JOE Biden, the new President of USA, heralded a new era as he assured the watching world that America will resume its role as leader of the free world, a role put on back burner by President Trump. In his first major foreign policy statement, Mr Biden outlined his goals and road-map for the next four years. There was a marked difference between the Trump inauguration and opening speech in 2016 and Biden’s first address to his nation on 20th January 2021.While Trump spoke of building walls, criticizing allies and friends, exiting accords already reached, preaching hatred and violence, Biden spoke of reconciliation, reversing the inhuman laws separating parents from children, ending unnecessary trade wars which grinded the global economic growth during much of the Trump era and assuring Europe, which distanced itself from America due to Trump’s imprudent and unwise policies, that America stands with them. He summed up his intention in one sentence: “America is back”.
“There’s no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy. Every action we take and our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind,” he said, promising a “foreign policy for the middle class” and to fight so that “the rules of international trade aren’t stacked against us.”
He discussed an array of pressing topics, from Myanmar to Moscow, reduction of US military bases in Germany, engaging and negotiating trade policies with China and confronting Russia for its human rights violations and interference in American politics. Biden called the country’s alliances around the world its “greatest asset” and promised to stand shoulder to shoulder with key partners, in a departure from the “America first” approach of his predecessor. One major announcement he made was to conduct a global posture review of American forces around the world to ensure that “our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities.” The reduction was widely seen as reflecting the then President Donald Trump’s rocky relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, meanwhile, called the trans-Atlantic alliance the most critical of America’s partnerships, and the large-scale pullout of troops from Europe may be reversed.
Calling China “our most serious competitor,” Biden said that the Administration is nevertheless ready to work with Beijing when it is in America’s interest. The US will “take on directly” the challenges that China poses to “our prosperity, security and democratic values,” he said. “We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action, to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance but at the same time are ready to work with Beijing, when it’s in America’s interest to do so”. Trump had initially sought a warm relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, differences over trade, Hong Kong and what the US military called China’s destabilizing and aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea, sparked a rift between the two nations which has yet to heal.
Biden identified “advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy,” as among the challenges to meet, along with the pandemic, climate change and nuclear proliferation. Biden signalled a no-nonsense approach to China and Russia and urged them to bring their “coup” to an end, adding that the US would no longer support Saudi offensive in Yemen, and halted the withdrawal of US troops in Germany. As part of a list of policies in stark contrast to Donald Trump, he also announced a more open policy regarding refugee admissions. About advancing authoritarianism, Biden said, “American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy. Investing in our diplomacy isn’t something we do just because it’s the right thing to do for the world, we do it in order to live in peace, security and prosperity.” Regarding troops pull-out from Germany, Biden has halted Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw US troops from Germany declaring that the pullout would be stopped until Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had conducted an extensive review of the United States’ global military presence. Last year, President Trump announced he was going to withdraw some 9,500 of the roughly 34,500 US troops currently stationed in Germany.
Addressing Russia, Biden said he would not accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strong-arm tactics against the West. He also called for the unconditional release of Kremlin-critic Alexei Navalny, who was earlier this week given a lengthy jail term. “I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyber attacks, poisoning its citizens, are over,” Biden said. He also gave a stern defence of Navalny and heavily criticized the Kremlin’s treatment of the opposition leader for exposing corruption. Navalny narrowly escaped death after being poisoned last year. He, along with the EU, blames Russian security services for the nerve agent attack. Russia has also used heavy-handed tactics on those protesting on Navalny’s behalf.
Regarding Myanmar, Biden very clearly stated that Generals must go. He said he is working with allies and partners to address the military coup in Myanmar. “There can be no doubt, in a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” Biden said in reference to last November’s ballot that saw Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi win a huge landslide. National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the White House was considering targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military. About Yemen, Biden is seeking halt to conflict and declared that the United States was ending its support for a five-year Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country.” The war has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe and has to end”, he announced.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.