Biden’s early steps restore America’s international standing

USA; Biden

This is an extract of an article originally published by Chatham House.

After four years watching and wondering whether America had permanently vacated its role as a global leader, the rest of the world has witnessed an almost dizzying number of steps taken early on by the Biden administration to restore its international standing.

In the first month of his presidency, Joe Biden has taken the US back into the Paris climate accords and the World Health Organization (WHO), rejoined the United Nations Human Rights Council – albeit with a downgraded status to that of observer until the next election – and ended the travel ban placed on several Muslim-majority countries.

The US is now processing asylum claims and allowing asylum seekers to cross the southern border into the US, while Biden has also pledged $2 billion in support for COVAX, the global plan to ensure equitable distribution of a vaccine, followed by another $2 billion over two years.

President Biden has also worked to dispel the perception of US ambivalence towards its European allies. By firmly declaring the US commitment to article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – the bedrock of the transatlantic partnership – he has restored an article of faith that Donald Trump only belatedly and half-heartedly acknowledged. Four years of ambivalence towards NATO made this a necessary first step in repairing the transatlantic partnership.

Biden’s hardened stance towards Russian transgressions of sovereignty and democracy both at home and abroad should also be reassuring to many Europeans and many Americans. For four years, Trump was seen by many as the outlier, a president who was at odds with a majority in the US, in his party, and in Europe who took a tough line on Russia and wished for the president to do the same.

But already the potential contradiction that underscores the Biden administration foreign policy has become glaringly obvious. The US intends to pursue policies which recognize the two uncomfortable truths underscoring today’s greatest foreign policy dilemmas – that democracy is under assault at home and across the globe and should be at the front of international diplomacy, and that cooperating with autocratic rights-abusing powers is not only important, but essential in agreeing solutions necessary for a peace that is sustainable.

The next four years will be an experiment to see if the US can succeed in cooperating with, for example, China on climate and Russia on arms control, while still calling out their assault on democratic norms. In the case of Russia, early signs are positive, and one of the Biden administration’s first moves was to negotiate an extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty before the 5 February deadline.

But there is much anticipation the EU, US, and UK may also announce coordinated sanctions designed to target those responsible for the brutal treatment of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny. If this does proceed, Russia’s response will provide an early glimpse into the challenges of this twin-track strategy.

Meanwhile the next step to restoring America’s broken transatlantic partnership is unfolding in the news the US and Europe may restart talks with Iran. Finding a deal that works is not easy but the fact the Biden administration is signalling its interest in moving forward is another indicator that America’s role in the world, especially its role in Europe, is being restored to its pre-Trumpian place

Read the full article here.

Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri is a Reader in International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Studies. She is currently also Director of the US and the Americas programme and Dean of the Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 

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