In times of increasing polarization, experts, politicians and the media across the political spectrum seemed to barely agree on the eve of the 2020 US elections. A recent study by the Pew Research Center (see Dimock and Wike 2020) found a practically unprecedented degree of division in American society. One thing that was shared across party lines, however, was the importance attached to the election result. In his acceptance speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, the incumbent Donald Trump said: “This is the most important election in the history of our country” (quoted in Thrush 2020). Already in mid-2019, Trump’s opponent Joe Biden agreed: “You all know in your gut, not because I’m running, that this is perhaps the most important choice, no matter how young or old you are ever elected” (quoted in Selk 2019).
While such feelings can be heard frequently during election season, this time around, there seems to have been a special justification for them. Rarely, if ever, since the end of World War II have the contrasts between the two candidates for the highest electoral office in the country been so strong. This applies to the substance and style of their politics at home and abroad. In addition, both candidates and their respective running mates embody very different visions of America due to their own backgrounds and biographies.
Not without reason therefore New York TimesBased on such observations, on October 17, 2020, the heading “The election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation” (Dias 2020). Now that the race referendum has at least been decided, if not officially ended, what do we know about the “soul of the nation”? What vision will rule US foreign policy for the years to come after Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in at 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021? What can the transatlantic partners of the United States in particular expect from the new administration?
The following will start from some fundamental observations regarding the nature and preferred instruments of US foreign policy under President Biden, and then identify policy areas that are vital to the US and its transatlantic allies, particularly Germany. Starting with business and trade, through security and defense, to dealing with an emerging China and the challenges of climate change, important areas of interest and cooperation are discussed.
The enduring forces of democracy
The long and fiercely competitive elections themselves give a first glimpse into the “soul” of America: First, in view of the above-mentioned feelings, an unprecedented mobilization followed and consequently record numbers of voter turnouts. According to the latest figures, voter turnout of more than 66 percent since the elections of 1900 – more than a century ago – has reached a new high (see Bokat-Lindell 2020). As a result, with around 80 million Americans voting for him, no single elected president has ever received more votes than Joe Biden in 2020. At the same time, however, incumbent Donald Trump also increased his electoral support by nearly 10 million votes compared to his victory 2016. These numbers show the tremendous popular support and strong mandate for the Biden-Harris ticket, while underscoring the constant, even increasing, appeal of Trumpism, which is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Second, despite repeated and persistent claims to the contrary, the election went smoothly, regardless of the prolonged (re-) counting of votes. So far, no evidence of electoral fraud has been proven (see Corasaniti, Epstein and Rutenberg 2020). In fact, the Executive Committee of the Coordination Council of the electoral infrastructure government has even described the election as “the safest in American history” (Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency 2020).
While Trump’s persistence in allowing the election broke another long-standing code in US politics that will tarnish his grim legacy even more, on November 23, his administration finally gave the transition process the green light (see Mason and Hunnicutt 2020) . Finally, the highly competitive 2020 elections have shown a watchful world the resilience of democratic practices and institutions in the United States, an important point at a time when democracy is increasingly under attack around the world.
Personalities Mater: A New Style in Washington
The current president and his successor differ not only in terms of the content of their policies, but also in terms of their respective decision-making and leadership styles. In fact, Donald Trump had arguably brought an unprecedented blend of unpredictability, irrationality, and malice to the White House. In addition, he regularly alienated others, including traditional allies, with his devastating personal attacks. After the 2018 G7 summit in La Malbaie, Canada, one commentator expressed this inconsistency in Trump’s foreign policy approach and his tendency to get to the heart of his negotiating partners: “On Monday you could be his best friend, on Tuesday worst enemy, and on Friday you’re golf buddy again ”(quoted in Baker and Shear 2018).
As in many other aspects, Joe Biden could hardly differ in his leadership style. Known for his empathy, he is likely to set a new tone both in domestic politics and in international relations (see Walker 2020). Regarding his handling of the Covid pandemic, Biden promised in his victory speech: “This plan will build on basic research. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern ”(quoted in Phillips 2020). Given his decades of success as a Senator (1973-2009) and Vice President (2009-2017), and not least with regard to Biden’s own biography, this approach can be seen as a symbol of his leadership style as a whole, which is a good sign of bringing a divided nation together and to revive strained partnerships abroad.
In fact, it was not least these (expected) changes in tone and style that immediately after Biden’s victory led to widespread joy among many American allies, which, according to Mark Landler (2020), “evoked a lot of emotions, but above all a deep sigh of the Relief. “Among these world leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel warmly congratulated the elected President and indicated that she was ready to resume relations. Merkel congratulated Biden over the phone and then declared: “America is and will remain our closest ally, but it expects more from us – and rightly so” (quoted in Ellyatt 2020). A few days later, Biden himself commented on the atmosphere of his first conversations with other decision-makers: “I have spoken to over 20 world leaders and they are delighted and a little excited that America will reaffirm its role in the world and in the world be a coalition builder ”(quoted in Ellyatt 2020).
This widespread popularity of the next president, coupled with his remarkable track record, personal empathy, and willingness to fundamentally change the tone of international affairs, is a powerful asset for US foreign policy in the years to come. While international relations is not a popularity contest per se (cf. Layne 2010, p. 71), it certainly helps a leader to be popular when he tries to rebuild alliances abroad.
Reconstruction of US soft power around the globe
Indeed, the attractiveness of political decision-makers is a key component of the soft power of a nation (cf. Ohnesorge 2020, pp. 112-134 and 160-171). This multiple power, based on attraction rather than coercion and payment, becomes all the more important in times of global challenges that require concerted action even for the most powerful nations. An administration arises decisively from civil society actors, universities or cultural institutions and is therefore clearly anchored outside the government area. However, it can contribute to a favorable environment and decide whether to actively try to use the forces of attraction in international affairs (cf. Nye 2010, pp. 13-14).
In this regard, the Trump administration has not hidden the fact that its approach to foreign policy has been shaped by hard power and only hard power from the start (see Berman 2020). In contrast, Joe Biden and his administration are likely to revert to the full range of American power to rebuild US leadership in the world. Military strength and economic efficiency will of course continue to be of crucial importance in this regard, but soft power will again play a larger role. In his Foreign Affairs The article titled “Why America Must Lead Again”, Biden (2020, p. 65), made it clear: “As a nation, we must prove to the world that the United States is ready to lead again – and not just by the example of our strength, but also with the strength of our example. “
A critical step in this direction is restoring credibility and confidence in American leadership. Given the strained relationships on board and deep divisions at home, this task will certainly not be easy. In fact, the data collected by the Pew Research Center show that the image of the United States has suffered significantly worldwide, especially among important European allies such as Germany, Great Britain or France (see Pew Research Center 2020). While it will take time to restore confidence, the overwhelmingly positive reactions to Biden’s election by international leaders mean a good start (see BBC 2020).
In the new administration’s quest to rebuild US soft power, several components spring to mind: First, the Biden administration should revitalize US commitment to democracy and the rule of law, with renewed emphasis on strengthening the judiciary and democratic institutions at home and abroad lies the world. A revision of the immigration system, which the Trump administration has turned into substantial international outcry, will be an important first step (see The New York Times Editorial Board 2020). In addition, a global “summit for democracy”, which Biden promised in his first year in office, offers a promising start in this direction at the international level (cf. Biden 2020, pp. 67-68).
Second, the Biden administration should revitalize US diplomacy in both its traditional and more innovative forms. Like a recent Harvard report Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs suggests, “President-elect Biden and Congress should launch a major bipartisan initiative to revitalize, reform and reshape the External Action Service” (Burns, Grossman and Ries 2020, p. 3). Biden (2020, p. 72) himself has made it clear in this regard: “As President, I will make diplomacy the most important foreign policy instrument of the United States. I will reinvest in the diplomatic corps that undermined this administration and put US diplomacy back in the hands of real professionals. “The election of Antony Blinken as Foreign Minister is very significant in this regard. Not only was Blinken one of Biden’s first picks (who was selected prior to the appointment of a Secretary of Defense), he is also known for his distinguished diplomatic career, cultural empathy and, last but not least, his personal and political closeness to President-elect Biden. for whom he served as National Security Advisor (2009-13). Some observers even called him Biden’s “alter ego” (cf. Sevastopulo 2020). Blinken, who advised the United States’ engagement in Syria in 2013 and may adopt a more interventionist stance in the years to come, is generally known as a “pragmatic realist who believes in US power but understands its limits” (Sevastopulo 2020). Given his background, Blinken’s choice was 71st The US Secretary of State was generally welcomed by the European allies and understood by the Biden administration as a clear priority.
Third, the new administration should seek to reopen and strengthen US universities and make them more accessible and attractive to international students. While the Covid pandemic has of course thwarted the plans and programs of international students, the Trump administration has also set new hurdles, for example with the introduction of new visa regulations (see Busta 2020). With the inauguration of the Biden government, major revisions can also be expected in this area (see Redden 2020), which will once again turn US colleges and universities into important assets for US soft powers who are attracting the best and brightest to the American coasts and create life. long ambassadors after visiting students and scholars return to their home countries.
Fourth, the United States should seek to work with others rather than focus on narrow-minded solo runs. Acting multilaterally has many advantages that make it in America’s best interest to set up international coalitions. Exceptionally, at a time when many of the world’s greatest challenges – from climate change to global pandemics, to migration to international terrorism to the proliferation of nuclear weapons – such an approach will be much more likely to cross national and even continental borders and hence require collective borders lead to success action. In his last Doing moral mattersJoseph S. Nye accordingly emphasized “Power With others, ”which is proving more promising in the interdependent world of 21st Century as “power about others ”(cf. Nye 2020, p. 210). In addition, multilateral action itself was recognized as an essential component of national soft power (cf. Ohnesorge 2020, pp. 105-106). The majority in the Senate will be decisive in this regard, but Biden expressly expressed his desire to work with US partners and allies on a variety of different issues and to rejoin the multilateral framework abandoned by the Trump administration (see Biden 2020 ). Among other things, he has promised to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on the first day of his presidency (see Birnbaum & Morris 2020), promises that have already met with approval in Europe, especially in Germany (see Atlantic Council 2020)).
While these are just a few, albeit crucial, important starting points, Biden’s new administration has already made it clear that it will seek to restore the credibility and confidence of the US, which has suffered significantly over the past four years, in order to do so achieve restoration of US global leadership. Earlier writings and statements, as well as recent cabinet decisions, indicate that Biden will attach particular importance to soft power in this project. Some of the major US audiences in this regard are its traditional allies around the world.
Transatlantic Relations: A New Deal?
Western European allies may have suffered most from these during the Trump administration. While Trump repeatedly criticized the European Union as a whole and notoriously counted it among the “greatest enemies” of the USA (quoted in Contiguglia 2020), it was Germany in particular that repeatedly bore the brunt. Trump therefore called Germany “very bad” in view of its massive trade surplus and personally attacked Chancellor Merkel in line with the above observations by calling her “stupid” (quoted in Bloch and Goldgeier 2020).
In contrast, Joe Biden has been repeatedly described as a convinced transatlantic (see Bloch and Goldgeier 2020; Karnitschnig 2020). In this context, his close and longstanding relationships with leading European decision-makers were highlighted: “In Joe Biden, a lifelong transatlantic with strong connections to many of the most important European leaders, including the German Angela Merkel, Europe has the next best for itself White House ”(Karnitschnig 2020).
It was not without reason that Angela Merkel spoke emphatically about the new president and once again expressed hopes for transatlantic relations (see Landler 2020). The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented on speeches of congratulations and praise that were shared across party lines: “Joe Biden’s election victory means one thing in particular: new opportunities for the transatlantic partnership. […] We need some kind of new agreement in the transatlantic partnership, the basis of which would be to respond to international challenges with international solutions and not with an “America First” or “Europe First” policy (quoted in Jordans 2020). .
What could this “New Deal” for transatlantic relations in different policy areas look like? With regard to this very question, four (interconnected) areas of particular interest are to be considered: (1) economy and trade, (2) security and defense, (3) an emerging China and (4) climate change.
(1) Economy & Trade
Domestic economic recovery will be high on Biden’s agenda amid the global Covid pandemic, which has hit the US particularly hard. Because of this, economic recovery and the fight against the virus go hand in hand. Accordingly, in his victory speech, Biden stated: “Folks, our work starts with being in control” (quoted in Phillips 2020). At the beginning of the current transition phase, Biden therefore promised to restore the leadership of the White House in the fight against Covid and to set up an advisory board to combat the further spread of the virus, which also takes into account the social and economic dimensions of the crisis (see Subbaraman 2020). .
Internationally, the Biden government should curb the ongoing trade war between the USA and Europe (see Bloch and Goldgeier 2020). In the later stages of the campaign, Antony Blinken, then a top advisor to the Biden campaign, stated: “The EU is the largest market in the world. We need to improve our economic relations. […] And we need to end an artificial trade war that the Trump administration started … that has poisoned economic ties, lost jobs and increased costs for consumers ”(quoted in Shalal and Lawder 2020). So while a change in tone can be expected and the Biden government will endeavor to improve relations and possibly resume negotiations on a free trade agreement, some underlying problems are likely to remain (see Karnitschnig 2020). Blinken accordingly reminded its audience at the same online event hosted by the above-mentioned US Chamber of Commerce: “I think there is an objective problem with the EU regarding a persistent, growing imbalance in the agricultural trade due to rules that prevents us from selling goods where we are very competitive ”(cited in Shalal and Lawder 2020). However, with the changing of the guard at the White House, it is expected that relationships in this area will improve. A further escalation of the trade war by the European Union, in which tariffs are answered with counter-tariffs, on the home routes of the Trump presidency can therefore hardly be in the interests of both sides (cf. Hoppe et al. 2020).
(2) Security and Defense
As in trade, security and defense will continue to see persistent problems between the United States and Europe, with Germany again leading the way. German defense spending, which consistently falls below the 2% target set in the 2014 Wales Summit declaration, was a point of contention before the Trump administration and will not magically disappear as soon as Biden enters the White House (see Atlantic Council 2020; Jordans 2020). However, a change in tone can also be expected here. While Trump has even flirted with the idea of giving up NATO (something that may have surfaced in a second term), Biden has repeatedly voiced his unwavering support for the alliance. in the Foreign Affairshe wrote accordingly: “[T]United States engagement is sacred and not transactional. NATO is at the heart of the national security of the United States and the bulwark of the liberal-democratic ideal – an alliance of values that makes it far more durable, reliable, and efficient than partnerships built by coercion or money. “At the same time, however, Biden also urged that”[o]Your allies should do their fair share ”(Biden 2020, p. 73). Interestingly, and a strong indicator that changes in personality and their respective leadership styles are of fundamental importance in international affairs, German decision-makers across party lines – from Federal President Steinmeier to Chancellor Merkel to Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer to Foreign Minister Maas – have already expressed their intention to step up German efforts once Biden takes over the helm. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer perhaps expressed this view most clearly in her most recent keynote address, not only in favor of closer transatlantic security cooperation and the indispensability of German-American cooperation, but also the concept of European “strategic autonomy” of French President Emmanuel discarded Macron has long called for an “illusion” (cf. Kramp-Karrenbauer 2020). This vehemence may have surprised some observers, and it has certainly angered decision-makers in Paris and other European capitals. With the change of government in Washington, however, Germany’s public support for such efforts is likely to increase. Nevertheless, the issue could also become a question of European and domestic discord, especially in light of the German federal elections next year.
Eventually, “[t]The security relationship between the US and Europe should evolve from a dominant and subordinate relationship to a supportive partner ”(Bloch and Goldgeier 2020). Such a supportive partnership, however, requires mutual efforts on the part of both partners: clear US support for NATO and European defense, and, no less crucially, increased European efforts to finally emerge.
(3) An emerging China
An important issue in this regard continues to be the approach to an emerging and increasingly assertive China. In Washington, “China will get tough” is currently one of the few topics in the bipartisan consensus. While Biden agreed with these views and stressed the importance of alliances in these efforts, he also advocated cooperation on certain issues, including climate change and health security (see Biden 2020, p. 71). With this combination of competition and collaboration, Biden, much more than Trump, plays into the hands of European decision-makers. The EU-China strategic outlook of March 2019 described China as a “negotiating partner”, “economic competitor” and “systemic rival”, which Biden has now apparently adopted (cf. Bloch and Goldgeier 2020). In view of these developments, Niall Fergusson (cf. 2020) recently argued that the future Biden government could create a window of time for greater relaxation. While topics ranging from economic and trade policy to alliances and partnerships to competition in technology and innovation, promoting democracy and human rights continue to dominate the Sino-American agenda and are likely to cause a lot of friction in the future, a general loosening of relations would certainly be a welcome change European point of view.
(4) An existential threat: climate change
After all, the fight against climate change is likely to take a significantly different form. Early on, Biden (2020, p. 74) described climate change as an “existential threat” and promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement immediately after taking office. As in other areas, he therefore promised to return to the table of multilateral forums in his first 100 days and even to convene a global summit on this topic (cf. Friedman 2020). As in other areas, Biden needs to make up for the loss of trust and credibility the US suffered during the Trump administration. In this endeavor, he again resorts to the powers of personal diplomacy, as evidenced by the appointment of John Kerry as special envoy on climate. The creation of this new office at cabinet level, as well as the election of the former Foreign Minister (2013-2017), who primarily played an important role in the implementation of the Paris Agreement, show that Biden gives top priority to the global fight against climate change (cf. Friedman 2020; Herz, Guy and Schmidt 2020). Biden’s promise in this area in general and the selection of Kerry in particular were once again warmly welcomed by leading German decision-makers such as Norbert Röttgen and Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (see Kormbaki and Fras 2020).
Conclusion: golden opportunities – new responsibilities
When Joseph R. Biden Jr. was finally declared the winner of the 2020 US presidential election after a long and highly competitive election campaign, the United States’ Western European allies collectively breathed a sigh of relief. Appeals of congratulations, expressing the unmatched importance of close transatlantic relations and the willingness to make renewed efforts to revive them, were not long in coming.
In a world with a multitude of global challenges – from climate change to global pandemics to increasing authoritarianism and strategic challengers – close European-American and especially German-American relations will indeed be of crucial importance. As the above analysis has shown, the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris created a golden opportunity to reconsider and re-establish this relationship for several reasons: First, a drastic change in tone in the conduct of foreign affairs has already begun during the transition Period and will continue to make a difference once Biden takes the oath of office. Second, diplomacy and soft power tools will once again be at the forefront of US foreign policy. As history has shown, the United States has always been strongest internationally when it draws on the unmatched appeal that derives from its vibrant civil society, its universities, its democratic institutions and, last but not least, its leaders. Third, major policy changes are to be expected once the Biden-Harris administration takes office: from revising immigration rules, to economic recovery in the midst of a global pandemic, to efforts to combat climate change. While the list of challenges administration faces from day one is certainly long, by virtue of their own personalities and backgrounds, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are indeed in a strong position to “rebuild better” – one Often used slogan from the Biden campaign.
Karen Donfried and Wolfgang Ischinger (2020) recently published a Southgerman newspaper Contribution: “There is a lot to do.” Now that the stars are set to work together to tackle the long list of pressing issues, it will also be up to Europe in general, and Germany in particular, to contribute to a shared success story. Much can be achieved only when the United States’ transatlantic partners are able to take on greater responsibility and play their fair share on matters of global concern. Die Vereinigten Staaten wiederum müssen auf Augenhöhe als vertrauenswürdiger Partner auftreten und auch die europäischen Interessen berücksichtigen. Nach vier Jahren, in denen die Welt den Mangel an US-Führung beklagt hat, scheint dies eine vielversprechende Grundlage für ein neues Abkommen in den transatlantischen Beziehungen zu sein.
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* All Internet resources were last accessed on November 28, 2020.