Biden and the future of US foreign policy

Will the Biden presidency signal a shift in US foreign policy? Queen Mary Online's Dr Katharine Hall looks at Joe Biden's priorities for his first 100 days in office. 

This post is by Dr Katharine Hall, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, QMUL Online.

With any change in US government administrations, between November and January there are anticipatory questions and debates about what will be different in the coming four years. As we get closer to inauguration day, however, this current transition feels different - and not just because of the late start the Biden team was given.

The Biden presidency seems to signal for many a radical shift in both the substance and tone of US policymaking and leadership during the Trump administration.

In US foreign policy especially, many analysts and commentators have argued that the Biden administration will realign the United States with its traditional allies and international institutions, as well as strengthen the country’s reputation on the world stage.

US foreign policy, however, can tend to shift less drastically between administrations, even of different parties. What then does a Biden presidency signify for key areas of US foreign policy?

Biden's priorities

The Biden transition team currently lists its top priorities for the first 100 days of office as: COVID-19, economic, recovery, racial equity, and climate change. The last is probably the best example of what will be different under President Biden in terms of foreign policymaking.

Promising to rejoin the Paris Agreement as part of his climate change priority, Biden will seek to walk back many of Trump’s decisions to withdraw from major international agreements. Re-engaging with the Iran nuclear deal is another example, although the logistics of how this could happen are much trickier than the Paris Agreement.

But if this is at all possible, Biden will likely be able to pull it off. He is not only a seasoned politician, but he has long-standing experience with foreign affairs from his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

America's international image

From this, one should expect Biden’s administration to be chiefly concerned with repairing the image of the US within the international community, seeking to project not only strength but also its commitment to liberal values and international norms.

But while this may signal a departure from the Trump administration, we should remind ourselves of what a re-engagement with the international community in this sense means. And doing so might make this departure seem slightly less radical.

Historically, when the United States has participated in international organizations and agreements it has been with the desire primarily to shape those organisations and agreements in its own image or to its own benefit.

As we watch the development of Biden’s foreign policy over his first 100 days, we will likely see a return to this style of foreign policy, which has a long tradition of US engagement with the world.

You will explore a range of issues relating to US Foreign Policy, including how and by whom it is made, in Queen Mary Online's MA in International Relations module, ‘Themes And Cases in US Foreign Policy’. You can start the course in May or September:

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Topics: MA international relations, US foreign policy

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