Not the neighborhood he left: Biden’s international challenge
Despite the legal proceedings taking place, it is highly likely that Joe Biden is the next president of the United States.
Biden will face difficult challenges at the beginning of his term. Most of these challenges concern the American domestic system, where it is likely that most of his energy will be invested at the beginning of his tenure.
However, there are other, no less important, challenges related to the status and activity of the United States in the international arena.
The obvious, immediate, and familiar challenges are Russia and China, challenges that go back decades and relate to a hegemonic struggle for power, political and economic interests, and in the case of democratic presidents then also values and ideology.
During Trump’s tenure, the international community had to adapt to a relationship based on momentary whims, impulsive decisions, and a desire for instant solutions, which did not always fit the complexity of the situation.
Despite reports that, at least when it comes to the Kremlin, there was satisfaction at the time with the election of a Trump-type president, it can also be assumed that in the course of his term, even for the Russians, the instability that characterizes Trump’s management style, made it difficult for them to understand where the wind is blowing. It can be assumed that the mood in Beijing was similar.
The fact that Biden is not considered an overly progressive politician, but rather a part of the political mainstream in Washington, along with a comfortable nature (at least as reflected above the surface), may reduce concerns on the Russian and Chinese sides and produce a more stable relationship. On the one hand, while the understandable suspicions and conflicting interests will remain, however, the boundaries of the Biden administration’s demarcation and conduct will be clearer and more predictable. It is sometimes easier to work in front of an opponent you know and understand the ways of his activity than with an impulsive and unexpected “friend”.
With respect to the European Union and the International organizations, it can be assumed that relations will improve dramatically. From the low point that these relations reached during the Trump administration, one can only rise. Cooperation with key EU countries (especially Germany) is a significant catalyst for advancing responsible, sane, and liberal agenda in the international arena, agenda that, at the end of the day, will also do good to American interests.
As for North Korea, it is difficult to assess. Trump and Kim’s styles seemed to fit together like a hand to a glove. Now Kim will have to go back and face a president who will be less fascinated by the way he rules his country and people, and there is a realistic possibility that at least at the beginning of Biden’s tenure, Kim will try to explore the limits of what is allowed and what is forbidden. He usually does this through some “experiments” (a mysterious explosion, ballistic missile fire, etc.). The way the Biden administration responds to the expected provocations will determine the continuation of the relationship throughout the term. History proves that a relationship based on a “stick and carrot” is the most effective. It is up to Biden to cooperate on some level with China as well, due to its significant impact on what is happening in North Korea.
With respect to the Middle East, it can be estimated that the Arab leaders on the one hand, and Israel on the other, will align fairly quickly with the line led by the new president, mainly because they need the American aid (in terms of weapons sells and Defense Alliance) like breathing air, especially against Iran.
Regarding Iran, it can be estimated that the US, in cooperation with the EU, will return to cooperating and negotiating with Iran, based on the nuclear agreement already signed. It can be assumed that Iran will cooperate with the new administration, mainly due to its harsh economic and civil problems, and its will to remove the sanctions as much as possible.
It can be estimated that, at least in the foreseeable future, the Biden administration will not engage itself in substantial active involvement in what is happening in Africa, perhaps except for increased support for the activities of American and international aid organizations. This means that even under Biden’s administration (at least in the first term), Africa will continue to be Russia and China’s playground, and will remain the backyard of the world.
So, it seems that quite a bit of work (and quite a few broken things need to be fixed) awaits the Biden administration in the international arena. All the players in this arena — whether friends or rivals — are waiting to see when and how the new administration will begin its international conduct. The speed with which the Biden administration will begin to address international challenges, and no less important — the way in which a clear and orderly agenda is outlined — will all directly determine on how the international system will be conducted over the next four years.