As soon as the major American broadcast networks announced Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as winners of the US election on November 7, congratulations poured in from around the world. In the ensuing days, the new president-elect began speaking on the phone with leaders of some of America’s most traditional allies, who were all keen to stress the closeness of their countries’ respective relationships with the US.
The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was the first to speak with Biden in a conversation that touched on COVID-19, climate change and global security. The Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said his call with Biden, who has Irish ancestry, was a “warm conversation”, while a call with Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, stressed the importance of transatlantic cooperation.
Experts from around the world have been analysing what the US election results mean on The Conversation in recent days. Here is a round-up of some of the themes that have emerged – and the global challenges and opportunities ahead for a Biden administration.
As Biden’s team gets to work on the presidential transition, Donald Trump still holds the keys to the White House until January 20. A lot could still happen in foreign policy during this testing transition period, but beyond that, many expect a return to a foreign policy built on traditional alliances.
- A change in tone. A return to diplomacy will be at the forefront of the new Biden administration, according to Neta Crawford of Boston University. She writes that Biden, who has hinted at a smaller military presence overseas, “may make modest cuts in the US military budget” and is likely to seek to end the war in Afghanistan and transition the troops there into a regional counter-terrorism role.
- International order. Many have expressed hopes that a Biden administration will return some semblance of “normality” to the international liberal order. Juan Luis Manfredi at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, is convinced Biden will understand European sensibilities and the need to support a particular type of international order. He writes (in Spanish) that “closeness, calm and pragmatism” will be the balm of American society under a Biden presidency.
- Where to fit in. Some have identified a debate within the Biden camp on whether to restore US foreign policy to its pre-Trump era, or to reform it by forging new alliances. Frédéric Charillon and Patrick Chevallereau from the Université Clermont Auvergne suggest (in French) that the new administration’s biggest difficulty could be the absence of a clearly identifiable international system. A reluctance among some countries in Asia to make the choice between Beijing and Washington, the growth of hybrid wars such as the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the “sharp power” of disinformation, make for a blurring of the strategic landscape.
Leaders across the world will be busy thinking about what a new Biden administration means for their region. His presidency will have ramifications for some key geopolitical theatres in the months ahead.
- Brexit and the Irish border. Biden’s win comes as negotiations between the UK and EU on a post-Brexit trade deal reach a crunch point. Biden is adamant that a deal should respect the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which forged the way for peace in Northern Ireland, writes Etain Tannam of Trinity College Dublin. She thinks that a Biden administration “greatly increases the prospects of an EU-UK” deal, and explains why the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains so crucial.
- Chinese duel. The biggest foreign policy question facing Biden will be how to approach the People’s Republic of China, explains Nick Bisley at La Trobe University. While he predicts a Biden administration won’t significantly wind back the US-China trade conflict and will continue to work to limit China’s ambitions to change Asia’s regional order, “it is likely to try to build on some areas of common interest to improve co-operation”.
- Human rights. In south-east Asia, where almost “every country” has human rights problems, Yohanes Sulaiman at Jenderal Achmad Yani University doubts whether a Biden presidency will start forcefully pushing a human rights agenda in the region. Part of the reason is the scale of the challenge ahead for the US to win the hearts of south-east Asian governments in its efforts to balance China’s growing power in the region.
- Russia’s borderlands. Political tensions have boiled over in recent months in some of Russia’s neighbours, including Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and most recently Georgia. Tracey German at King’s College London writes that while Russia and its post-Soviet neighbours are “unlikely to constitute foreign policy priorities for the incoming Biden administration”, new priorities to promote democracy and rebuild ties with Nato have prompted disquiet in the Kremlin.
As soon as he is inaugurated, Biden plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, which Trump left, providing optimism for more global momentum on climate action.
- Balancing act. Biden’s campaign promised to introduce a US$2 trillion investment plan – though this may be difficult to get through Congress now control of the Senate hangs in the balance. Richard Beardsworth and Olaf Corry at the University of Leeds argue that: “If Biden can link action on climate to economic regeneration, jobs, environmental justice, and a proactive foreign policy with both China and Europe, he could yet fulfil both his domestic and international agendas.”
- Feeling the heat. The Trump administration’s climate inaction has been “a boon for successive Australian governments as they have torn up climate policies and failed to implement new ones”, according to Christian Downie at the Australian National University. He warns that Australian diplomats and businesses are likely to feel the heat over their government’s lack of climate action as soon as the Biden administration begins.
The mail-in ballots continue to be counted across the US – and control of the US Senate still hangs in the balance ahead of a run-off for two seats in Georgia in early January. With electors of the electoral college due to meet in their respective states on December 14 in the next step towards the formal declaration of the winner, attention is now turning to why Americans voted the way they did.
- No uniform “Latino vote”. Many analysts lumped 32 million eligible American voters under the name “Latino” and expressed surprise when Latino voters in Florida helped win the state for Trump. Lisa García Bedolla, at University of California, Berkeley, breaks down the way those in this “racially, ethnically and geographically diverse group” across the country voted, and why both parties need more culturally competent campaigns to reach them.
- Fossil fuel dynamics. Before the election, speculation mounted that Biden’s commitment to move away from dependence on fossil fuels may turn off voters in states such as Pennsylvania that depend heavily on the shale gas economy. But in his analysis of the overall results, Sibo Chen at Ryerson University says that did not materialise – although the dynamics are more complicated when drilling down to the county level. He suggests: “Either Biden’s talk of fossil fuel divestment did not substantially change voters’ minds, or it led to larger voter turnouts of progressive young voters.”
- Pessimism – and hope. Trump received the second highest ever number of votes in a US election – only it’s Biden in the number one spot. So what does this mean for the Republican Party? Timothy Lynch at the University of Melbourne, points to five reasons why conservatives should feel concerned about Trump’s legacy. But he also says Republicans have reasons for hope – including that there still appears to be a “strong Republican vote among those who feel they’ve been ignored or forgotten by the Democratic Party” and that the “Biden win obscures how riven progressive politics have become”.
You can continue to follow expert analysis of the aftermath of the US elections on The Conversation here.
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