The Biden administration could do with a little more help from its foreign friends
In much of the world, and nowhere more so than among America’s allies, Joe Biden’s victory has come as a great relief. Under his presidency there will be no more bullying and threats to leave nato. America will stop treating the European Union as a “foe” on trade, or its own forces stationed in South Korea as a protection racket. In place of Donald Trump’s wrecking ball, Mr Biden will offer an outstretched hand, working co-operatively on global crises, from coronavirus to climate change. Under Mr Trump, America’s favourability ratings in many allied countries sank to new lows. Mr Biden promises to make America a beacon again, a champion of lofty values and a defender of human rights, leading (as he put it in his acceptance speech) “not only by the example of our power but by the power of our example”.
Allies are central to Mr Biden’s vision. He rightly sees them as a multiplier of American influence, turning a country with a quarter of global gdp into a force with more than double that. He is also a multilateralist by instinct. On his first day in office he will rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change, which America formally left on November 4th. Unlike Mr Trump he believes it is better to lead the World Health Organisation than to leave it. He will reinvigorate arms control, a priority being to ensure that New start, the last remaining nuclear pact with Russia, is extended beyond February 5th. He would like to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran that Mr Trump dumped, if he can persuade the Iranians to go back into compliance.
Inevitably, America’s friends have a long list of things they hope it will do as it re-embraces global leadership (see article). The demands stretch from places and organisations Mr Trump has abused, such as the un and allies like Germany, to parts of the world he has ignored, such as much of Africa. Yet it will not all be smooth travelling. Not all countries are nostalgic for a return to Obama-era policies, when America “led from behind” and blurred its red lines. Several countries on nato’s front line with Russia like the way defences have been beefed up under Mr Trump. And Asian allies like how Mr Trump has confronted China, talked of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and worked on the “Quad” with Australia, India and Japan. Mr Biden needs to prove that he will not turn soft.