Foreign policy challenges for Biden-Harris team

Joe Biden

By Anil K. Kanungo

Biden may drop “America First” doctrine for “interdependence” and “internationalization”.

Global attention is currently transfixed on the outcome of the US presidential election as incumbent Donald Trump has mounted a legal battle to scrap the people’s verdict in favor of Joe Biden and his Indian American running mate Kamala Harris to lead America.

The Biden-Harris duo has won more votes nationally than any other presidential ticket in America’s history and has secured more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

Yet the world is aghast to know that millions of Americans, despite having lived under the roguish behavior of Trump and the chaos and dysfunction characterized by his presidency, and tremendous loss of human lives due to covid-19, still almost got him re-elected.

This verdict indicates how strange and increasingly confused place America has become for new immigrants and for foreigners. The strengths of the US political system, such as openness, competitive spirit, liberal atmosphere, economic opportunities for one and all, always held a special fascination for American friends and adversaries alike.

Core competence in its transparency and domestic political system guided under “military industrial complex” allowed it to stand as numero uno in modern world economy. Such ideals are beginning to dwindle and downside of such fascination with American politics, is coming under a cloud.

This domestic divide will pose serious challenges for Biden. It will also trigger America to reorient its foreign policy to secure that special place. America’s influence on Asia is on the wane.

In the face of domestic challenges, President-elect Biden may well find it simpler to turn his attention to the global stage. Biden may drop Trump’s major economic doctrine of “America First” and instead pursue a foreign policy characterized by “interdependence” and “internationalization”.

“Interdependence” will augment the lost ground of globalization and “Internationalization” will steer America’s post covid-19 objectives in the wider world. Faith in the multilateral institutions such as WHO, WTO, UN will be revived. Greater efforts will be pursued with the allies instead of undermining their strengths.

Internationalization will define a new vision and approach of Biden administration to China. It will not continue with “half-baked” economic de-coupling from China. The United States will strengthen its skills in soft power while handling China.

The United States under the Biden administration will seek to strengthen its Asia-Pacific economic alliances and security partnerships with the help and support of China. It will engage selectively with China on global health, climate change, environmental and development issues.

New economic posturing through tariff liberalization and strengthening of China-US trade deal, world economy may notice trends of pre-Trump era.

Free flow of capital to and from Asia and China could rescue the lost ground of trade and economic growth engineered by US-China trade war and due to unprecedented Covid-19 global pandemic.

Biden has given indication and promised in political campaigns of rejoining key international institutions such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, favoring the role of WTO, and may have an interest in coming back to one of the largest continental arrangements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

But such moves will be hard to materialize because they have lot to do with critical domestic issues and politics.

For instance, designing trade policy like United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) under Trump to reconfigure North American automotive production through a more stringent rule of origin to basically create and steal employment for America thus justifying its ‘America First’ doctrine will be antithesis to Biden’s ‘Internationalization’ plan.

This has the potentiality to boomerang. Whether or not he joins multilateral agreements like the TPP will depend on how much of political capital he can maneuver considering the Senate is tilting in favor of Republicans.

A Biden presidency will perhaps not set an ambitious global agenda considering domestic America is in turmoil. A soft stance of foreign policy will be pursued to set the domestic house in order.

At a time when the healthcare, economic, environmental and security challenges facing the globe are more immediate and pressing than at any time since the Second World War, the ideas, resources, and long-term effort needed to solve these challenges will demand interdependence and support from allies rather than expecting everything from within.

America’s foreign policy under Biden leadership will be outwardly and accommodative.

(Anil K. Kanungo is former senior faculty, IIFT, and currently Professor & Area Chair, Dept. of Economics, Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, Delhi.)

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