President Joe Biden’s proclamation, ‘America is back’, is a meaningful course correction of ‘America first’, the call that underscored his predecessor’s strategic approach. It promises a reset of both domestic and foreign policies that primarily aims at strengthening the credibility of the US as the oldest democracy on the one hand and sending out the message to the world community that America intended to play its global role as a superpower, on the other.
On the home front Biden restored the normal quantum of admission of refugees, ended Trump’s specific curbs on entry of people from certain Muslim countries, introduced a robust plan of dealing with the Corona pandemic, addressed the issue of racial disharmony by ordering a firm handling of any supremacist violence and favoured ‘Buy American’ policy for domestic economic revival. In international relations, Biden made specific mention of Russia and China indicating his readiness to deal with any aggressiveness from them on a tough note, reiterated the US intention of strengthening ties with Europe and Asian democracies and expressed his disapproval of the ‘advancing authoritarianism’ — calling upon the Myanmar military to relinquish power it had seized from the leadership elected in a ‘credible election’. Return to the Paris Climate Accord, support for the role of WHO in leading the global fight against Covid19 and revival of the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, shedding the hostility that Trump had carried towards that country, have been mentioned. On the whole, the new US President has tried to put domestic political turbulence to rest and activated the international profile of America with his demonstrative emphasis on diplomacy — he made it a point to visit the State Department for announcing his foreign policy agenda.
Between Russia and China, President Biden looks at the former as a bigger adversary in terms of armed might and considers China as an ambitious power that could be subjected to checks and balances in the sphere of economy and trade and constrained from indulging in expansionist activity — with the help of other interested nations including, of course, India. Biden’s announcement of extension of the new START treaty with Russia for nuclear stability on the one hand and his declaration upfront, on the other, that the days of ‘rolling over’ in the face of Russian aggressiveness were gone, prove this — the US President made it a point to name Russia for suppressing freedom of expression and demand release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Biden warned Russia that its ‘easy ride’ under Trump was over. As regards China, the new President said the US will confront China’s economic abuses and push back on Chinese attack on human rights but will be willing to work with China when it was in America’s interest. Biden regards Russia as the antithetical power — notwithstanding the reality of the end of Cold War — but is willing to ‘engage’ China with appropriate caution. The new President is going to draw closer to Europe rather than to the Asian countries outside of the Middle East.
References were made by Joe Biden earlier to the continuing Indo-US friendship and his policy announcements criticised China for its aggressiveness on LAC and recognised India’s role in making Indo-Pacific a secure zone. It is to be seen if China tries to be on the right side of President Biden by tempering its military recalcitrance. India is still in suspense about the approach of the Biden administration to Pakistan in the context of the hostility of Sino-Pak military alliance against India and the continued proxy war of Pakistan against this country using Islamic terrorists as its instrument. Biden has reversed the policy of Trump of fully backing Saudi Arabia against its offensive on Houthi-controlled Yemen — Houthis were known to be drawing support from Iran — thereby giving an impression that he was intrinsically against autocracies and not bothered so much about the internal divisions that were now surfacing within the Islamic world on the issue of radicalisation. Biden spoke strongly against the ‘human catastrophe’ in Yemen and wanted Saudi offensive operations there to be stopped immediately even as he upheld the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia. He also wants revival of the Palestine-Israel two-state solution that had been buried by the Trump-Netanyahu axis.
As regards Pakistan, a country yet to be mentioned by Biden in his policy enunciation, there is some indication that he attaches importance to Pakistan’s help in bringing peace to Afghanistan without putting American interests in jeopardy there and this can bring back Pakistan into the US administration’s special favours — in reversal of Trump’s policy of keeping Pakistan on the leash for its patronage of Taliban. ‘War on Terror’ was an operation launched by the Republican President George Bush and if the Biden administration starts giving rope to Pakistan on India’s complaint of infiltration of Pak-sponsored Mujahideen into Kashmir, India will have to find a way of dealing with that situation. John Kerry, who had insisted on attributing 26/11 to ‘non state actors’ is a part of Biden’s policy making team and it will not be a surprise if the Biden Presidency reverts to the Democrat legacy of seeing Indo-Pak issues as a South Asian phenomenon and approaching them by putting the two countries on the same footing.
Indian diplomacy, it is presumed, is already briefing the new US administration on the recent developments in India’s neighbourhood and ensuring that the convergence of the two democracies on security issues reached earlier, was fully preserved. Biden’s foreign policy enunciations do not seem to make the faith-based global terror with its links with Pakistan, a core concern. This may be looked into — it may be recalled that Donald Trump had, in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election, charged Hillary Clinton with deliberately avoiding naming Islamic radicalism as a threat out of her concern for being ‘politically correct’. Biden hopefully would note the current profile of Imran regime in Pakistan that was marked by a support for the cause of Islamic radicals represented by Al Qaeda and ISIS who considered the West as their prime enemy.
Biden’s call — ‘We will engage with the world again’ — implied that he thought Trump’s aloofist policies had done no good to the US. The new President declared that ‘America could not afford any longer to be absent on the world stage’ and showing his impassioned belief in diplomacy, called upon the US to work for the idea of a ‘free and interconnected’ world. He wanted diplomacy to promote ‘universal rights, respect for the rule of law and treatment of every person with dignity’. His declaration that ‘America’s alliances are our greatest assets’ put the focus on multilateral diplomacy ‘for America’s own national interest’. The Biden Presidency will take US relations with Europe to a new closeness. President Biden is clearly focused on enlarging the global reach of the US for securing the trust of the international community that was wide enough for America to effectively deal with Russia and China, its prime antagonists at the world stage. In all of this, he seems to be seeking restoration of the good old image of the US as a guardian of universal human rights and liberal polity. He is apparently not being fully cognisant of the new threat of Islamic radicalism that targeted the US — in addition to the traditional danger that the democratic world faced from communist dictatorships. India has to watch out for what the new policy makers of America come out with on the threat of faith-based terrorism.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)