President-elect Joe Biden and the reversal of Republican Foreign Policy

30th November 2020

As part of his “race to the White House” campaign, President-elect Joe Biden committed within his manifesto to reverse some of the decisions his soon-to-depart predecessor has made. Biden had previously pledged to immediately reverse President Donald Trump’s decisions to abandon multi-national initiatives, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, should he become the 46th president of the United States.

The Paris Climate Accord, an initiative agreed in 2015 by a number of both developed and developing countries, is committed to reducing harmful gas emissions and addressing rising temperatures around the world. Since 1880, the average global temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius, with two thirds of that being since 1975, due to the industrial revolution. 1 The United States, the world’s biggest industrial and commercial power, emits 15% of the world’s carbon and greenhouse gases, the second highest after China at 30%. Although the United States has come up with many initiatives to try and counter this, most have shown to be insufficient. 2 President Trump believed that by committing to the Paris accord, he could potentially be placing US industries and jobs at risk. In 2015 President Barack Obama signed the Paris accord on the understanding that the United States would reduce its carbon footprint by at least 26% of 2005 levels by 2025. The US withdrawal could set back the treaty and the drive to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted, throwing into jeopardy the commitment from other countries. President-elect Joe Biden announced should he be elected the USA would re-join the Paris accord and pledged to invest 1.7 trillion USD in clean energy and green jobs reaffirming Barack Obama’s policy, moreover committing to the USA’s greenhouse gas emissions being net-zero by 2050. 3

In July 2005, the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK and USA) signed an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. The deal aimed to lift harsh economic sanctions against Iran on the understanding that the country would withdraw from its Nuclear weapons development project. In May 2018 US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal. He believed the deal was not fool proof and could still allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon undetected, moreover, he believed that by lifting sanctions the United States could be at a disadvantage by allowing Iran access to the oil and gas market, thus putting more American jobs and industries at risk.

Joe Biden was Vice President in 2005 when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed, the JCPOA being the former name for the Iran nuclear deal. Mr Biden has expressed his eagerness to focus on this deal and getting it back on track subject to Iran also fulfilling their obligations under the deal, a process expected to be long and drawn out.

Historically, the United States of America has been one of the biggest funders of the World Health Organisation (WHO), committing to contribute 893 million USD for the two year budget cycle of 2018/2019 accounting for just under 25% of total funding. To put this into perspective, one of the lowest funding countries is Australia at 45m USD for the same period. 4

In mid-April 2020, as COVID-19 was starting to take hold in the United States, US President Donald Trump announced that he was halting funding to the WHO. He maintained it was the fault of the WHO for the virus spreading so rapidly within the United States infecting so many of the population, but ultimately for not being more heavy-handed with China at the start of the outbreak of the pandemic. Such a reduction of funding to the WHO could have severe repercussions on current projects including finding cures for Malaria and Polio, both of which are having devastating effects on some of the world’s poorest countries. In July 2020 as part of his election campaign, Biden the President-elect announced that he would rescind Mr Trump’s decision to leave the WHO on his first day of office. “Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will re-join [the WHO] and restore our leadership on the world stage,” he tweeted. 5

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) seeks to build peace through international cooperation in education, science and culture. There are 1073 UNESCO world heritage sites globally, these preserved sites are deemed as such due to their value to humanity for both present and future generations 6. In October 2017 the Trump administration announced its withdrawal from UNESCO (even though the USA has 24 UNESCO listed sites within its boundaries). The United States historically paid for 22% (USD80m) of UNESCO’s annual funding. 7 In October 2011 UNESCO allowed Palestine to become an independent member of the organisation, leading to a US law that any organisation which recognised Palestine as an independent territory would cease receiving funds from the USA. This strengthened the relationship between the US and Israel and was further cemented by Donald Trump moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2018.

In November 2020, UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay announced that signals from the Biden camp showed signs of
positivity of a renewed cooperation. This renewed cooperation is likely to extend globally as apparent President-elect Joe Biden has a vast undertaking ahead, rebuilding the gradual dissolution of relationships and trust that his predecessor has left in his wake. Having been the former head of the Senate Affairs committee under the Obama administration, Biden is no stranger to foreign policy and has vowed to stand up to leaders like Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and Russian President Vladimir Putin.