Never has an US election been more analysed, debated and watched than the most recent one that saw Joe Biden elected President of the United State of America. If all the controversies and polemics were not enough to raise the tension between the two different philosophies of both candidates, the furore surrounding the counting of the votes made it clear how pivotal the election was. From Iran to Cuba, China to Israel, America’s influence on the current geopolitical landscape has evolved sharply, mainly due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and the leadership required to correct this has never been so important.
Although many feared President Trump’s “America First” slogan would disseminate further political polarisation around the globe, Biden’s victory is expected to bring back a more diplomatic-led approach. If, at the start of the year, the most serious concern in Washington was a potential conflict with Tehran, the Coronavirus pandemic completely changed the agenda.
By exposing society to a singular threat, the world now needs a more humane leadership that will not only save economies, but human lives. To illustrate the shift in the agenda, the Nobel Peace Prize, which was won by Obama during his tenure, was recently given to the United Nation’s World Food Program. Although many have overlooked this, it was a resounding endorsement of a multilateral effort during a pandemic that has experienced deep food insecurity.
“We are sending a signal to this type of nationalism where the responsibility for global affairs is not being faced”, Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of Nobel Committee said. With Trump largely rejecting multilateralism – as well as the World Health Organisation – during the pandemic, this is a message to nations whose leaders downplayed the virus and were infected by it, like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Furthermore, it remains to be seen how – and if – global leaders will co-operate in the search for an effective vaccine and, later, in the international distribution of the cure. Even though it is still unclear how the most powerful nations will help spread the cure, it is safe to say that Trump’s defeat makes poorer nations more confident about being helped.
Moreover, there is the resurgence of Russia and the rise of China. In the post-Cold War world, the USA ruled as the sole superpower, but a more polarised world will demand a more cautious approach. If Trump made efforts to improve the relationship with Putin, Biden has already put Russia “on notice” when he promised, during his campaign, that he would act aggressively counter any interference in the American elections going forward. Although Trump’s personal relationship with Putin did not achieve the success he might have envisioned, a shift of power within the White House will now symbolise a small step back as both nations struggle to co-exist. As if that was not enough, the relationship with China is also one that will demand serious attention. Although Trump has imposed punitive tariffs, made controversial comments about the origins of the virus in Wuhan and taken over cyber security issues, some would argue in a rather xenophobic approach, Biden is also expected to maintain a very strict approach towards Beijing as China continues to flex internationally.
In the Middle East, however, Trump was very emphatic in moving away from Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which he called “the worst deal ever”. By withdrawing from it, he delighted Israel and Saudi Arabia, but dismayed many others. The death of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, which in turn provoked a missile strike on Iraqi bases housing American troops, contributed to the rise of unrest in the continent. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump’s self-proclaimed “deal of the century” caused rage within Palestine earlier this year as it effectively green-lighted Israeli annexation in the already occupied West Bank, ending notions of the two-state solution and upending decades of official U.S. policy to attempt a settlement.
Had he remained in the White House, Trump was expected to reduce and retrench America’s physical presence there, empowering regional partners like Israel and the UAE in local challenges. Biden’s victory, on the other hand, will lead the American approach back to how it was under Obama. As a first step, he is expected to rebuild the transatlantic alliance that has frayed over the administration’s sanctions-based maximum pressure strategy and the 2018 US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement – resurrecting key human rights values that have been lost in the region.
Finally, there is the situation with the European Union and NATO. After seeing their relationships with the USA deteriorate under Trump, many European governments remain deeply wedded to such multilateral blocs. Not to mention the current President’s failed outreach to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which was as shocking in the beginning as it was fruitless at the end, producing no tangible results – although it did give Kim some of the attention he craved. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is another pivotal figure that will require the attention of the White House next year; according to consultancy firm Eurasia, Modi, who has been engaged in highly controversial social policies at the expense of an economy agenda, is currently the fifth biggest geopolitical risk in 2020. Biden’s win is expected to see America going back to more conciliatory foreign policies, as it was during the Post-War era.
We can conclude, therefore, that the current likely scenario of a more collaborative Biden Presidency will result in alliances and the strengthening of international institutions. With some nations being more severely hit by the pandemic, strengthened international bodies would provide them with much needed humane assistance; while a focus on alliances would help to defend democracy by containing the rise of populism and authoritarianism in Western governments.
That would appear to be the Biden credo at any rate. The repercussion of George Floyd’s killing, for instance, made it clearer in the Democratic candidate’s worldview, how racism and many other systemic problems not only need to finally be given more attention, but prioritised. Although it is understandable that many nations are prioritising economic rebalance after the pandemic, a strong US leadership will be key in determining the boundaries for such efforts in a modern setting in which slogans like “it’s the economy, stupid” don’t necessarily apply anymore.