What would a Biden Presidency mean for US foreign policy? | Daniel Hawker
In my most recent Mallard article, I argued that under President Donald Trump, the United States has made monumental progress in the area of foreign relations – from the Abraham Accords in the Middle East to Korean denuclearization. Whilst Democrats may pander to the narrative of ‘everything Donald Trump ever says or does is terrible and evil’, those of us who can look objectively at his achievements can see that he clearly has furthered American interests (through his tough stance on NATO membership fees) and kept American lives safe, by avoiding drawing the US into any unnecessary wars.
However, the President’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden has a vastly different idea of what America should be doing beyond its borders and, as Mr Biden is currently leading in the polls, with an average lead of over 10%, it is at the moment realistic to assume he will become the 46th US president, and we therefore must consider his foreign policy proposals seriously and critically. With an extensive political career, particularly in foreign policy, Joe Biden played a leading role under President Barack Obama’s administration (specifically in Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine) and served as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Former Vice President Biden has made clear his primary intentions on foreign policy if he is to reach the White House in November – within the first few hours after being sworn in, he’d recommit the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement (which President Trump pulled out of in June 2017). This would be a significant development – the agreement sets a target of limiting warming to 2 degrees this century. Despite sounding epic and transformative, it is certainly not free from criticism – costing the US around 1-2 trillion dollars per year, serious doubts and questions have been raised over its actual effectiveness in combatting rising temperatures. In fact, some alarming research suggests that, should the US follow through with the PCA until the year 2100 (spending $100,000,000,000,000), the temperature will have reduced by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit (or –17.6 degrees Celsius).
Speaking of agreements, the US has pulled out of under President Trump, Mr Biden is committed to re-entering the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, which provides the country with $150bn in frozen assets and the right to keep its nuclear programme. As much as Mr Biden speaks of a new era for US foreign policy, in which America doesn’t appease or support dictatorial or authoritarian regimes, re-entering this agreement would be just that. He’d be signalling to the world that America is open to appeasing Iran, a country whose long proclaimed its wish to destroy the Jewish state of Israel, in the same vein as Britain and France took in appeasing Nazi Germany in the 1930s when they were publicising their hatred for European Jews. As far as Israel are concerned, Mr Biden has expressed his aim to ‘manage’ the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not to seek a two-state solution.
Turning to Asia, in my previous article I referred to the progress President Trump has made with North Korea as “nothing short of a breakthrough in US foreign policy”. I stand by that statement 100%, but also mentioned that Biden seeks to take a vastly different approach to Kim Jong-Un. If elected in November, Biden’s policy towards North Korea is likely to less emphasis on personal meetings between the two leaders and more focus on diplomacy and sanctions – Mr Biden has criticised President Trump’s approach to this personal diplomacy with Kim, referring to the meetings as a “vanity project” that should only happen if coupled with “an actual strategy that moves the ball forward on denuclearization.” Biden instead wants to continue and build upon the work of his old boss, President Obama, and work with allies to pressure the North to denuclearize, whilst also drawing attention to the country’s horrific human rights abuses that have so far been overlooked in regards to US policy.
Given President Trump’s extremely successful approach to North Korea, particularly compared to his predecessor (whom Biden is expected to emulate the strategies of), it will interesting to see just how much success a Biden Presidency would having in navigating a now very different North Korean landscape. Having a long and distinguished career in foreign policy, Mr Biden could indeed provide a positivealternative to President Trump’s tactics, with a common criticism of the President’s approach to Pyongyang being that his talks with Kim Jong-Un were overall very unproductive and essentially legitimized a mass-murdering dictator.
In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic currently dominating all aspects of life, a Biden Presidency would see the United States re-join the World Health Organisation (WHO), which President Trump withdrew from in July of this year, accusing the organisation of being under Chinese control. In response to this, Mr Biden tweeted “On my first day as President, I will re-join the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.” I strongly believe it to be in the best interests of both the United States and the world for it to rekindle its ties with the organisation, which is aiding in fighting a dreadful and damaging disease, and also heavily reliant on US money, accounting for $400m/£324m or 15% of its total budget. In this trying time, economically and socially, the countries of the world should be focused on overcoming this virus, sharing medical resources and funding in order to bring society back to some assemblance of normality, hopefully as soon as possible and hopefully this being the first step to the road to a once-again COVID-19 free world. The WHO are championing this, and the United States, or specifically its commander-in-chief, made a mistake in misreading and politicising this.
One thing I foolishly didn’t mention in my previous article was the issue of China. With Trump’s damaging trade war and continued finger-pointing concerning the COVID-19 outbreak in late 2019, American-Chinese relations are worse than they’ve ever been. With President Xi Jinping’s growingly-aggressive behaviour, including picking fights with India (which was the topic of my first Mallard article), the despicable Uighur concentration camps the government claim are ‘re-education camps’, and the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong, whoever wins in November will have to take a firm and authoritative approach to China – that is the only thing that will keep Xi Jinping at bay, or he will continue to expand China’s influence across the globe unchallenged (already having aided in the construction of major African architectural projects). Mr Biden, in stark contrast to the current president, has promised to hold China accountable over its treatment of the Uighurs, supporting sanctions against the individuals and companies involved, as well as a UN Security Council condemnation – Donald Trump has been seemingly reluctant to make any sort of public statement concerning these human rights abuses. Biden has also attacked the President’s response to the crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic rights, promising harsh sanctions against those involved if he is elected. He’s focused more on fostering greater awareness of the threat China poses to the rest of the world, and it seems that his foreign policy plan reflects this.
Turning to Europe now, Mr Biden recognises the critically dangerous activities of Russia under President Vladimir Putin’s regime, viewing it as weaking NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), dividing EU members and undermining the US electoral system (the hacking scandal of the 2016 election). In keeping with this view, Mr Biden plans on investing more in NATO and in doing so, place more US troops in Eastern Europe in order to deter Russian aggression – in stark contrast to President Trump’s great cutback on US troops stationed in Europe, believing other NATO member countries to not be paying their agreed-upon 2% of GDP on defence. In this time of authoritarian Eastern European states (like Belarus under Lukashenko and Hungary under Orban) increasingly relying on and positioning themselves as allies of President Putin, it is vital to reinforce a collective effort to deter any military action being taken by the Russians.
On broader issues: on counterterrorism, Vice President Biden is committed to the strategy of ‘counterterrorism plus’ (largely defined by former President Obama’s strategy in fighting jihadists) which focuses on deploying US special forces and using aggressive airstrikes instead of more large-scale troop deployments. He is also a fierce proponent of expanding US government surveillance powers for the purpose of national security. On cybersecurity, Mr Biden recognises the serious threat the US faces in terms of surveillance by other governments and privacy laws, wanting to call a global summit to pressure large technology companies to step up their game on policing the spread of violence and hate on their platforms. In terms of defence and military intervention by the US military, Mr Biden says that force should only be used to “defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable”.
All in all, if elected on 3 November, a Biden Presidency would have a heavy focus on re-establishing the United States as a trustworthy and reliable ally to the international community, one you could strongly argue has been tarnished by the current president’s rhetoric. Despite being committed to the Iran Deal, which I believe the US is better off not being involved in, Mr Biden’s overall strategy seems to being a good mixture of protecting American security and interests and aiding their allies in fighting terror, authoritarian regimes and Covid. We’ll just to have to wait and see what happens.