Foreign policy challenges for Biden!

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It has been the most keenly followed election in U.S. history. The entire world had been on tenterhooks anxiously waiting for the outcome in the early week of November. According to some foreign policy experts, the last four years had witnessed a remarkable change in U.S. policies with the outside world under the garb of “America First,” which has, in turn, isolated America. With highly changed and unconventional interaction with friends and foes alike during President Trump’s regime, it becomes necessary to investigate or ascertain what are expected changes when Joe Biden assumes Presidents office.

U.S. foreign policy primarily hinges on its relationship with the United Nations, security, economic values, and military deterrence. Biden, who has been a part of the Obama team in his various write-ups, has expressed a desire to make America lead again after it lost its way in pursuit of “Let’s make America great again.” At the fag end of President Obama’s tenure, a desire had developed to look inwards with the belief that resources will be considered better utilized when mobilized for domestic purposes. Later, President Trump decided to pull the U.S. away from endless wars worldwide. However, much of his international relations efforts resulted in antagonizing almost everybody.

A recent survey showed that contrary to the common belief American public is not very opposed to the idea of American involvement in issues around the world, more so when everyone looks to the U.S. to lead and guide them through developing problems. Trump’s regime saw worsening of ties with NATO, coming out of treaty with Iran, problems with WHO, uncertain climate issues making it more necessary to have a fresh look at everything and especially with allies. Although the Senate’s possible Republican control may constrain Biden, one can expect a flurry of executive orders to put things back on track.

Climate crisis

This issue will require immediate attention as President Trump had pulled out of the Paris climate accord, which has left this endeavor rudderless. As per media reports, Biden has expressed his seriousness about rejoining the Paris climate agreement and of motivating other nations to boost their commitments towards keeping right climate.

Earlier, President Trump had also revoked some measures taken by the Obama administration for climate control by dubbing them as job-killing measures. Therefore, the new administration needs to balance job creation and limit carbon pollution, especially from the power plants. A decision has to be taken regarding the revoked moratorium on coal leasing.

World Health Organization

This issue is most recent and has gained prominence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump withdrew from it after accusing it of working under Chinese influence. It eventually resulted in a loss of funding for WHO, although China and some European nations pledged more amount to take care of the shortfall.

Withdrawal from WHO will also result in problems for the U.S. as it will find itself having less influence in global affairs.  Health priorities around the world where the U.S. has invested will also suffer in the long run. WHO helps countries to deal with their health issues lest they become global problems. Many new competing health groups can come into being if the authority of WHO as custodian of global health authority gets diluted.

Biden has indicated many times during the campaign and in his write-ups that returning to WHO is his priority. However, some systems and protocols have to be in place concerning pandemics’ management and checking Chinese influence.


This definitely will be the area which everyone will be watching with keenness. U.S. relationship with China has been tension-ridden and tricky, more so in the recent past. The last four years saw a deterioration of relations with China on climate change issues, the North Korean nuclear program, and of course, COVID-19.

During the campaign, President Trump tried to make China responsible for the COVID-19 mess hoping that it would reduce the heat on his administration regarding handling this pandemic. Later on, his pulling out of WHO citing Chinese influence further complicated the issues.

As per many experts, Biden favors a conciliatory approach towards China. There is also an opinion that one needs to work with China on climate, covid19, and North Korea issues. Biden also said recently in a media interaction on CNN that “we want China to grow,” and many of his advisers also think that engaging China is the only way to make it adhere to international rules and norms. As per media reports, Biden favors dealing with China by creating a united front of U.S. allies, which would together make more than half of the world’s economy.


During the campaign, Biden has expressed his intention to rejoin Iran nuclear deal if Iran ensures compliance with the pact. It won’t be an easy assignment for the Biden administration as much water has flown under the bridge ever since President Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal. Iran is now a changed country as far as foreign policy is concerned, and the new administration will find it more under Russian and Chinese
influence compared to four years before.

As per media reports, China is building and equipping Iran’s port at Chabahar, which is critical for a pipeline project that can challenge the efforts to ban Iran exports. China has also made $400 billion in investments to upgrade Iran’s oil sector, which would significantly boost its economy.

After U.N. ten-year arm embargo on Iran got lifted in the later part of 2020, a military component has also come into the relationship between Iran and Russia. Media reports also indicated a naval exercise in 2019 across the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, in which Russia, China, and Iran participated.

Hence it appears difficult for the new U.S. administration to pull Iran away from Russian and Chinese influence. There has to be fresh negotiations and would require strong reasons for Iran to come along.


It has been a complicated case for U.S. policy advisors to handle since President Obama’s time. During his time in Iraq, military leadership tried to implement counter-insurgency operations (COIN) in Afghanistan. This involved building relationships with the local population and focus on development work. This approach had its critics but had worked well in Iraq.

As per James Mann, when President Obama announced to increase troops’ strength in Afghanistan, then the first senior official from the administration to dissent was Joe Biden himself. He felt counter-terrorism is a better option than counter-insurgency. Biden felt more troops would mean more casualties. Therefore, it would result in a decrease in public support and also within the democrats.

Trump administration preferred dealing directly with the Taliban, which ultimately lead to troops withdrawal and Intra-Afghan negotiations. Some policy experts believe that the Biden administration will have to choose for a broad-based Intra Afghan policy along with careful implementation and monitoring of earlier agreements with the Taliban. As there are media reports that Michelle Flournoy can be the next Defense secretary, it can be assumed that counter-insurgency strategy will get a boost if that happens.

The new administration would require a fresh approach to energize foreign policy with rejuvenated alliances with allies, considering the difficult time during the outgoing regime. The new administration’s success in repairing strained relationships is important not only for the U.S. but also for the whole world order.

Nadeem Khan is an Author and Speaker based in Toronto.




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