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American Geostrategy Won’t Change Much

American Geostrategy Won’t Change Much

Friday, 30 October, 2020 - 10:15
Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

The two American presidential candidates have very different personalities, but we should remember that the United States as a country has long-term interests. If Biden beats Trump, his administration will use some new tactics for its foreign policy, but American geo-strategic policies won’t change very much.


Most importantly, the Republican and Democratic parties agree that China is now America’s biggest long-term national security challenge. According to a Pew Research organization opinion survey earlier this year, 73 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion about China, the highest number since the beginning of the survey in 2005. Trump is proud of his unilateral trade war against China. Trump insists that a trade settlement requires China buy 140 billion dollars more agricultural, energy and industrial products from America this year to benefit American businesses.


Biden will use a different approach. He won’t work on deals about corn or pork or airplane parts like Trump. Instead, a Biden administration will try to coordinate with other major economies like Japan and Europe to build a global trade coalition against China to compel it to accept laws of the trading system. Biden also sees common interests among democratic states that use technology to promote liberty compared to dictatorships that use technology for surveillance and censorship. At the same time, his administration will likely increase financial support to American companies in the technology and medical sectors, and perhaps others, to move production sources back to the United States. In fact, such financial subsidies also could violate trade system rules and increase trade disputes.


Biden and Trump agree that China is a bigger military challenge. Biden would aim for stronger relations with economic competitor countries like Japan and South Korea in order to confront a shared China adversary. It is interesting to note that despite Trump’s distrust of alliances and foreign commitments, the American foreign and defense ministers visited India last week to strengthen intelligence and defense cooperation against China. The tone of Trump’s statements about American military policy towards China may be tough and unilateral, but Biden and Trump want help from other countries to contain China’s influence. A big question for the Biden administration will be how to cooperate with China on issues like global warming and treating the pandemic- at the same time there is geo-strategic competition between the two states. Trump’s only priority with China now is competition and so he blames China for the pandemic while at the same time he ignores climate change.


Similarly, there won’t be a huge change on American relations with Russia. The Trump administration’s policy appears incoherent. Trump criticizes the Atlantic alliance and leaders from Germany and Canada but he carefully avoids criticizing Russian president Putin. Trump this year pressured for Russia’s return to the summit of major economies (G-7) after the seven countries had ejected Russia for its actions in Crimea in 2014.


But Trump’s statements and actions contradict his administration’s imposing new sanctions on Russian officials and companies, its efforts to impede Russian gas projects in Europe and American arms sales to eastern European countries, including Ukraine. Biden’s policy on Russia will be also tough. When as vice president he visited Moscow in 2011 he said Putin should not be a candidate for president again, a major diplomatic statement in the country’s capital. If Biden wins, his administration will assure European allies of its military commitment to the Atlantic alliance and collective security.


Biden will have to manage the problems with human rights in countries like Hungary and Poland with his goal of uniting Europeans with America against Russia. In any case, relations between Washington and Moscow will become more difficult no matter who wins the American election. Perhaps the only hope is that Moscow and Washington will agree on renewal of the key nuclear arms treaty.


Biden will differ from Trump in another tactical manner. Under his supervision, there will be more coordination between the White House and the Defense and Foreign Ministries. Often actions from Trump’s Oval Office surprise the two ministries. A Biden administration will make policy in an organized manner that will include officials from the two ministries.


In addition, Democratic Party experts defend dialog and diplomacy even with adversaries. For example, we should expect that a Biden administration would speak more with Chinese officials about disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea, or speak with Russian officials about Ukraine and eastern Europe.


Trump doesn’t trust the Foreign Ministry; he said the Oval Office is the only decider. Biden wants to rebuild the foreign ministry. This difference between the two men about all the institutions of government is the reason that this election is so important.


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