GP Insights # 465, 6 February 2021
On 4 February, in a speech at the US Department of State, the new President Biden outlined his foreign policy priorities. The message he wanted the world to hear is: "America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy."
As a general outlook on the American alliances, leadership, China and Russia, he said: "We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday's challenges, but today's and tomorrow's. American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy."
In terms of principles that the US would like to follow in conducting foreign policy, he said: "we must start with diplomacy rooted in America's most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity."
He considered climate change as an existential threat, as he wants to build global cooperation to address the same.
What is the background?
First, the US reengaging the world, as against the retreat strategy pursued by Trump. As soon as he assumed the office, President Biden decided to rejoin the Paris Climate agreement on day one. He also announced the US decision to reengage with the WHO. He has also announced to extend the START treaty with Russia.
Second, Biden's approach to rebuilding alliances. During Trump, the trans-Atlantic partnership suffered a setback. Biden's emphasis on rebuilding alliances and retaining the US troops in Europe means that the US would go back to pre-Trump US-Europe relationship. He has announced troops withdrawal from Germany, which was one of Trump's destructive unilateral announcement vis-à-vis the American engagement in Europe. Not only Europe but also with other American partners – Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia; during Trump's period, there was a strain in the US relationship with most of the above traditional partners.
Third, emphasis on human rights and the rule of law. Though there was an extra focus on Yemen, as a part of this, he also covered the same issue vis-a-vis Russia and China in detail. He has announced a US special envoy for Yemen, underlining a new American approach and leadership towards Yemen. On 5 February, the US State Department separately announced that it would lift the Houthis' designation as a terror organization.
Fourth, a balanced relationship with Russia and China. While he has announced the extension of the new START, in his 4 February speech, Biden also stressed that he would "very different from (his) predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions - interfering with (the US) elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens - are over." He also said, that the US would "not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people." On China, he has stated: "We'll confront China's economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China's attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance."
What does it mean?
As Biden underlined in his 4 February speech, the above would mean that the US is back and would use diplomacy and alliances to reengage the world. This would be crucial and much needed, given the four disastrous years of American foreign policy of disengaging the world and breaking the alliances. Biden's big challenge would be to fill the gap that Trump has yielded and fill it fast. 2021 is not 2016; there have been numerous changes in the last five years. Biden will have to be proactive.
The emphasis on human rights should be another significant relief. Starting from Yemen, there are numerous conflict spots, that need a rightful engagement of the US. On this issue as well, there are enormous challenges – starting from Russia, Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the list would be a long one. Biden will have to prioritize.