What would a Joe Biden victory mean for world diplomacy?

What would a Joe Biden victory mean for world diplomacy?
Election 2020 Joe Biden

A Joe Biden presidency would likely see a foreign policy about-face for the US with many of President Donald Trump’s most significant and boldest actions dismantled or curtailed.

From the Middle East to Asia, Latin America to Africa and, particularly, Europe, and on issues including trade, terrorism, arms control and immigration, the presumptive Democratic nominee and his advisers have vowed to unleash a tsunami of change in how the US handles itself in the international arena.

With few exceptions, Americans could expect Mr Biden to re-engage with traditional allies.

Where Mr Trump has used blunt threats and insults to press his case, Mr Biden, a former senator and vice president, would be more inclined to seek common ground.

Historically, US foreign policy has not changed drastically as the presidency shifted between Democratic and Republican administrations.

US President Donald Trump attends the first working session of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France (Jeff J. Mitchell/PA)

Allies and adversaries stayed the same and a non-partisan diplomatic corps pursued American interests.

That changed with Mr Trump.

Under his America First policy, he viewed both allies and the foreign policy establishment with suspicion, while speaking warmly of adversaries like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

But Mr Trump found it hard to make swift changes.

Academics often say that American foreign policy is like an aircraft carrier: easy to order a wholesale change of direction from the bridge but far more difficult and time-consuming to alter course.

Mr Trump saw that when he was unable to extricate the US from the Iran nuclear deal for more than year.

His well-publicised withdrawals from the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organisation will not actually become final until after the November 3 election, if ever.

His decision to redeploy thousands of troops from Germany could take years.

Mr Trump’s initial problems may have reflected a lack of governmental experience by both him and his top advisers.

That created a steep learning curve that was complicated by their intense distrust of national security institutions.

Mr Biden, with his Senate and White House experience, may be better positioned to deliver on change swiftly.

Mr Biden told reporters in Delaware that he knows “how to get things done internationally”.

Air Force One (Joe Giddens/PA)

“I understand the national security and intelligence issues,” he said.

“That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Trump has no notion of it. None.”

Mr Biden’s campaign also has assembled an experienced team of foreign policy advisers.

Among them is Susan Rice, national security adviser and UN ambassador under Barack Obama’s presidency, who is on the shortlist for vice president.

If she is not selected, she could become a key adviser if Mr Biden wins.

Then president Barack Obama looks to then vice president Joe Biden, left, as then national security adviser Susan Rice, sits right (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Trump campaign casts Mr Biden’s foreign policy experience as a weakness.

“Joe Biden’s record of appeasement and globalism would be detrimental for American foreign policy and national security, and after decades of the status quo, President Trump has made it clear that the United States will no longer be taken advantage of by the rest of the world,” deputy press secretary Ken Farnaso said in a statement.

For decades, the first and often only foreign policy shift that new presidents of both parties directed on their first day in office, and Mr Trump was no exception, was abortion-related.

Like clockwork, Republicans enacted the so-called Mexico City language, known by opponents as the “global gag rule”, to prohibit the use of US foreign assistance for abortion-related services.

Democrats rescinded it and should Mr Biden win, he has promised to follow suit.

But he has also pledged to demolish other Trump policies on Day One.

They include reversing Mr Trump’s ban on immigration from mainly Muslim countries, restoring US funding and membership to the WHO and halting efforts to oppose the Paris Climate Accord.

He has promised to call top Nato leaders and declare of US foreign policy, “We’re back” while convening a summit of major heads of state in his first year.

One area that will require more nuance is China, which Mr Trump has placed at the top of his foreign policy agenda and on which he has painted Mr Biden as weak.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore (Kevin Lim/The Straits Times/PA)

After previously boasting of warm ties with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Mr Trump has relentlessly attacked China, blaming it for the coronavirus outbreak that threatens his reelection prospects.

Mr Biden also has said he would immediately restore daily press briefings at the White House, State Department and Pentagon, events once deemed critical to communicate US policy that the Trump administration has all but abandoned.

Mr Biden and his surrogates say they intend to act quickly on the following:

– Middle East: Restore assistance to the Palestinian Authority that the Trump administration has eliminated as well as to agencies that support Palestinian refugees.

Mr Biden has not said he will reverse Mr Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or return the embassy to Tel Aviv.

Joe Biden has not made it clear if he will move the US embassy away from Jerusalem (Adam Davy/PA)

– United Nations: Restore US membership in UN agencies such as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and possibly the UN Human Rights Commission.

– Europe: Tone down rhetoric Trump has used to berate and insult European allies.

Mr Biden can be expected to try to warm relations among Nato partners.

– Africa: Try to raise America’s profile on the continent, which has become a new battleground for competition with China.

– Asia: Revert to a traditional US stance supporting the presence of American troops in Japan and South Korea.

Mr Biden has also criticised Mr Trump’s personal relationship with Kim.

– Latin America: Cancel Trump administration agreements that sent asylum-seeking immigrants to Mexico and other countries while they await court dates and halt all new construction of the southern border wall.

Mr Biden also wants to restart Obama-era engagement with Cuba.

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