24 November 2020

2021 POLITICAL OUTLOOK: The US foreign policy - Part I

Sergiu Medar

The foreign policy of all world states and, first of all, of the US, will be dominated in 2021 by singular and solidary efforts with other states to decrease the COVID-19 pandemic effects. Another important topic of states’ foreign policy will be related to the changes the new Biden Administration will make in how it approaches international relations. The new US foreign policy, without actually giving up the principles followed by the Trump Administration, will make an analysis of the measures taken the 2017-2020 period and their results and will modify the ones which did not help the US.

Image source: Profimedia

“America First” versus “America Lead Again”

On January 21st, Joseph Biden will become the 46th president of the United States of America. Having a foreign policy experience, he will try to give consistency to the “America Lead Again” catchphrase, comparing to the “America First” one, that Trump made the most of it during its leadership. The catchphrase of the former president was placing the American interest first when it came to all the international affairs. Biden does not deny the American interest, but this will not be exclusivist. According to the president-elect, America must lead the world, hereof its responsibilities and obligations as a leader, however it does so totally different than the isolationism and pragmatism Trump got us used to.

By applying this new principle, Biden will try to change a series of US foreign policies, both bilateral and multilateral. This is not easy, because Trump changes or removes, during his last weeks as president, the leaders of the state’s main security institutions.  The new leaders must immediately apply the White House directions on the US troops’ withdrawal from the main theatre of operations, the formalization of the US withdrawal from the Climate Change Treaty, the Nuclear Agreement with Iran, the INF Treaty and so on. By enacting these changes, president Trump tries to make sure of the irreversibility of the processes it initiated in terms of the international relations of the biggest power in the world and, hereof, the changes in the global relations between states. Here we can mention the replacement of the Secretary of Defence with someone close to Trump. The willingness of the current president to withdraw the US troops from certain theatres of operations was not that welcomed by the military elites, ahead with the former Pentagon leader, Mark Esper, who opposed the early withdrawal of the troops from Afghanistan, because the process could be reversible and could endanger the allied troops in the area.

The new Pentagon chief, Christopher Miller, who is loyal to Trump, just one day after he took the office, he ordered the quick withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan.

It should not come as a surprise that the new president will not change immediately what does not much with his leadership principles. America’s comeback to what it used to be before Trump will be more difficult, not just because of the changes that took place in the US, but also because of those that happened around the world.

At the International Security Conference from Munich, Biden, who was there only as former vice-president of the Obama Administration, has stated that the Trumpism will not last forever and: “As my mom used to say: these things will pass. We will get back! We will get back! Have no doubt about it!”. During the same conference, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has emphasized that the US “have managed, through the global order applied in the international economic policy, to damage the liberal global order that was governing the relations among state and divide them in bilateral relations that it wanted to dominate”.

When Obama took over the US presidency, the world was liberal and unipolar, dominated by the US, which was imposing democracy in all world states and it was even interfering where the democratic principles were not properly applied. The United States was a defender of democracy and liberalism, accused by some people and criticized by others for being the global guard of liberalism.

When his Administration took office, Trump imposed a new US position in the world, giving up the democracy’s guard role. That was the first signal of American isolationism which was starting to show up across the ocean. The strongest warning, which came as a confirmation of Trump’s policy, was the isolationism and egoism manifested during the global health crisis, when the US did not commit to its global leader role and left its allies and friends to act on their own ahead of the deadly virus.

For Biden, the president-elect, it is now difficult to bring the US back to how it was, because he is now facing a multipolar world, with a decreased interest from the US to lead it. Therefore, the world’s states trust in keeping their leader from the Obama mandates period has decreased a lot, and Biden will find it very difficult to regain world’s confidence in the US. Now, there are emerging regional leaders, like China, Russia and the EU, all aiming at becoming global leaders, at least on certain fields. All the three powers mentioned above have tried to cooperate, therefore becoming threats – from an economic, financial or security perspective – for the US in the big powers competition.

We cannot say that the European Union’s leaders welcomed Biden’s intentions to have a new relation with the EU states. Annegrete Kram Karrenbauer, the Defence Minister of Germany, has stated that we cannot talk about European security without the US. However, the immediate response of France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, supported by Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has stated that the Europeans can defend themselves, is revealing the difficulties in approaching the transatlantic relation according to both parts’ wishes.

It does seem strange, but many of Trump’s foreign policy references will also be applied by Biden. At least, when it comes to the bilateral relations with certain states, where there will be continuity. During the Trump Administration, he changed four national security counselors. The one to have this position must coordinate the implementation of the security principles adopted by the country’s government, following the approval of the legislative supreme forum, the US Congress.

The former deputy National Security Council at the White House, during the Obama Administration, and the one who was preferred to occupy the national security council in the Biden Administration, Anthony Blinken, was saying that it is “necessary to revive the US foreign policy and get back to the traditional principles, adapted to new technologies, to all that foreign policy means”.

Immediately after taking office, Joseph Biden will organize the Democracy Summit, where he will invite chiefs of states and international organizations to whom he will present the foreign policies the US will commit to as a leader. It will be a great opportunity for the new president to see how the democracy principles are not being manifested in the world states.

Trump had closer relations with two leaders, manifested through frequent messages sent through Twitter: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. If we also consider the meetings with Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s president, we can state that the White House leader had positive personal relations with some of the most authoritarian and controversial leaders of the world. These friendly relations will not be something Biden will embrace in the future.

Currently, the world states are trying to give shape to a new global order, to protect them from a political development wherein the leader changes the principles that specific order works by. Thus, Biden is decided to reveal his principles, trying to define the development foundation he will follow both in the bilateral and multilateral relations.

(This article presents only the first part of the 2021 political outlook– US and the foreign policy. The following materials will be about the bi or multilateral relations of the US in 2021).

Translated by Andreea Soare