Every four years, Washington D.C. is inundated with numerous policy papers for the next president, many of which nobody in town ever really bothers to read. Especially after Election Day, pundits all over the world start writing about what can be expected from a new U.S. administration. The aftermath of the 2020 contest is no exception.
Although a number of Japanese Trumpists took to the street in protest claiming that U.S. President Donald Trump had won the election, I found the great majority of people in Tokyo remained ambivalent about a new Joe Biden administration. By the same token, I found similar ambivalence in many other capitals around the world.
Having recently read some of those papers pondering on what to expect from the U.S., I felt a little nervous. That is because what Paris, Berlin, Ankara, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Delhi and Seoul are wishing for and expect from a new U.S. president are different — with all having their own agendas. The following are some of my takeaways:
The EU and NATO
The Europeans realize the U.S.’s diplomatic focus has shifted from the West to the East, although they may not wish to admit it. By contrast, Washington’s focus inside Europe may shift away from Eastern Europe as a Biden administration is expected to be more critical about human rights abuses in nations such as Hungary.
Many EU member states were at odds with the United States on many issues under Trump such as trade, digital privacy, China, Iran, Turkey and NATO’s burden sharing. The only issue that Brussels and a Biden administration may soon agree on will likely be to resume negotiations on measures to mitigate climate change. Still, a new agreement may take years.
While the majority of European countries have expressed optimism about the incoming Biden administration, Germany is taking a cautious approach after bumping heads on various issues with the Trump administration over the past four years. Paris is more optimistic even though Washington may not endorse President Emmanuel Macron’s idea of “autonomous security” for Europe. Poland, for its part, seems to be rather pleased with Biden’s tough position on Russia.
The Middle East and North Africa
Political leaders in the region are also cognizant of the fact that U.S. attention is shifting from the Middle East to East Asia. The Arab allies of the U.S. also have little desire to spend time on the Palestinian issue because they know their most immediate threats come from either Iran or Turkey — and not Israel. They seem to have no intention to compete with China, either.
With Israel’s cushy relationship with the U.S. likely to end with Trump’s exit, Jerusalem seems determined to kill the Iran nuclear deal. It is also set to try and further improve ties with Arab nations. With Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long-term experience in navigating Washington politics, his government likely knows how to prevent a Biden administration from changing current U.S. policies — meaning Trump’s — vis-a-vis the Mideast.
Tehran, for domestic political reasons, has a narrow window of opportunity between Jan. 20 (Biden’s inauguration day) and June 18 (Iran’s presidential election day) next year to bring a Biden administration back to the Iranian nuclear deal, or JCPOA. As during negotiations over a Persian rug purchase in an Iranian market, the entire game may change dependent on which side makes a concession first — whether it’s Tehran agreeing to halt uranium enrichment or Washington’s paying compensation to the Iranians for sanction losses. Still, neither side seems willing to make the first move.
Nations in the Indo-Pacific, with the obvious exception of China, will welcome growing U.S. attention to the region. Many, including Japan, hope that a Biden administration will not drastically change Washington’s current positions on China, although his rhetoric may differ from that of Trump.
Seoul may find it more difficult to deal with a Biden administration. Unlike Mr. Trump, the new U.S. president would not be as easily fooled by the Koreans, both North and South. South Korea’s double-tongue diplomacy, whereby they conveyed different denuclearization scenarios to each side, telling the U.S. that the North would give up its nuclear weapons while telling Pyongyang that Washington would lift the sanctions, led to a three-year fiasco. Washington under Biden may also urge Seoul to improve ties with Tokyo, another important U.S. ally in East Asia.
In India, the leadership in Delhi may wonder how Biden’s statement about a “stable and prosperous” Indo-Pacific, which he mentioned to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in a phone call last month, differs from the current official line of a “Free and Open” Indo-Pacific, or FOIP. With a special focus on Biden’s China policy, Delhi also hopes that the new leadership in Washington refrains from criticizing it over trade protectionism and human rights violations.
No time to play tug of war
All in all, the friends and allies of the United States have their own agendas they would prefer to advance irrespective of what a Biden administration may wish to pursue. However, the U.S.’s allies in Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific don’t have the luxury of competing among themselves.
It is high time for those allies to unite in order to compete with China — and with Russia and Iran to lesser extents. Fortunately, the Indo-Pacific region has a head start with the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising the U.S., Australia, India and Japan. European nations have yet to join the diplomatic and military arrangement.
The United States and its allies must resume strategic discussions as they once did before Trump assumed office. The global alliance system is not a zero-sum game. For the Indo-Pacific to prosper, Europe and the Middle East do not need to suffer. To be a truly global community of like-minded nations, all must benefit and assist each other.
It must also be noted that this global alliance system is not aligned against any specific nation. China, Russia and Iran are welcome to participate. To that end, the Biden administration must still promote universal values, including those of liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Japanese government.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.