Biden’s toughest foreign policy challenge may be regaining allies’ trust

Biden will face the same old menu of foreign policy challenges — from the near-peer competitor China to a nuclear-armed and unpredictable Kim Jong Un — however as he works to rebuild and rejoin alliances, his best hurdle may be convincing the remainder of the world and even the US’ closest allies that when once more, America actually can be trusted.

Foreigners are eyeing the greater than 70 million votes Trump acquired — tacit approval for the President’s 4 years of disruptive, generally damaging foreign policy that may be a sign of the route the US is shifting — and questioning whether or not Biden represents a return to “normal” or whether or not he’ll find yourself providing a quick reprieve.

“Thoughtful foreign counterparts realize it will be easy for Biden to reverse things that do not need to be ratified by Congress, and they expect those things, but the permanency of that is what worries people,” stated a US diplomat primarily based in Europe. “[Our allies] fear ping-ponging back and forth from one extreme to another, especially because of how many people voted for Trump.”

Another US diplomat abroad famous that within the quick time period, it would seemingly be “relatively easy to restore a positive movement and atmosphere in our alliances, key relationships … just by practicing normal good democracy,” however “longer term, people know the US could swing back to Trumpism, so they’re wary.”

The worldwide welcome to Biden has been heat. As a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a two-term vp, Biden and his preferences for sturdy alliances and world financial integration are well-known portions abroad.

Despite the nice and cozy phrases, nonetheless, Washington’s relationships with allies have been scarred in ways in which would possibly be exhausting to completely heal.

Wary allies

The public picture of the United States has plunged among wealthy democracies, with extra individuals believing Russian President Vladimir Putin would “do the right thing regarding world affairs” than Trump, in response to a Pew Research Center survey printed in September. In the UK, France, Canada, Japan, Australia and Germany, the quantity of people that seen the US favorably are at or close to lows not seen for the reason that surveys started twenty years in the past.

And as Trump put his “America First” foreign policy to work, many leaders determined it was time to curtail their reliance on the US.

“Many Europeans have written and argued that they cannot go back to the great previous days of dwelling beneath the US umbrella, throughout the previous couple of years of Trump’s time period,” the US diplomat primarily based in Europe stated. “What many Europeans learned from Trump especially is that the American president can claim their foreign policy agenda, no matter what the American people say.”

In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron advised ambassadors that France and Europe may not depend on the US for safety, a warning he repeated much more starkly in 2019.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel additionally warned in 2018 that the European Union may not rely upon the US, whereas core Asian allies, reminiscent of South Korea and Japan, instantly discovered themselves confronted with calls for for as much as 400% greater funds for the presence of US troops.

Former profession US diplomat Lewis Lukens advised CNN that Biden “will need to immediately start rebuilding relationships and reestablishing trust in America. But that will be difficult as most allies and partners will be wary that ‘another Trump’ could be less than four years away.”

“I think many countries’ faith in the US as a reliable partner have been shaken by the damage Trump has done, not just to US democracy and institutions, but to multilateral institutions as well,” he stated. “Trump still has two months in which he can inflict damage (even if temporary). And the reluctance to admit defeat and start a peaceful transfer of power is being noted with dismay by democratic allies and with barely concealed glee by countries like Russia, China, and Turkey.”


China may effectively be Biden’s trickiest challenge. Biden has stated there are areas the place it’s within the US curiosity to work with Beijing, together with on local weather change and North Korea. Biden advisors say he’ll work intently with allies to current a united entrance on points reminiscent of expertise, together with Huawei and 5G, mental property theft, China’s growth in Asian waters and its strikes to crush democracy in Hong Kong.

The US diplomat abroad careworn that it’s a “huge challenge,” and that Biden should construct an precise coalition amongst European and different like-minded nations to confront these points.

US allies are trying ahead to working with the incoming Biden staff on China, some say.

“The Biden team will be much more astute as to how you rebuild a coalition that reminds China that one of the biggest assets that the US has is global support, a network of allies and friends that is unrivaled,” stated a senior diplomat from the area. “The Biden team is fully aware that they are in a competition setting with China and that will be important, but that there are issues of mutual vulnerability like climate change that they need to address together.”

North Korea

Trump met with North Korea’s Kim three times and gushed in regards to the “love letters” the dictator wrote him and the way they “fell in love.” None of that dissuaded Kim from persevering with to develop nuclear weapons that may attain US soil, making North Korea a extra harmful menace on the finish of the Trump administration than it was at the start.

Biden has stated that he will not proceed Trump’s overtures to Kim. This place may pressure the US relationship with South Korea, the place Trump’s openness to engagement with Kim was favored. Instead, Biden will work intently with allies and China in an try to rein of their nuclear program. Many US administrations have tried earlier than, none have succeeded.


During a foreign policy speech final yr, Biden stated he would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran begins complying with the pact, a transfer that advisers say would require shut work with allies and a close to fast begin of recent negotiations.

After the Trump administration left the pact and launched its most strain marketing campaign, Iran introduced that it could not restrict itself to the deal’s restrictions. Yet negotiating that re-entry is less complicated stated than completed.

“We will have to figure out how we are going to approach it and what we expect to see of Iran and how that gets communicated,” stated a Biden foreign policy adviser, when requested about face-to-face conferences with Iran to be able to get the US again into the JCPOA, and to push Iran again into compliance. “I don’t want to speculate.”

It may even require Tehran to play ball. While that is seen as seemingly within the close to time period, loads will rely upon how a lot energy Iranian hardliners achieve within the nation’s 2021 elections.

Given the complexity of the scenario, it may go away allies pissed off if the US doesn’t rejoin in a single day.

“Some Europeans expect Biden will jump right back into the deal which is not exactly what he has said, and we are in a fundamentally different place,” stated the US diplomat primarily based in Europe.

“They may be disappointed.”


Biden has clearly acknowledged that he desires to attract down the US army presence in Afghanistan however doing that rigorously will be a challenge and Biden’s advisers haven’t supplied particulars on how he intends to do it. That’s partially as a result of it isn’t clear precisely what kind of scenario they will inherit, they are saying.

During the Obama administration, Biden was one of many early US officers to acknowledge the necessity to work with the Taliban to ship peace in Afghanistan, when he said in 2011 that, “the Taliban per se is not our enemy.”

It can also be unclear how, exactly, Biden will method the US-Taliban direct talks that began beneath the Trump administration, which have been critiqued by some.

Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Biden would finish help for the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen, which many in Congress oppose due to experiences of ongoing and severe human rights violations. This is a significant policy push from the progressive arm of the Democratic Party and is a dedication that was added to their celebration’s platform earlier this yr.

But even when the Republicans preserve management of the Senate, most imagine that Biden will be capable of accomplish this purpose, because it has GOP help as effectively.

“This is a fairly settled question,” Matt Duss, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy adviser, advised CNN. “With regard to Saudis in Yemen, Biden can say Congress has weighed in on this and I am following through.”

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