The US at the head of the table—Biden on multilateralism

The foreign policy agenda of President-elect Joe Biden seeks to rebuild trust in US leadership and restore its traditional position as a world leader. He has previously criticised Donald Trump for pulling out of treaties, reneging on promises, alienating allies and abdicating the US’ global responsibilities. Once he is sworn in, Biden is set to issue a series of executive orders to undo Trump’s controversial decisions. He has announced that he will rejoin the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, and push for more ambitious targets. With regard to COVID-19, Biden pledges to rejoin the World Health Organisation (WHO) and promises to coordinate a global response, led by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He has also criticised Trump for jeopardising nuclear security and nonproliferation. Biden aims to pursue an extension for the New START treaty, resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal—if possible—and take other steps to improve nuclear security.

Biden has shown support for free and fair trade, but is conscious of the discontent within the American polity towards globalisation. He aims to strike a balance by focusing on the domestic economy—as his campaign slogan promises to ‘Build Back Better’—and create a foreign policy for the middle class. As vice president under the Obama administration, Biden supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement; however, he is yet to announce whether the US will rejoin the TPP. He has nevertheless emphasised that Washington should take the lead in creating global trade rules, instead of abandoning its seat at the head of the table. Since Biden has equated economic security with national security, it is unlikely that he would be more amicable towards the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, his engagement will be centered on diplomacy, which follows a cooperative negotiation approach, as opposed to the ‘maximum pressure strategy’ championed by Trump.

Biden has been acutely aware of the dangers of US withdrawal from global leadership, which has “bankrupted America’s word in the world” and provided avenues for “authoritarian powers to rush in”. His presidency will aim to renew trust and confidence in US leadership and strengthen relations with allies to tackle global threats.

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