Biden's plans to bring US back into global fold with soft power approach

Reaffirmation of Nato commitment and return to Paris accord are first steps to end Trump's policy of isolationism
Biden's plans to bring US back into global fold with soft power approach

President-elect Joe Biden will immediately end the Muslim travel ban instigated by the Trump Administration in 2017 and allow up to 125,000 refugees into America annually. File picture: Carolyn Kaster

US president-elect Joe Biden has promised an end to the United States’ isolationism, once inaugurated in January 2021. 

His foreign policy platform commits America to re-engaging with international agreements and institutions, including the World Health Organisation and the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Mr Biden has described the climate crisis as an "existential threat" and has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change on his first day in office. He has reiterated his commitment to Nato which will be welcomed in many European capitals where Mr Biden has developed a wide-ranging network of relationships during his long political career. 

One of his most innovative ideas is to convene a world summit on democracy to address the growth of authoritarianism globally.

Mr Biden has extensive foreign policy credentials having chaired the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has proposed "a foreign policy for the middle classes" which will aim to strengthen national security by bolstering economic security. 

He sees America’s middle class as its "greatest asset" and believes investment in education and training will prepare citizens for 21st-Century opportunities in well-paid ‘clean economy’ jobs and position America to challenge international competitors.

The Biden Administration will initially seek to regularise foreign policy issues close to home. The president-elect has vowed to end the separation of migrant children from their parents along the US southern border and develop policies in conjunction with continental neighbours to reduce drivers of migration such as poverty and corruption.

He will immediately end the Muslim travel ban instigated by the Trump Administration in 2017 and allow up to 125,000 refugees into America annually as well as providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Mr Biden has acknowledged that the United States has relied too heavily on military force in the past and that this has undermined US moral authority internationally. There will be no return to the "endless wars" decried by Donald Trump and unpopular with most Americans. 

Instead, he will rebuild America’s diplomatic infrastructure, which was hollowed out under Trump and make diplomacy the "principle tool" of US foreign policy. Military force will only be deployed "as a last resort" and with the "informed consent" of Americans.

The Biden Administration will withdraw US support to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and will continue president Trump’s policy of bringing troops home from Afghanistan and the Middle East. Military resources will be focussed on defeating al Qaeda and Isis.

Nato member states will undoubtedly be relieved by Mr Biden’s election. Former US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power reckoned that given a second-term, Trump would have withdrawn the United States from Nato. 

The president-elect has stated that US commitment to the organisation is "sacred, not transactional" and believes it extends US power and reach globally. This will cause headaches for Vladimir Putin’s Russia which Mr Biden has scathingly described as a "kleptocratic authoritarian system".

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a major foreign policy achievement of the Obama Administration and Mr Biden has pledged to rejoin the deal if Iran is willing to resume compliance with its conditions.

Since Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in May 2018 and re-imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, relations between two states have deteriorated significantly. Iran’s military activity in the Middle East and the killing of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani in a US military airstrike in Baghdad in January have further heightened tensions. 

Iran’s first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri tweeted soon after Mr Biden’s win that he hoped this would signal a change to the "destructive policies" of the United States.

Iran’s economy is close to collapse due to the effects of sanctions and the impact of Covid-19. Presidential elections are slated for early 2021 and the current moderate leadership has been undermined by the failure of the deal. 

A narrow window remains to re-engage and persuade Iranians that negotiations with the West are worthwhile. Considerable diplomacy will be required to restore trust between Washington and Tehran.

US-China relations were strained ever before the Trump Administration assumed power. Former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton outlined Washington’s strategic "pivot to Asia" back in 2012 to counter China’s growing influence. 

The most obvious difference to president Trump’s stance will be one of tone rather than content, though expect to see the rhetoric dialled down and renewed diplomacy.

Mr Biden believes it is possible to co-operate with Beijing on issues such as the climate crisis and global health while hammering out trade deals which are fair to the United States, protect workers’ rights, and the environment. He wants the Chinese leadership to end subsidies to its coal industry and stop "outsourcing" its pollution via its global infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Biden has pledged to work with US allies to challenge China’s "abusive" behaviours and human rights violations, and shape future dealings to "reflect democratic interests and values". 

Beijing, however, believes the United States is in decline as a world power and has demonstrated a more assertive geo-political stance under the leadership of Xi Jinping, signalling the potential for future tensions between the two states.

His proposition to hold a global summit for democracy reflects his concerns about the "slide towards protectionism" and growing authoritarianism world-wide. Mr Biden is an American "exceptionalist" believing that the US is best placed to lead the world.

The summit would seek to "forge a common agenda" with other democracies to develop a set of principles on corruption, human rights, and authoritarianism. Technology and social media companies would be asked to address the potential misuse of their platforms to spread misinformation, promote violence, or enable repression.

The proposal brings to mind the series of summits held at the end of the Second World War to shape post-war Europe, particularly the Dumbarton Oaks Conference of 1944 where the United Nations was formulated. If successful, it could prove a similarly essential project for our times.

  • Jacqueline Fitzgibbon a is lecturer, researcher, and historian.

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