russia and China, rapidly changing security dynamics in the Middle East and restoring trust in security alliances. The White House has its work cut out for it with all of these issues occurring against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
Unlike Trump, Biden has signalled that climate change will be a top priority for his administration. One of Biden’s first executive actions was to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, charting a complete 180 turn from the previous administration. Biden has also appointed former secretary of state John Kerry as the U.S.’s own “Climate Czar.”
A large part of the U.S.’s role in addressing global climate change will need to happen at home. Biden has pledged to make domestic electricity production carbon free by 2035 and the whole U.S. carbon neutral by 2050. These plans for climate action are by far the most ambitious of any U.S. administration.
However, while Biden seems to be taking steps in the right direction, these actions remain largely symbolic at this stage. It will take time to see whether or not the U.S. takes tangible action on cutting emissions and taking a meaningful part in global climate action, as well as how Biden’s new yet traditional approach to foreign policy plays out internationally.