The foreign policy crises Joe Biden will face on day one


President-elect Joe Biden’s vow to restore American leadership in the world will quickly be tested by resurgent adversaries, rudderless institutions and the most serious global health crisis in decades.The big picture: Biden will face a familiar antagonist in Moscow, a stronger and more assertive China, a nuclear-weaponized North Korea and an ongoing war in Afghanistan. Not to mention a pandemic that has ravaged the world and clouded the global economic outlook.

Biden’s approach to all these challenges begins by revitalizing American alliances and restoring its credibility. His message is that “America is back” and “America first” is over.

  • Biden plans to quickly re-enter the Paris climate accord, re-engage with NATO, and re-engage with the World Health Organization.
  • He plans to put human rights back at the heart of US foreign policy and he has proposed a summit of the world’s democracies.
  • But Biden will have to prioritize crises at home even as he aims to restore America’s reputation abroad.

Biden’s main national goal – containing the virus and its economic fallout – may also be its biggest foreign policy challenge.

  • The distribution of vaccines around the world will be particularly important. Competition over doses will spark resentment and prolong the pandemic, although Americans will gain access to it fairly quickly.
  • Several members of Biden’s coronavirus task force have sounded the alarm, hinting at a different approach from Biden after Trump sidestepped the WHO vaccination initiative.

Save the Iran nuclear deal is near the top of Biden’s priority list. That would require the lifting of sanctions if Iran – which now has 12 times the amount of low enriched uranium allowed under the deal – returns to compliance.

  • Iranian leaders have suggested they would be ready to revert to the old deal, but reject discussions of the broader follow-up deal Biden is considering.
  • The Trump administration, meanwhile, is trying to block the path back to the deal by piling up new non-nuclear sanctions that Biden might find politically difficult to lift.

Biden will have to act quickly to extend the new START nuclear treaty with Russia, which is due to expire 15 days after taking office.

  • But he also promised to confront Vladimir Putin over the electoral interference and “to impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international standards.”
  • Bill Burns, chairman of the Carnegie Endowment and former ambassador to Moscow, told Axios it would be important for Biden to define the terms of the relationship early: “We’re going to operate within a fairly narrow window of possibilities. Vladimir Putin’s Russia – from very competitive to rather nasty opponent. ”

North Korea can force itself on Biden’s agenda shortly after entering the White House. The regime is used to testing new US administrations.

  • Kim Jong-un’s nuclear program has made significant progress over the past four years, even as he temporarily suspended testing.
  • The leaders do not leave on good terms. Biden called Kim a “thug” during the campaign, while North Korea called Biden a “mad dog.”

Biden will also inherit a war in Afghanistan that he and Barack Obama promised to end more than ten years ago.

  • US troops are withdrawing from the country even as the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government collapse.
  • Biden plans to continue withdrawing troops, but he could leave an anti-terrorism force behind.


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