It will be hard for the US to regain traction as a global influencer – Saro Thiruppathy elaborates

Former US president Donald Trump and his ‘America First’ policy undoubtedly strained relations between the United States and its allies; and as a result, much of the goodwill that once existed is no more.

So President Joe Biden faces an uphill task when he attempts to heal the rifts and deep chasms (in some instances) that have resulted from Trump’s policy of isolationism.

There are many urgent problems for Biden to address at home and several matters that are awaiting his input abroad. As his administration  addresses issues with its closest allies in NATO and Europe, Biden’s commitment to rejoining the Paris Agreement and Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) will help build confidence on the continent.

However, the new administration will need to keep in mind that many of its allies have begun to depend less on the US – they’ve already started building alliances with China. So even though there’s a new sheriff in town, it will be that much harder for Washington to reinstate its global influence.

Further, due to the EU building a relationship with China through its recent trade deal, Biden may find it difficult to cobble together an international alliance to contain Beijing.

BIDEN AND THE UK In addition to resolving personality clashes between Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the issue of Brexit needs to be dealt with.

Biden has clearly stated that he considers Brexit to be a huge mistake – and that he will not negotiate any trade deal with the UK if there’s any possibility that commitments made under the Good Friday Agreement with Ireland will be at risk.

He may also want the UK to mend its fractured relations with the EU and this could result in upsetting Johnson’s plans for a ‘Global Britain’ foreign policy.

In the long term however, the US may once again become a firm ally of the UK unlike during the past four years, as it renews support for NATO, the WHO and the WTO. The UK will chair the next UN COP26 climate change summit and probably try to forge a bond with America through that process.

BIDEN AND NATO Even though he has committed to restoring “historic partnerships” and leading the effort
to “reimagine them for the future,” Biden’s foreign policy regarding NATO includes pushing the states “to recommit to their responsibilities as members of a democratic alliance.”

His policy is no different to that of his predecessors in terms of urging NATO countries to increase their defence spending. However, with the pandemic related downturn, NATO allies may find it extremely difficult to meet US demands for higher defence budgets.

While Biden may be keen to rebuild relations with NATO members, it won’t happen overnight because he will be preoccupied with domestic concerns. Moreover, since the US election victory margin shows that a sizeable population of America still favours Trump’s policies, allies may be wary of US foreign policy since it could someday revert to the isolationism that had been pursued previously.

BIDEN AND THE EU The EU has decided to reduce its dependency on the US based on the same issues that are concerning NATO members. And at the end of last year, the EU and China sealed a trade deal, which was encouraged by Germany and France, with the consent of all member states.

Analysts describe this deal as being part of a policy of strategic autonomy that’s being pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron. It will improve trading conditions for European companies doing business with Beijing, generate employment on the continent and in China, and create an impetus for the Europeans and Chinese to engage on other matters as well.

Meanwhile, the US may issue sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 project, which is a gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

BIDEN AND RUSSIA Team Biden will have to get cracking on extending the START nuclear pact with Russia, which expires on 5 February.

Washington will also be itching to punish Moscow for the recent hacking incident in the US as well as various transgressions abroad. However, since Russia’s ties with China are extremely strong, Biden may find it difficult to force Moscow to make any changes to its foreign policy.

Nevertheless, it’s expected that the US and Russia will continue to cooperate on fighting international terrorism, restoring the Iran nuclear deal and reviving the climate change discourse.

BIDEN AND CHINA The US will need to implement a balanced approach towards China that comprises engagement and deterrence. Washington must aspire for cold peace with Beijing while strengthening an international coalition to contain the latter’s aggression.

Yet, China is now a force to be reckoned with since it has increased its global footprint and is the second-largest economy in the world. As such, the US will need to leave space for Beijing – as a powerful member of the international community – to contribute to global issues such as climate change and the environment.

BIDEN AND INDIA New Delhi will be hoping for a reversal on the restitution of H1-B visas for Indian tech workers and also restitution of its GSP status. In addition to its continued presence in the nuclear club, India will also wish to see an increase in exports of US weapons, missiles and drones to the subcontinent.