Biden will face the standard 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 after 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 “regular” or whether or not he’ll find yourself providing a quick reprieve.

“Considerate foreign counterparts understand it should be straightforward for Biden to reverse issues that don’t must be ratified by Congress, and so they anticipate these issues, however the permanency of that’s what worries folks,” mentioned a US diplomat based mostly in Europe. “[Our allies] concern ping-ponging forwards and backwards from one excessive to a different, particularly due to how many individuals voted for Trump.”

One other US diplomat abroad famous that within the brief time period, it should seemingly be “comparatively straightforward to revive a constructive motion and ambiance in our alliances, key relationships … simply by working towards regular good democracy,” however “long term, folks know the US may swing again to Trumpism, so that they’re cautious.”

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

Regardless of the nice and cozy phrases, nonetheless, Washington’s relationships with allies have been scarred in ways in which may be arduous to completely heal.

Cautious allies

The general public picture of the USA has plunged amongst rich democracies, with extra folks believing Russian President Vladimir Putin would “do the proper factor concerning world affairs” than Trump, in keeping with a Pew Analysis Middle survey revealed in September. Within 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 can’t return to the nice previous days of residing below the US umbrella, throughout the previous few years of Trump’s time period,” the US diplomat based mostly in Europe mentioned. “What many Europeans discovered from Trump particularly is that the American president can declare their foreign policy agenda, it doesn’t matter what the American folks 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, equivalent to South Korea and Japan, abruptly discovered themselves confronted with calls for for as much as 400% increased funds for the presence of US troops.

Former profession US diplomat Lewis Lukens advised MeSlop that Biden “might want to instantly begin rebuilding relationships and reestablishing trust in America. However that can be troublesome as most allies and companions will be cautious that ‘one other Trump’ may be lower than 4 years away.”

“I feel many international locations’ religion within the US as a dependable companion have been shaken by the harm Trump has carried out, not simply to US democracy and establishments, however to multilateral establishments as nicely,” he mentioned. “Trump nonetheless has two months by which he can inflict harm (even when momentary). And the reluctance to confess defeat and begin a peaceable switch of energy is being famous with dismay by democratic allies and with barely hid glee by international locations like Russia, China, and Turkey.”


China may nicely be Biden’s trickiest challenge. Biden has mentioned 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 carefully with allies to current a united entrance on points equivalent to know-how, together with Huawei and 5G, mental property theft, China’s enlargement in Asian waters and its strikes to crush democracy in Hong Kong.

The US diplomat abroad burdened that it’s a “big 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 group on China, some say.

“The Biden group will be way more astute as to the way you rebuild a coalition that reminds China that one of many largest property that the US has is world help, a community of allies and buddies that’s unmatched,” mentioned a senior diplomat from the area. “The Biden group is totally conscious that they’re in a contest setting with China and that can be essential, however that there are problems with mutual vulnerability like local weather change that they should tackle collectively.”

North Korea

Trump met with North Korea’s Kim 3 times and gushed concerning 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 mentioned 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. As an alternative, Biden will work carefully with allies and China in an try and rein of their nuclear program. Many US administrations have tried earlier than, none have succeeded.


Throughout a foreign policy speech final yr, Biden mentioned 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. But negotiating that re-entry is simpler mentioned than carried out.

“We should work out how we’re going to method it and what we anticipate to see of Iran and the way that will get communicated,” mentioned 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 do not wish to speculate.”

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

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

“Some Europeans anticipate Biden will leap proper again into the deal which isn’t precisely what he has mentioned, and we’re in a basically totally different place,” mentioned the US diplomat based mostly in Europe.

“They may be dissatisfied.”


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

Throughout 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 mentioned in 2011 that, “the Taliban per se is just not our enemy.”

Additionally it is unclear how, exactly, Biden will method the US-Taliban direct talks that began below 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 stories of ongoing and critical human rights violations. It is a main policy push from the progressive arm of the Democratic Get together and is a dedication that was added to their celebration’s platform earlier this yr.

However even when the Republicans preserve management of the Senate, most imagine that Biden will be in a position to accomplish this purpose, because it has GOP help as nicely.

“It is a pretty settled query,” Matt Duss, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy adviser, advised MeSlop. “With regard to Saudis in Yemen, Biden can say Congress has weighed in on this and I’m following by means of.”

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