Should Joe Biden become the 46th president, he will have a lot of geopolitical reconstruction work to do. Above all, China and the relationship with NATO have deteriorated significantly under Trump. What would Joe Biden’s foreign policy look like?
Foreign Policy Matters
Foreign policy is a subject that many Americans traditionally do not care much about. Presidential elections are not won through foreign policy — President George H.W. Bush, despite a grandiose foreign policy resume, had to find it out the hard way.
The issue of China, however, is the exception to this rule. Two-thirds of all US citizens have a negative image of China as a rogue state. When it comes to punitive tariffs and sanctions, the division between Republicans and Democrats often transforms into bipartisan efforts.
Biden on China
In a presidential debate, candidate Biden was asked whether he would allow Chinese companies to create essential infrastructure in the US. His response was a resounding no. Furthermore, unlike Trump, who has praised Xi Jinping countless times, Biden has openly called the Chinese leader out for not having a “democratic bone in his body” and for being a “thug.”
Biden thus knows he cannot win by being too friendly to China. After all, the US trade deficit is perceived as a weakness by many Americans. Moreover, currency manipulation, product pirates, and intellectual property theft remain issues that directly affect the United States.
Biden to China: ‘You Have to Follow the Rules, Period!’
“You have to follow the rules, period!” demands Biden from the Chinese leadership. Unlike President Trump, whose modus operandi relies on sanctions, Biden’s approach would break with the isolationism and return to multilateralism. Accordingly, Biden has stated that he would rebuild the alliances that Trump tarnished or destroyed. He also made it clear that the US is not looking for war; however, “we have to make sure that we are a Pacific power and that we will not back down.”
However, above all, Biden would also return to the good old tradition of diplomacy with China. Because for a Biden administration, it will be a big, responsible task not to let the competition between China and the USA escalate, but to guide it on ways so that there can be reasonable cooperation on critical global issues.
A Biden Presidency Would Mean a Return to Multilateralism
The latter is essential, as various questions can no longer be resolved in the future without China. Talking to each other again, that could become the central theme of Biden’s foreign policy. In the four years of his first term in office, Trump broke many bridges, declared friendships and alliances superfluous.
He actively tried to split the European Union. Therefore, it is not a steep thesis to claim that there would be changes under a President Biden: primarily through an allied and multilateral approach to the challenges of foreign policy.
Details of Biden’s Foreign Policy are Still Scarce
Biden has not yet presented a comprehensive concept of his foreign and security policy in the current election campaign. A year ago, however, he gave a speech in New York and presented his vision. Therefore, his first step would be to restore democratic norms in the United States which his supporters consider to have been damaged under Trump.
In the first year, Biden wants to convene a democracy summit to forge a new alliance with the states of the free world. Biden also seeks to bring back most US troops from abroad and focus on the fight against terrorism. According to the New York Times, around 200,000 US soldiers are currently stationed abroad. Afghanistan is now only a small part; about 12,000 soldiers that President Trump now wants to withdraw as part of an alleged peace agreement. It remains to be seen whether Biden agrees explicitly.
Working Closely With NATO
Under Biden, the days when a US president would abuse and insult his NATO partners would be over. On the contrary: Biden seeks to keep NATO’s military capabilities up-to-date and create additional capacities to combat new threats – cybercrime or corruption, for example.
The European NATO members, in particular, should expect Biden to no longer reminds them to meet the two percent target — which, by the way, was also done by Barack Obama.
It is difficult to predict what will become of US defense spending. This year the Department of Defense has roughly $720 billion in its budget. The Trump administration has already incurred four trillion euros in new debt, with more to come.
Perhaps this limited leeway is an opportunity to think about realigning US foreign policy. Currently, the initial response consists of military sanctions and a minimal diplomatic response.
Military Force as a Last Resort
Biden clarifies that he wants to keep the US troops up to date, but the use of military force should be the last, not the first means: only to defend vital interests and only if the goal is clear and achievable and the informed American public agrees.
Otherwise, Biden relies on international agreements. He seeks to negotiate arms control with Russia again and reduce the importance of nuclear weapons. They should only act as a deterrent and, if necessary, to retaliate, he says.
What About the Iran Deal?
Biden wants to mobilize his old and new allies in order to get back into conversation with Iran. After the Trump administration had the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani killed, the Democrats’ reaction was critical, as the conflict threatened to escalate further. At the time, Biden asked the President to contact the US’s European partners immediately, to signal resistance and deescalation to Iran in private — and ideally to re-enter the Iran deal.
According to Biden’s foreign policy guidelines, the goal would be to strengthen and expand the agreement, while at the same time pushing back Iran’s destabilizing activities.
If Biden had initially hoped to pick up where the Obama era ended, he must have said goodbye to this idea by now. There will be no simple new edition of the Iran Agreement. In Israel, too, Biden will not merely turn back the clock: It is difficult to imagine that the US embassy will be withdrawn from Jerusalem. And anyway, Obama’s foreign policy, especially with regard to Israel, should not serve as a blueprint for a Biden presidency.
However, Joe Biden has always been his own man, and his foreign policy would mirror just that. The damage that has been done over these last four years has been substantial, but not irreversible.