After Donald Trump’s attempts at refocusing American foreign policy by withdrawing from international agreements and the scaling back the international role the US has played for decades, it is expected that foreign policy will revert back to being much more traditional once Biden takes office.
He has vowed to work alongside America’s decade old allies and rejoin international institutions. His foreign policies on China, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and Palestine, and India are outlined in detail below.
During Biden’s tenure as Vice-President, his administration had a more cooperative attitude towards China than Trump’s administration, which persisted until their last year in office, when China broke an agreement “to stop the cyber theft of intellectual property”. This time around, his rhetoric has changed to be more antagonistic, but what remains unclear is exactly how tough he wants to get with China.
His strategy to counter China is through rebuilding relationships with allies who have lost trust in the US during Trumps years in office. This means entering back into the Paris Agreement, unfreezing their funding to the WHO, and joining “close ranks with NATO allies”.
We can expect Biden to let the State Department and the US military take the lead on these issues Taiwan, Hong Kong, South China Sea and Chinese tech companies.
Biden’s foreign policy with Afghanistan will not be much different than Trump’s. Biden plans to withdraw troops from the region. The Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in February, which the Biden administration is expected to stick with. The policy on Afghanistan has become so bipartisan that the leadership on this has been given to the Department of Defense.
The US government has negotiated a peace deal with the militants, but is still waiting for talks to start between the Taliban and Afghan government. It is unclear how the power dynamic will shift within Afghanistan once the US pulls out, with countries like Pakistan, India, Iran and China involved in the post-US departure landscape.
Biden’s campaign has stated that they will bring back the majority of US troops from Afghanistan, and “narrowly focus our mission on al-Qaeda and ISIS”.
Biden has not specified a timeline or plan for when or how the US withdrawal will take place.
Tensions between Iran and the US had been high throughout Trump’s administration. They soared when the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was an agreement between the P5 + 1 signed during Obama’s administration in 2015. Under this deal, Iran agreed to “limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors” in return for sanctions being lifted from Iran.
In May 2018, Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from this agreement. Following the withdrawal, in November 2018, US sanctions came back into effect, dramatically affecting Iran’s policies. Earlier this year, tensions reached a new high when the US killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in an air strike in Iraq, to which Iran retaliated by issuing an arrest warrant against Trump and many of his aides. Iran also declared that it would no longer abide by the deal, but would coordinate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Biden was part of the administration which led the way for the nuclear deal to be signed, which was supported by America’s European allies in addition to Russia and China. This deal was a high priority goal for the Obama administration, in which Biden was a key player in arguing the case to Senate Democrats.
In a CNN editorial on Sept. 13, Biden wrote that he would re-enter the 2015 agreement, but only under the condition that Iran also returned to compliance. Biden is expected to work multilaterally with the other P5 countries. It is unclear whether Iran’s government and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will accept Biden’s plan to rejoin the 2015 agreement. Khamenei has previously said that the United States cannot be trusted, no matter who is leading the country. However, if Iran does not accept the deal, they could be slapped with more sanctions, further isolating the country.
If Iran does accept the deal, lifting sanctions will not be an easy task. The Biden administration will have to prove that Iran is abiding by the agreement and not working on any nuclear proliferation. Further, Israel and Saudi Arabia will oppose the US reentering the deal with Iran. In the editorial, Biden also talks about his plans to ending the war in Yemen, calling out the Iranian regime for human rights violation, and ending the discriminatory Muslim-majority country ban that Trump has imposed.
Israel and Palestine:
Long time Trump ally, Benjamin Netanyahu, congratulated Biden on his victory on Sunday, even though Trump refused to concede. The US – Israel relationship will have some obstacles to conquer with Biden in office, such as their differences over Iran and Palestine.
Netanyahu used Trump’s alienation of Iran to normalize ties with Gulf states, UAE and Bahrain. Biden has been supportive of the normalized ties, and has signaled that these ties have only been possible because of the work the Obama administration put in.
However, the special representative of President Abbas of Palestine said in a statement that Palestinian leadership is not expecting any strategic changes in US foreign policy with regards to Palestine, but Trump being out of office is a win for the Palestinian people.
He said, “From what we heard from Joe Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris, I think he will be more balanced and less submissive to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – thus less harmful to us than Trump.”
Though Biden hasn’t explicitly laid out a plan for the Israel – Palestine region, he said last year in an interview, “I strongly oppose Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank…but the idea that we would cut off military aid to an ally, our only true, true ally in the entire region, is absolutely preposterous,” indicating that he favors a two-state solution but is not willing to jeopardize the US’s relationship with Israel to achieve it.
Biden has also said that he does not agree with the US embassy move to Jerusalem, but he will not be reversing the decision and won’t be moving it back to Tel Aviv. His administration plans to reopen the US consulate that Trump’s administration shut down, in East Jerusalem, which will also serve Palestinians.
While his foreign policy with the Israel-Palestine region will be slightly different than Trump’s, one should not be expecting any radical changes in that region.
Even though Trump and Modi enjoyed a warm friendship, Kamala Harris is the first Indian-American Vice President of the United States, which is reason enough to believe that Indian-American relations will become stronger and deeper during the Biden administration.
Biden has not talked much about any foreign policy when it comes to India, but his silence speaks volumes. Biden has been vocal about human right violations in many countries, such as Iran, but when it comes to the massive violations and discriminatory policies that Modi has implemented, there is sheer silence. Vice-president elect Kamala Harris has been slightly more vocal on the Kashmir conflict. She reportedly called out Trump for not having a full-time ambassador in Pakistan during Modi’s ‘Naya Kashmir’ period.
However, Harris has always been a strong advocate for India-US ties, and if Biden becomes president, these ties only look to get stronger.