US Foreign Policy under Joe Biden: The External Values

The US President-elect wants to change many of Donald Trump’s political legacies immediately. But not everything is turned back.

Aus MAGA wird „American Leadership Plan“: same same but different? Photo: Carlos Barria / reuters

In his last 48 hours as US President, Donald Trump tried to rule into the term of office of his successor Joe Biden, who was sworn in from Wednesday. On Monday, Trump ordered the lifting of the corona-related entry bans for foreigners from most European countries and Brazil, in force since March last year, on January 26th.

The future White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki immediately stated that Trump’s measure would not be implemented. Because of the dramatic pandemic situation in the USA, a tightening of the entry restrictions is to be expected.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration then imposed the first sanctions against the German-Russian pipeline project Nord Stream 2. With this, the outgoing President merely implemented the corresponding legislative resolutions that Congress had already passed in 2019 with a large, bipartisan majority. Therefore, there was no objection from the Biden camp.

Earlier statements by the new president and his foreign minister-designate, Anthony Blinken, even suggest that the new government will take even more decisive action against the pipeline project. This could very soon lead to a conflict with Angela Merkel’s government, which has so far been resolutely sticking to the project.

Russia in future “main opponent”

In addition, Biden had even called Russia the “main opponent” of the US in the election campaign, while Trump had always assigned this role to China. As different as Biden’s reactions to the last foreign policy measures of his predecessor, as different as – supposedly – contradictory, the new US leadership will continue to behave in the various fields of international relations and politics.

Apart from the fact that Biden, Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris appear much more objective, friendly and authoritative than their predecessors: The Biden government will only partially or completely correct Trump’s policy on some points, but will continue it in other areas or even aggravate. And it will do so according to its definition of US national self-interest.

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It is still unclear how the commitment of Biden, Blinken and Co. to “multilateralism” and “international cooperation” is compatible with their very clearly formulated claim to a “global leadership role of the USA”.

The clearest thing is the turning away from Trump’s policy on climate protection and the fight against the corona pandemic. As his first official foreign policy act, Biden wants the US to return to the Paris Agreement on Wednesday.

Change of course: Climate, Corona, Iran

He also announced the goal that the USA – like other industrialized countries – want to bring their carbon dioxide emissions to zero by the year 2050. Even the national environmental protection agency EPA, which was completely neutered by Trump, wants to strengthen Biden financially and personally as well as by appointing a committed environmentalist as director of the agency.

In addition, the new president wants to revoke the approval for the controversial Keystone XL natural gas pipeline from Canada to the USA – against which the Canadian government protested violently on Monday.

Even before he officially took office, Biden had appointed his team to fight the corona pandemic. This is thus immediately able to act. In addition, the president announced spending of initially 1.9 trillion US dollars to cope with this challenge, which Trump has neglected.

This will be Biden’s government’s top priority for the foreseeable future. Their success or failure is likely to determine whether the Democrats can hold their current majority in both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections in November 2022.

Complicated conflict with Tehran

The USA can only benefit from the return to the World Health Organization (WHO) announced by Biden and the resulting improved opportunities for cooperation with other countries in dealing with corona and future pandemics.

As the third correction to Trump’s policy, Biden has announced a return to the nuclear deal with Iran. However, only on the condition that Tehran initially reverses the incremental contractual violations that have taken place since the United States left in 2018.

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Tehran, on the other hand, demands that the US take the first step and lift the drastically tightened sanctions imposed under Trump. The conflict is compounded by calls for the nuclear agreement to include restrictions on Iran’s conventional missile armaments and other issues.

The time to reach agreement and rescue the agreement is pressing. The hardliners in Iran have been strengthened by Trump’s policy of “massive pressure” on Tehran. With the majority they won in the last parliamentary elections, they have already implemented further violations of the agreement. And in the presidential elections on June 18, a hardliner threatens to win.

Course tightening: NATO, China, military

The Biden government will adhere to NATO, which Trump has devalued as “obsolete”. After all, regardless of all internal controversies, this institution is still the most important instrument for the USA to exert influence in and to have partial control over Europe.

The pressure from Washington on the European allies to take on more financial and military burdens, however, will increase. To the extent that the US is actually turning to Asia, which ex-President Barack Obama announced ten years ago. However, this is where the greatest uncertainties lie.

The Obama administration – which in addition to Biden also included many other members of the new administration – spent eight years unsuccessfully discussing a correct strategy towards China. Hard confrontations, including military ones, due to massive increases in US armed forces in the Asian Sea and the Pacific, or the inclusion of China in international regulations, cooperation and institutions, was the question that was never decided.

As the first official act, Trump announced tomorrow four years ago the free trade area negotiated under Obama between the USA and all economically relevant states in Asia except China. In addition, Trump waged an economic war against China, which as a result did more damage to the US economy than the Chinese.

USA has long been losing influence

The decisive factor for the future behavior of the USA towards China will be whether Biden’s government actually takes its claim to a “global leadership role” for the USA seriously, or whether this is more of an empty phrase. Because given today’s global political framework, this claim is unrealistic.

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The USA has been in a relative decline in power since the 1990s. One of the many indications for this is their declining competitiveness against other highly developed capitalist industrial countries.

The EU’s gross national product is already larger than that of the US. China is expected to overtake the US in two years. In the field of science and technology, too, the future world power China has already reached or even overtook the USA.

Russia is at least on a par with the USA as an approximately equal nuclear power. And in a few years, India will be the fifth to join these four strongest geopolitical actors.

New Cold War?

Should the Biden government not recognize the multipolar reality of the world and actually insist on the enforcement of a “global leadership role” by the USA, this would only be possible – if at all – by maintaining and constantly expanding its own military strength and superiority over others.

That would mean that Biden’s administration would stick to the nuclear and conventional armament and modernization projects that were decided and launched not under Trump, but under Obama. Then the military budget, which in the past was almost always decided by broad consensus between Democrats and Republicans and reached a new record high of more than 778 billion US dollars for 2021, would continue to grow.

With a “global claim to leadership” by the USA, which is essentially enforced through military strength and superiority, the danger of a new bipolar Cold War confrontation between the USA / the West and China increases, and this with the risk of escalating into a hot war.

In addition, without a reduction in gigantic military spending, Biden’s government will lack the urgently needed funds to repair the infrastructure and cope with other pressing domestic political challenges.