Can Biden Repair American Power?

Author Name: Syed Muhammad Ali       08 Feb 2021     Government & Politics

The transition of the Biden Administration from Trump administration is an extraordinary event in US history. The world and the American nation are both concerned whether the incoming Biden administration can repair the damage that the Trump administration did to the US power, by weakening its various elements at home and reducing the American influence around the world. The task for the new US administration is further complicated by an increasingly polarized world order, weakened alliances, accelerated globalization, heated ideological conflicts and growing nuclear arms.

The longstanding American tradition of a graceful and elegant transfer of power from one administration to another, despite ideological, political and personality differences has epitomized the strength and depth of an exceptional US political system. However, the mob invasion of Capitol Hill, the American military leadership collectively and publicly distancing themselves from the outgoing US Commander-in-Chief, President Trump’s absence from the inauguration of his successor and thousands of troops protecting the ceremony, are unprecedented events in the US political history. These tumultuous events have weakened the American international alliances, dented its soft power, hurt its civil-military relations and posed unprecedented challenges to the incoming Biden administration, both at home and around the world.

The perfect cure to the cancer spread by Trump

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., seventy-eight years of age, brings with him a strong personal commitment to American values, deep understanding of US interests and international diplomacy along with extensive legislative experience. These credentials can help him shape a new American security agenda that is wiser and more careful than that of his predecessor, more acceptable to the US allies and partners and more stabilizing for the world. In view of the complex global challenges and growing national issues that the new administration face, President Biden’s task is not only critical for the US national security but also very crucial for world peace, security, stability and prosperity.

On the domestic front, President Biden needs to heal the American society from the cancer of polarized race, color and faith relations that Donald Trump’s presidency proudly aggravated. In addition, the right and the left have never been so hostile towards each other since the 1960s. American society needs to be respectful of its own rich religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity, which is precisely what the rest of the world expects from the new US leadership. On the health front, the mismanaged COVID-19 crisis indicates the immediate need to balance the capitalist interests of large pharmaceutical companies and the national security imperative of saving many poor and some rich American lives alike.

Biden to maintain US as the superpower

In terms of foreign policy, Biden needs to repair the unilateral, coercive and impatient approach by reviving the US leadership in terms of respect for international law, reliance over international institutions, consistent and patient commitment towards multilateral diplomacy and understanding and reverence for different value systems.

On the global front, the challenges are well known, but the priority and approach towards these issues deserve a fresh, careful and timely recalibration. In terms of gravity and significance of policy priorities, the Biden administration must devote its attention and resources towards critical issues in the following order. These include building a global health security coalition to fight COVID-19 crisis, combating climate change, reducing misperceptions with China, building trust and respect with challengers, contestants and opponents, repairing alliances, building partnerships while strengthening existing ones, maintaining strategic stability in different regions, promoting human rights, opposing ultra-nationalism and addressing the causes rather than the consequences of extremism.

In terms of the US security policy, Russia is a global challenger while China is an Asian contestant, and Iran and North Korea are merely opponents of US regional policy in their respective regions. Therefore, the new US policy approach, level of diplomatic efforts and defence posture should be proportionate and stabilizing. US needs to manage its relations with Russia, based on trust of strategic intentions and credibility of known capabilities while simultaneously exploring options for mutual restraint in emerging technologies.

New space for cooperation with US’ rivals

In case of China, the encirclement via ‘Quad’, forward defence posture and trade wars have provoked rather than restrained Beijing and could potentially lead to undesirable escalation and hostilities in the East China Sea and Indian Ocean region or both. Therefore, instead of containment, rebuilding a more stable Trans-Pacific region, based on large-scale economic relations between Asian and American continents would be a more prudent, profitable, mutually-beneficial and less risky US strategy. The Biden administration needs to build mutual respect, recognize the reality of growing Chinese wealth and power and reduce misperceptions related to trade and defence posture – by exploring arms control measures related to readiness levels, rather than pursuing objectives which due to hugely disproportionate size of arsenals, are unrealistic in the foreseeable future.

The central pillar for the new US arms control policy could be the revival of JCPOA which will help rebuild confidence in not only Tehran, but also Moscow and Beijing, because all three are still parties to it. Continuation of the existing China policy of economic strangulation, aggressive defence posture and building-up ‘Quad’ will reinforce and not dilute the Chinese threat perception that Washington denies Beijing the space for growth in its own sphere of influence. This could also lead to greater Chinese defence spending and an ominous scenario of rapid escalation and military hostilities, which would not promote either the US strategic or economic interests as well as those of its regional allies and partners.

In case of South Asia, a major and fundamental review of US policy is long overdue to ensure that the American interests are consistent with the American and liberal Democrat values and global stature in the long term. The United States is considered the pre-eminent leader of the world in terms of promoting human rights, social justice and equality. The grave human rights situation of eight million people in Kashmir and the growing plight of Sikh, Christian, Dalit and Muslim minorities in India, is much more worrisome in scale than any other international human rights issue, including that of Palestine. In contrast, for global peace and security, the Palestinian issue is far less critical than Kashmir in terms of the affected population, geographical size, scale of military forces involved, and potential risk of nuclear escalation. Nevertheless, to put things into context, the Palestinian issue has received far greater American conflict resolution efforts than even the occasional conflict management attempts accorded to the much graver Kashmir issue.

Afghanistan, Pakistan under Biden

Similarly, the sharing of opportunities, knowledge, technology and weapon systems with one particular nation or value system while denying it to others represents not only an impatient and naïve neglect of history and Asian values, but also a dangerous investment in future instability and insecurity which could pose grave threats to the long-term American interests as well as international peace and security.

The new US administration should coin an Afghan policy beyond tactically fighting Afghan Taliban, politically blaming Pakistan, and physically protecting the insecure Kabul administration. The new Afghan policy should recover from its habit of loud political allegations, occasional high-level diplomatic engagements reinforced by limited but costly US military power. Biden administration’s Afghan policy must be based on quiet and consistent diplomacy with all the Afghan stakeholders. It should aim at patiently and eventually convincing the entire Afghan nation that the US respects the Afghan nation and its culture and its presence is not merely to protect the Kabul administration and impose alien values on the proud Afghan nation.

It is recommended that the Biden Administration should revive Pak-US strategic dialogue and pursue a more balanced approach in terms of access to the US export market, modern technology, knowledge and advanced weapon systems to ensure that economic progress, peace, security, and strategic stability becomes possible in South Asia despite massive Indian military buildup. The Biden Administration should also review previous administration’s unjust and unrealistic stance on strategic export control regime membership, particularly that of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It is in US national security’s long-term interest for the Democrat administration to help Pakistan develop itself as a secure, stable and prosperous nation by recognizing its efforts to emerge as a trans-regional geo-economic bridge that promotes peace, progress and prosperity in South, Central and West Asia rather than continue to remain a victim of a geopolitical contest between major powers.

This will indirectly advance US national security interests, consistent with its stature and values. In addition, instead of a ‘Kabul Policy’ that primarily aims to protect the insecure Kabul administration, the new US administration should shape a comprehensive Afghan policy that recognizes the strategic reality that the Afghan instability has no military solution and respects the rights and interests of all Afghan communities. This will gradually yield strategic gains in building a better American image, reducing the threat to US national security, saving American lives and allowing its sons and daughters, currently serving in uniform in Afghanistan, to timely return home after ‘promoting’ rather than ‘enforcing’ peace. It will also be a win-win solution for the US interests and the Afghan nation by helping reduce the political cost for both the parties. It will present the new Biden Administration before the entire Afghan nation as the first US government that actually respects their lives and culture, while simultaneously valuing and reducing American military’s sacrifices.

Biden administration: New hope for US and the world?

After the disastrous presidency of President Trump, the Biden Administration offers the world a new ray of hope and a decisive opportunity at a critical moment in world history. It needs to decide whether it wants the US to remain only a global power whose excessive reliance over hard power generates fear within the developing world, provokes its largest trading partner into becoming an adversary, and accelerates a global nuclear arms race? Or does it want a wiser security policy based reducing rather than combating the complex global threats to the US national security? For that, Washington should diplomatically, economically and technologically engage with the entire world, earn the trust, respect and admiration of friends and foes alike to mutually and gradually shape a more stable and peaceful world order. This will require greater reliance on its soft power, multilateral diplomacy and economic cooperation than hard power, unilateral coercion and economic strangulation. The US will have to patiently listen to, understand and embrace those nations who share the American dream of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, despite differences in their culture and ways of life.

The lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq wars prove that short-term and excessive reliance over American hard power can neither transform other nations and civilizations nor make the American way of life more attractive to them. This will not only aggravate the global threat to US national security from states and non-state actors, but also cause greater international instability, which will accelerate the emergence of a multipolar world order. During the current global COVID-19 crisis, the absence of American leadership has already dented the US image, damaged its soft power and shaken its alliance system. An aggressive foreign and a polarizing domestic policy will make the US less influential internationally and less stable internally.

More importantly, this could also deepen the insecurity of different communities that share the American dream, consider the United States as the land of opportunity and contribute to its power, progress, and prosperity. One hopes that Biden will not disappoint the world and his own nation, both of whom are very worried and insecure after Trump’s presidency. He can make the American dream a reality through a new national security policy that can bring the diverse communities living in the United States together, reduce the global threats and help Washington build constructive relations with most nations with whom the great American nation shares this planet – which is more polarized, weaponized and insecure than ever before. A wiser great power that intends to learn from the costly lessons of the Thucydides’ Trap’, should have a security policy agenda designed to avoid rather than fight it, in order to preserve its exceptional influence, wealth and values amidst the transforming world order and interconnected, globalized society. It must use power wisely and very carefully – not waste it hastily or ultimately.

 

Syed Muhammad Ali is Director Nuclear & Strategic Affairs at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). He has extensive experience of negotiating in multilateral strategic dialogues with the United States, China, India and Pakistan and has been teaching strategy and arms control at the National Defence University of Pakistan. This article was initially posted on Global Space Village. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com

 

Image Source: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty.  "A Daring Start to Joe Biden's Presidency " FINANCIAL TIMES, 19 Jan. 2021,https://www.ft.com/content/65f7dabb-78ec-47bf-b460-b7b0b8c3fed7

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